Friday, June 1, 2012

Viswanathan Anand Retains World Chess Champion: Rediscovers India’s Crowning Glory

World champion Viswanathan Anand of India has been the face of Indian chess for more than two decades. The 42-year-old Indian clinched his fifth title on May 30 defeating Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand 2.5-1.5 in a tense tie-breaker at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow after being tied 6-6 in the 12 classical games. In the event, it was hardly surprising that he stretched the 12-game series to the rapid tie-break games, something Anand had not faced in his two previous title-matches. Anand was prepared for the grind and, as he did in the 2010 match against Topalov, won the title after wiping out a one-point deficit.

After a 6-6 deadlock in the 12 Classical games, the rapid finale ended 2.5-1.5 in Anand’s favor. The victory also meant that the ‘King of Chess’ will keep the crown until the 2014 World Championship.

Undoubtedly, the hallmark of Anand’s success was his speed. Often, Gelfand was seen down to his last few seconds when Anand still had a few minutes left.

Gelfand played white in first and got nothing out of the opening. In fact, an inaccuracy by the Israel gave Anand a huge advantage as the game progressed out of a Semi-Slav defense but it was Anand’s chance to go wrong if the battle had to unfold the way it did.

Positive Start
The first play-off game was a violent affair where both players attacked their opponent's kings without concern for lost pawns. With both players down to less than three minutes on the clock, most of the attacking pieces were neutralized and a draw was agreed after 32 moves.

The second rapid playoff game was an epic battle which Anand won only on the 77th move, the longest game of the match. Anand surprised Gelfand in the opening phase and gained plenty of time on the clock but the Israeli challenger sacrificed a pawn and soon acquired powerful counter-play.

Gelfand succeeded in doubling his rooks on the seventh rank on the 31st move, normally a crushing maneuver, but by then he had only 42 seconds left on his clock to avoid a time forfeit and he was relying on the 10 second increment per move to keep him in the game. Anand defended stoutly and, after a mistaken series of exchanges by Gelfand, reached an endgame which was a technical draw, despite Anand's extra pawn.

Best Rapid Player of Generation
Forty-two-year-old Anand displayed how he is the best rapid player of his generation. That the victory was well deserved can be seen from the outpouring of commendations for the Indian grandmaster, who has a string of impressive victories to his credit.

Anand has left his mark on the game ever since he won the National Sub-Junior Chess Championship in 1983. Just 14, Anand, who had been taught the game by his mother, scored a perfect nine to win the championship. Of course, he has notched up many successes since then and is considered by many as the greatest Indian sportsperson. No wonder, even cricketing legends salute this grandmaster of chess.

In fact, Anand was the first Indian to become a grandmaster. His success has spurred more interest in the game, and today the nation boasts of 27 grandmasters, including the 15-year-old Vaibhav Suri, who won the title just a month ago. The number of international chess masters has also risen dramatically and India is among the top 10 nations in chess. Women have also made a mark in the game, especially world number four, Koneru Humpy, who is one of the eight Indians who figure in the top 100. In this list, there are five women and three men. These individuals and the almost 25,000 Indians, who have a world rating, prove that Indians have the knack for the game, and show how family support can hone talent.

Former world champion Garry Kasparov had said in a recent statement that the Indian grandmaster had peaked and that many of the latter’s games in recent times showed a lack of ‘newness.’ But that is not true, because in the recently concluded championship, Anand did employ novel variations. In any case, there is no point for a player to use ‘creativity’ in a world championship if he is convinced that such a move is unessential.

Phenomenal Record
Anand has stayed in the world's top 10 since 1991 and he is one among seven players ever to hold the topmost ranking in 40 years. Considering that every Anand maneuver over the board has been clinically analyzed by the best chess brains, mostly from the erstwhile Soviet Union and Europe, for 25 years, it is truly commendable how he has managed to stay a step ahead. His longevity as a performing champion is the result of his uncompromising nature when it comes to discipline and training.

In a country where celebrities flaunt their status and expect and demand preferential treatment, the unassuming Anand is a whiff of fresh air. If there is an icon that India can truly be proud of, it is Anand.
Anand’s Other World Crowns
* Won for the first time winning in knockout format. Starting with 128 players, Anand marched his way ahead in New Delhi to set up the finale with Alexey Shirov of Spain in Teheran in 2000. It was a six-game final that lasted only till the fourth. Anand won three and drew one at Tehran in Iran to be crowned the world champion.

* Pitted against the best in the world in a match tournament spread over 14-games between eight players, Anand was in his element and won this event in style in Mexico City (Mexico) in 2007. This also gave him the right to play the next world championship in a match format against the seemingly invincible Vladimir Kramnik of Russia.

* The World championship was back to a match format, something which the chess world had been craving for a long time. Anand started as the underdog against Kramnik but the entire world saw a grand transformation in the Indian in Bonn (Germany) in 2008. It was a 12-games match that ended after 11. Anand won three, lost one and drew the remaining seven to reach 6.5 points.

* It was eruption of an Icelandic volcano that disrupted all flights across Europe. Anand had to undertake a 30-hours journey by road to reach Sofia (Bulgaria) in 2010. He asked for three days extension but was granted only one day.
He was playing against all odds against the lion — Veselin Topalov — in his own den. Anand started with a first round loss but won the title winning the last game with black pieces. The loss was shattering for Topalov. He slipped from being the top player then to number 12 now.

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