Anand at his aggressive best

VISWANATHAN ANAND is steadily making records in the Corus chess tournament, winning it for the fourth time on January 25 this year.

ARVIND AARON

VISWANATHAN ANAND is steadily making records in the Corus chess tournament, winning it for the fourth time on January 25 this year. If Garry Kasparov has big successes at Linares and Vladimir Kramnik has record victories at Dortmund, Anand, for his part, has made a firm impact with a new record at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands.

Viswanathan Anand... unstoppable at Wijk aan Zee. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

His fourth title came in nine appearances and he joined an elite group of players, who had won the title four times. The list includes the legendary Dutch world champion Max Euwe, Lajos Portisch and Viktor Korchnoi. The 66th edition of the tournament's Grandmaster Group `A' section was won by Anand, who was in complete dominance. His fourth and counting record will stand for some time to come as Euwe is only in memory, and the other two, Portisch and Korchnoi, are rarely seen in action. Remember that chess players do not retire!

The latest title confirms that Anand is the most consistent chess professional out there. His huge successes in 2003 are now spilling over into this year too. He had the adverse pairing schedule, having to play with the black pieces against all his main opponents. But this did not deter his efforts at the table. He let Zhang Zhong of China fall all by himself in his game and went for the other opponents in the other four games that he won.

Had he not lost the penultimate round game against Topalov, it would have been a huge success and a one-horse race. Each of his escapades was also worth mentioning. He saved a difficult position against Kramnik with a brilliant draw, engineering a rook sacrifice. He lost a pawn and defended in a solid manner to hold his German Bundesliga team-mate Svidler to an 80-move draw.

His victories came off splendid attacks and were exhibits of positive play. The win against Akopian came after a show of confidence when he turned down a draw offer that soon followed an uncertain opening. The second full point against Shirov was all technique in the form of a rook ending after a favourable opening. Anand peaked in the middle of the tournament when he won three games in a row against Shirov, Zhang and Bareev. The win against Bareev was Anand's most exciting game as it featured a number of sacrifices. His victory over Timman in the 11th round was another display of his confidence in finishing off the Sicilian defence. Overall, it was Anand at his best.

In the last round, he decided that he should not spoil his party and played a cautious draw in 14 moves with Sokolov to win the tournament with the same 8.5/13 score as in 2003. Back-to-back victories in any prestigious event such as Corus, which is a category 19 level, is a splendid achievement by itself. Anand had won this tournament in his maiden attempt in 1989 and also in 1998, 2003 and now in 2004. He is hoping to return in 2005 for his hat-trick. Each time Anand starts the year with a bang at Wijk aan Zee, it spreads to other events all through the year and one hopes that this will happen this time too.

Events without a title race are seldom remembered. The interest was intact with Anand hitting a speedbreaker in the form of Topalov in the penultimate round and that kept the title in suspense until the last game. Leko had a chance to tie for the first place had Kramnik lost. However, in reality, Kramnik was in the driver's seat and Leko was barely trying to survive. When Leko did make the draw, it was certain that Anand would win the title unshared and Leko managed to go through as the only undefeated player. Leko took the second place along with Adams on eight points from 13 games. It was the best performance from both players in recent times.

Earlier, in the world rapid championship, both the players even failed to make it to the knock-out stage from the league phase.

Leko, who had once been dropped from this tournament for making draws, was back at it once again when he made the highest number of draws — 10 — from his 13 games, though many of them were fighting draws this time. Adams played one game badly against Van Wely and that kept him out of contention for the title. He had a chance in the final round to catch up with Anand but he could not defeat Svidler with the black pieces.

Topalov finished above his expected score and had the distinction of being the only player to defeat the winner. Working with Ponomariov as trainer for his aborted match against Kasparov has had some good effect and this seems to be continuing. He tied for the fourth place with a score of 7.5/13.

Bologan, winner of the Dortmund's Chess Meeting in August last, had starting problems and he recovered in time for the fourth-fifth places. The `bluff' novelty worked against Anand and he drew that game after making a blunder. He finished with a plus two (7.5/13) score winning the same number of games as Anand. Bologan and Bareev were the most exciting players, having figured in eight decisive games.

Kramnik seemed more vulnerable than before. The Russian, who normally remains undefeated in such tournaments, was humiliated in as many as three games, including the opener against Akopian. His ability to stretch games and use his experience helped him win three games. He benefited from a victory against Svidler from a drawn ending. Against Van Wely he was lucky that his opponent took enormous risk. And against Zhang Zhong he won due to his opponent's inexperience. Kramnik is clearly not as prepared as he used to be in his pre-world champion days. He will be losing the most Elo from this competition after Sokolov.

If there was a prize for gaining the most Elo from the tournament it would have gone to Loek Van Wely, the Dutch Grandmaster from Tilburg. He made only 50 per cent but his rating was far below the average rating of the tournament, which was 2702 and he played 91 Elo rating above himself. He took chances with a piece sacrifice against Kramnik and paid for that gamble in one of his two defeats. Strangely, his gain is what Sokolov would be losing. The Grandmaster Group `B' was won by Bruzon of Cuba and Norway's Carlsen won Group `C'. The events were category 19, 13 and nine on FIDE's Elo chart. Bruzon advanced to next year's Group `A', and 13-year old Carlsen, who overshot the GM norm by 1.5 points, should find a place in Group `B' next year. Bareev figured in eight decisive games, losing four and winning four games for a mediocre show. His weakness when playing black against the king pawn players was exploited in this event. He should be investing his time and money to repair the cracks in his French defence or seek alternate repertoire options.

Akopian from Armenia had a brilliant start shocking Kramnik and nearly had Anand in trouble. But he faded away with time and lost more than he won to finish on minus one for a below expected score. Shirov was not in good form and is poised to shed some of his hard earned Elo. He could score only against the Dutch players who were also out of form.

The present No. 1 rated Dutch player, Ivan Sokolov, had a poor tournament and would be losing the most Elo among the 14 players. His only win was against Kramnik.

Zhang Zhong, the winner of Group `B' in 2003, had a tough time in the tournament. He lost four games but he did not lose heart and gave a lot into each game. He disappointed in his maiden super category appearance. One can expect him to become wiser in timing draws and learning from the higher-rated rivals.

Tournament veteran, Timman, 52, was pushed to the last place once again and it was clear that the contest was becoming stronger for him. He finished close to his rating expectancy though and would not be losing much rating.

The sponsors came out with some pleasant news at the opening ceremony. It was a confirmation that the event would be funded until 2010. With the steel industry turning around, the various doubts about the continuity of this festival have been put to rest.