A lot of decisive games

Anand has been a role model for youngsters taking to chess in the last two decades. Even on the world stage his rivals are getting younger.-M. KARUNAKARAN

In the end, rating is just numbers. If you keep playing in tournaments the numbers go up and down. You can’t try and hold on to them. It is nice to go over 2800 again, but it is more important to win tournaments, says Viswanathan Anand to Rakesh Rao.

After defending his Linares-Morelia title Viswanathan Anand shares his thoughts on the importance of winning the event, evaluates his performance, the quality of opposition and more in a chat with Sportstar.

Question: Considering the tough field — all eight players figured among the top-13 of the world — how would you rate your triumph?

Answer: Both Corus and Linares are the toughest events of the year. This year, Linares was no exception. Since the event is played in two continents there are also factors like jet lag and stamina. I was very happy to win this year because the event had a high percentage of decisive games. And the games were exciting and sharp.

What do you think were the reasons for so many (25 out of 56) decisive games this year?

The tournament just opened up. Everyone was trying something in each game and the blunders came. You saw at the time control positions turning completely. There were very few quiet games. Even the draws had a lot of theoretical relevance. As a chess fan, I thoroughly enjoyed following the games. Nowadays chess theory is so complex. We all somehow come to the same conclusions on various positions. But someone might have checked a line a little more thoroughly. Someone forgets one key move and that is enough to lose the game. One small error nowadays can become a full blown blunder very soon.

Like last year, you scored 8.5 points from 14 rounds. How was this victory different from the one last year or in 1998?

1998 was my first Linares victory. Given that I played my first Linares in 1991, the first victory came a little late. It was seven players and one of the highest category events at that time. I won both Corus and Linares in one stretch and that was special. The wins in 2007 and 2008 (in Linares) were quite similar. Given the fact that I lost to the same person (Levon Aronian), I made my points in Mexico and then wrapped up in Linares. Since there is a change of venue, it puts a lot of pressure on your stress levels and stamina. Also the break in the middle is very tricky. You have to keep the focus but not lose your nerve. I seem to be able to do it well.

A quick look at the games you won and your best among them?

I think my first game (with black pieces) against Alexei Shirov was good. The funny thing was I saw the rook-sacrifice five minutes before the game. I had finished my preparation but was not completely satisfied so I just checked this variation and then went straight for the game and was able to use it. The white win against Shirov was also good as I was able to guess exactly where he would go in the Sveshnikov. The other black wins against Peter Leko and Carlsen were also exciting. The game against Leko was a complete turnaround. White was much better, but a few imprecise moves at the time control turned the game completely and my pawns were all very close to the enemy king. Against Carlsen, I was able to find this move (Rook h6). Magnus had somehow missed that and he said that it occurred to him during the game. The position was in black’s favour and some accurate play in the end turned the game in my favour.

Your best among the drawn games, and why?

The one against Leko was nice. The game was very sharp and Peter had to find the right defence, which he did.

For you, what was the most satisfying feature of this year’s campaign?

All the games were exciting and even the draws were complicated. I won three black games. That was quite something.

How did you handle the pressure of maintaining that half point lead, day after day, especially in the second half?

After the loss to Aronian, I stopped really seeing all that. I seemed to be in a comfortable position but the people trailing me kept changing everyday. Magnus was by far the closest contender and he played excellently in Linares. Since my last game was against Veselin Topalov, I wanted to be sure to finish the event as a winner and not leave anything to chance.

When you look back at your performances in Linares over the years, what impressions are you left with?

It is one of the most important games in the calendar. This year, they were celebrating 25 years, so it was nice to win. It is a tough event as it brings the strongest players. Since it is a double round-robin you have to play both colours. So you are tested to the limit. Since the event turned inter-continental, the mind and physical factor become more important. If you see, the second half becomes very critical and not collapsing makes all the difference. For me, in 1991, I was just a young talent from India who got a chance to play a super elite event and now I go there as World Champion and World No. 1. It is in a sense a full circle. Over the years, you see many people being invited to Linares and you see new rivals taking shape.

Your views on the quality of games played by Magnus Carlsen, both in Corus and Linares-Morelia?

Magnus has had an excellent year and we are only in March. He belongs to the young brigade but has been able to break away. He will be in the top-5 and his rating should be close to 2766 (on April 1, 2008). This, by any yardstick, is just fabulous. For a 17-year-old to achieve that it is really extraordinary. He not only plays amongst the top players but has started winning tournaments. In both Corus and Linares, he showed his tactical skills. In many games he was able to turn the situation around 180 degrees. He keeps his calm in tough situations and strikes back effortlessly. In Corus, he was just unstoppable and in Linares he always came back after a loss much stronger. If you see in Linares, he beat Topalov 2-0. He is clearly part of the elite pack. His quality of play is high and he will surely be a top class player.

In comparison, where did you think you missed out in Corus?

I had not played any classical games since Mexico. I started out badly against Teimour (Radjabov) and then fought back. I just tried to play each game and see if I could get back on a decent score. Suddenly, I found myself in the last round very close to first place. I played well in Corus but should have avoided the first round disaster.

At Wijk aan Zee, we saw you recovering from an early defeat with a series of draws before hitting back strongly. At Morelia, you bounced back almost immediately. Did you plan your assaults?

It turned out that way. In Wijk ann Zee, I was really angry to lose the first game of 2008 (to Radjabov) in such a terrible way. I could have drawn at some point. The worst part was I could have claimed a draw by three-fold repetition. It was not obvious but when you enter the game into a computer it shows you the three-fold. This was really a blow. But then the best you can do in such situations is to just get yourself together and keep trying. In Corus, the field is very close and there is no free point available. I played the next day against (Shakhriyar) Mamedyarov and had a promising game but couldn’t convert it to a full point. Then I struck form and played three nice games against Carlsen, Judit (Polgar) and Topalov. I think I stopped caring about the rating or the podium finish but just played a good game of chess. In the last round, I came very close to first place and the game against (Vladimir) Kramnik was extremely close, but we couldn’t really work it out to a win. I was happy that I tried and finished reasonably well.

In Morelia, I didn’t go with any plan. Somehow plans look beautiful in your mind but in the end you should have something to play with. I started extremely well against (Alexei) Shirov. Against Aronian, I was better, but lost the thread of the position. Especially that rook move (Re2) is decisive and I completely missed the point. I was able to win the next day and somehow the tournament looked good after that. I was extremely good with black and it was black that won me the title.

The triumph also takes you past the 2800 mark in the April rating list. Does it excite you any more?

In the end, rating is just numbers. If you keep playing in tournaments the numbers go up and down. You can’t try and hold on to them. It is nice to go over 2800 again but it is more important to win tournaments.