Anand saga continues in Mainz

ARVIND AARON

VISWANATHAN ANAND scripted one of the most amazing comebacks of his career when he overcame the reigning world chess champion Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine, 4.5-3.5 to keep his hold over rapid chess at the Chess Classic, Mainz, Germany.

Ponomariov's wide range of preparation forced the 32-year-old Indian to make a dizzy start. However, exhibiting tremendous resilience to hit back and through a daredevil act in the crucial eighth game, Anand buried the chances of the 18-year-old Ukrainian in one of the closely fought and exciting rapid matches ever. The eighth game which was the decider was perhaps the most thrilling rapid chess game seen in a long time.

-RAJEEV BHATT

Having beaten Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in the previous year, Anand started as the favourite. Also the fact that he is the best rapid chess player gave him the edge over the Ukrainian who had a string of poor rapid performances, the worst being the humiliating defeat to the women's world champion, Zhu Chen, at Dubai this April and then to his former countryman Alexander Beliavsky at Moscow in June. Ponomariov's playing level is yet to settle and had it been a classic match with Anand, the 12-point Elo deficit he had would have been on level footing as the difference was too less.

At the board, Anand showed that he was slow to start with and looked obviously out of form and out of practice. He had last played rapid chess and won the prestigious EuroTel Trophy Tournament at Prague in May ahead of Kasparov, Kramnik, Karpov, Khalifman and others. In June he played Advanced Chess which he lost by 2.5-3.5 to Kramnik. The opening game jolted him as he escaped from the jaws of a certain defeat. Ponomariov missed quite an easy finish and it turned out to be crucial for him. The scores might have been level had he won that first game. Having escaped, Anand only managed to draw his white turn game in match two. With the scores level, Anand showed his new opening repertoire, the Sicilian Sveshnikov, in game three. It was a key opening used by top level players which has been missing in his armour. But despite his preparation at home in depth, it could not stop Ponomariov from seizing the initiative with the white pieces. Anand lost the game, and it was perhaps the best show by the Ukrainian in rapid chess as the Indian trailed 1-2.

With just five more games remaining, Anand's task of a comeback looked like a tough call as he had opening problems in addition to the one point deficit. The duel of the world champions race was exciting with the favourite a game down. However, day two went exactly the way Anand wanted. He hit back in game four itself, exploiting an early pawn break by Ponomariov. With the scores level, Anand sacrificed a rook for knight in game five to gain a positional advantage. After this, the Indian had the better of the chances with black but could not win this game.

Anand claimed that black had an advantage but he was unsure of Ponomariov's chances with white. Game six was a Ruy Lopez opening and Anand had to play accurately to force a draw with the white pieces. Anand bounced back on day two with a 2-1 score and the overall score stood at 3-3 with two games left.

It was an ideal setting for a sell-out on the last day on August 18 which was also a Sunday, at the Rheingoldhalle, an annexe building of Hilton Mainz. In game seven, Anand adopted the same variation of the Sicilian Taimanov which he used to draw with the black against Kasparov in this year's Linares Tournament. Anand was lucky as Kasparov missed a chance in time trouble in that game. Here, they followed well-known lines and Anand sat solidly in defence and earned himself a well-deserved draw after 81 moves. Ponomariov used every chance he got but Anand astutely defended first in the rook ending and then spotted a draw in the pawn down king and pawn ending and went for it.

Much of the match depended on just one game with the scores at 3.5-3.5 after seven games. It was Anand's last chance as white and even if it was a draw, blitz chess of five minutes and five seconds favoured him. However, in the regular 25-minute and 10-second game itself, Anand made victory possible mixing risk with experience and brilliance for an all in one game. Sensing a slight advantage on the clock he took his chance as he won a masterpiece and also won the hearts of the public for providing them such a thrilling finish. Experts may find ways to defend the black side with best play using state of the art computers. But Ponomariov's 150 odd seconds that were left were too short to rely on accuracy. He failed when his lone knight could not stop white's advancing pawns on a multitude of five flanks.

Wrapping up the match, Anand also completed a hat-trick of sorts winning three in a row to enlarge his collection of Black Jackets, awarded to the winner. His title in 2000 was very creditable when he finished ahead of the world's top six players by a huge margin. In 2001 he came from behind to defeat Kramnik. The Anand saga continues in Mainz. This is another confirmation that he is the best rapid chess player ever in the history of world chess. Through his last game, he also revealed that he can be a very good entertainer for chess and non-chess audience.

The difference between Anand's comeback of last year when he lost the third game point via a tactical blunder and this time was big. He was in trouble in most openings he chose to play this time. Ponomariov showed that a wider preparation helps than a deeper one for you are never surprised. However, Anand changed tactics in the second half, including choosing to start with the queen pawn as white in game eight. This altered strategy proved to be a timely decision.

The trend of the match was a gentle see-saw with Ponomariov snatching a 2-1 lead after day one and Anand taking day two with a 2-1 win. On the final day, Anand won game eight in an outstanding rapid game. As he had drawn game seven, the match was Anand's at 4.5-3.5. Once Anand snatched the initiative in the match in game four, he pressed hard and never let go that steam and had Ponomariov on the backfoot.

Experienced match players know that it is good to keep the trend going even if it doesn't mean having the lead in some cases. In game five, Anand tightened the grip over the position with a rook for knight sacrifice to seize any winning chances there may have been. Keeping the opponent in tension with either colour helps and Anand's best side was on display to win this match.

The internet coverage of the match was bad. Held over the weekend, there were plenty of online audiences from America with questions like "what happened to the German technology?", and "has the venue been washed away by the swelling floods we read about?"

Except for 1999, Anand has dominated every edition. His marriage in 1996 kept him out of that edition. He is a member of the Frankfurt West Chess Club which does the show and there will be another rapid show next year which will be the 10th edition. It is normal for the organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt to retain Anand, the winner, and whom he will face remains to be seen. When summer dawns on Germany, chess players travel to the Chess Classic in Mainz, a historical town within a short driving distance from Frankfurt.

The three decisive games of the match:

GM Ruslan Ponomariov-GM Viswanathan Anand, match game 3, Sicilian Sveshnikov, B33: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5 f5 11.Bd3 Be6 12.0-0 Bxd5 13.exd5 Ne7 14.c3 Bg7 15.Qh5 e4 16.Bc2 0-0 17.Rae1 Qc8 18.Bb3 Ng6 19.Nc2 Re8 20.f4 exf3 21.Rxe8+ Qxe8 22.Qxf3 f4 23.Re1 Qd7 24.Nb4 a5 25.Nc6 Re8 26.Rxe8+ Qxe8 27.Kf1 b4 28.cxb4 axb4 29.Qe2 Qd7 30.Bc2 Ne5 31.Qe4 f3 32.Qxh7+ Kf8 33.Qe4 fxg2+ 34.Kxg2 Ng4 35.h3 Ne5 36.Ba4 Kg8 37.Qxb4 Ng6 38.Bc2 Qe8 39.Qe4 Qa8 40.a4 Bxb2 41.Qg4 Kh8 42.Bxg6 fxg6 43.Qxg6 Qxa4 44.Ne7 1-0.

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Ruslan Ponomariov, match game 4, Sicilian Scheveningen B80: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f3 e6 7.Be3 b5 8.g4 Nfd7 9.Qd2 Bb7 10.0-0-0 Nb6 11.Nb3 N8d7 12.Na5 Qc7 13.Kb1 Be7 14.h4 0-0 15.Bg5 f6 16.Be3 Ne5 17.Qf2 Nbc4 18.Nxb7 Qxb7 19.Bd4 Rac8 20.Ne2 Nc6 21.Be3 Nxe3 22.Qxe3 Qa7 23.Qb3 d5 24.exd5 Na5 25.Qd3 Nc4 26.Nf4 Ne3 27.Nxe6 Nxd1 28.Qxd1 Rfe8 29.Bd3 Qf2 30.f4 Bd6 31.g5 Rxe6 32.dxe6 Qxf4 33.Rf1 Qe5 34.Re1 Qc5 35.gxf6 gxf6 36.Qg4+ Kh8 37.Rg1 Qc7 38.e7 1-0.

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Ruslan Ponomariov, match game 8, Queen's Gambit Accepted, D27: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.a4 Nc6 8.Qe2 Be7 9.Rd1 0-0 10.dxc5 Qc7 11.b3 Bxc5 12.Bb2 b6 13.Nbd2 Bb7 14.Rac1 Nb4 15.Ng5 Qe7 16.Ndf3 h6 17.Nh3 Rfd8 18.Nf4 Rxd1+ 19.Rxd1 Rd8 20.Rxd8+ Qxd8 21.Ne5 Nbd5 22.Nh5 Be7 23.h3 Qc7 24.e4 Nb4

25.Nxf7 Kxf7 26.Nxg7 Bc8 27.Nf5 b5 28.axb5 axb5 29.Nxe7 Kxe7 30.Bxb5 Qc2 31.Ba3 Qc3 32.Qc4 Qa1+ 33.Kh2 Qxa3 34.Qxc8 Qa5 35.Qc5+ Kd8 36.Qd6+ Kc8 37.Qxe6+ Kb8 38.Bc4 Qc7+ 39.e5 Ne4 40.f4 Nd2 41.Qxh6 Nxc4 42.Qf8+ Ka7 43.Qxb4 Nb6 44.e6 Nc8 45.Qd4+ Kb8 46.Qe5 1-0.