'I am hungry for more success'

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THE FIDE world championship title in Teheran and the World Cup triumph in China are something special in the illustrious career of chess wizard, Viswanathan Anand.

M. MOORTHY

But, for someone who was on the brink of elimination and virtually scraped through, courtesy Krishnan Sasikiran's loss to Kasimdzhanov in the last round game, the champion player put on show his renowned mastery on the 64-square board when it mattered the most to successfully defend his title. This was more special than the other two world titles and gave him utmost satisfaction as his "third greatest'' win had come on Indian soil.

The 33-year-old genius, who had virtually triggered off a chess revolution in the country with his phenomenal success at the highest level over the years, shared his experiences in the World Cup tournament and also his thoughts in an exclusive chat with The Sportstar immediately after his triumph.

Excerpts:

Let us start with all the confusion about your very participation in the World Cup here.

Answer: Let me put things straight. There was a communication gap between the organisers and the players. A lot of players were asking me in Moscow whether the World Cup would be held or not. There was the normal curiosity on the part of the players to know about the event. So I sought some clarifications from the FIDE and once I got a satisfactory reply, I had no hesitation to play in the tournament here.

So, it has nothing to do with the selective leaks of the AICF that Anand was demanding appearance money and the bargaining was on?

Well, I am not aware of what was happening on this front. I think we should close the subject now as there is no point in discussing it.

When you started your campaign as the defending champion, what was your first impression?

To be frank, my first priority was to get past the preliminary round-robin format featuring five games each. This is a very tricky format.

This, despite the general impression that the competition was not really tough as big names such as Kasparov, Kramnik, Ponomariov, to name a few, were missing?

Look at it in another way. A very seasoned campaigner, Vassily Ivanchuk, failed to qualify for the knock-out phase. So was the case with Alexander Morozevich. Let me remind you once again that the 24 players in the fray have been ranked among the top 40 players in the world. Obviously, you cannot choose an opponent. One has to play with those in the competition and prove his worth. It is not just a cakewalk as one might think from outside.

What have you to say about your sluggish start here?

Definitely I was worried with my early form. I started off with a draw in a very solid game against Xu Jun of China and then that terrible loss to Sasi (Sasikiran) in the second round. Suddenly, I was in a situation where I had to win the next three games to qualify for the knock-out phase.

Can you be more specific about the loss to Sasikiran?

Well, he outplayed me in the second round. He had chosen an opening which was not played for ages. It is not exactly London System as it deviated a bit. Basically, I was unsure of what to do. He too had one or two mistakes. It was a very tough defeat. My form was in doubt. Two blunders in one game. It rarely happens. I was nervous.

How did you move into top gear? Were you not tense, facing elimination once you settled for a draw in the crucial final round and waited for the result of the Kasimdzhanov-Sasikiran game?

Definitely not. Once I won the third game, things started looking easier. And my draw in the fifth round was a practical one. It made others start thinking. I was really calm that day. I went for a long walk around the Film City. I said to myself, 'Okay, if I am kept out of the tournament because of a funny tie-breaker system.' Yes, it would have been a pity if I was knocked out. But, one has to be ready to face the reality.

What went wrong against Sasikiran?

Some things are very difficult to explain. There are a lot of good players out there. It is not all that easy. But, Sasikiran seemed to have come prepared really well against me. Sometimes you can play well but the points should come at the right time. I personally would love to play without telling myself: "I have to win at all costs."

What was your best game in this World Cup?

I think my win against Kasim (Rustam Kasimdzhanov) in the second round of the championship final. I played a good game despite his acute novelty. It was nice to finish without a tie-breaker.

Were you surprised at the way Vassily Ivanchuk played here for he was projected to be your strongest challenger?

Somehow he seemed to be content with draws to qualify for the knock-out. It amazed me. Frankly, it would have been better to finish off the group stage going for wins. You can't hope to qualify with 50 per cent results in the league phase.

How was Alexey Dreev? It must have been terribly draining, both physically and mentally, after your semi-final stretched into the second blitz game.

He comes to the games really well prepared. He does a lot of theoretical work. Against him you can't expect random middle-games. Well, the draws look like short ones for the outsiders. But, they were certainly intense battles. It took a long time for me to find his weakness. The whole idea of opting for the rarely employed Queen Pawn Opening was to put him under time pressure. Then, I brought in a 'set-up' which he found difficult to defend. And, he has this problem with the clock, always consuming more time to make the moves. This was what I tried to exploit and the ploy worked.

The game finished at about 9.00 p.m. and the next day the final was scheduled. How was that?

It was really exhausting. There was no time even to celebrate your semi-final win. There should have been rest days. The FIDE should give a thought to it. I didn't sleep the whole night. Then suddenly at 12.00 noon the next day when I was about to play the first round of the final with black, I was a bit worried. And when the game began, I thought Kasim should have put more pressure on me as the position of black was unpleasant. I needed a short draw to come back for the second round after relaxing a bit. And more importantly, in the second round, I was able to solve all the problems on the board very easily.

How was the feeling after you clinched the issue?

Well, a World Cup win is a World Cup win. It was very nice to win here. Lots of people still say that I missed out a golden chance during the Sanghi World Championship last time in Sanghinagar. It has nothing to do with the venue. The problem was with me. I played badly against Kamsky in the tie-breaker. So, it gives great pleasure to win the Cup in this dynamic city.

What is your assessment of the Indians' performance here?

I am particularly impressed with Sasi, Humpy and Meenakshi. Perhaps, as Short put it, Humpy's nerves took over in the crucial semi-final. Hari seems to have felt the pressure. As far as Ganguly is concerned had he not lost to Short he could have been happier, but the English Grandmaster simply improvised on the board on that day. It is really heartening to see the Indian girls give the formidable Chinese a run for their money here.

What do you hate the most?

I am very moody. Generally, I would love to see very little changes in a given environment.

Is it true that you were upset with the photographers in the beginning of this tournament?

No real problems with them. May be, they were a bit more enthusiastic as this being the first World Cup in this city. But, that was understandable. I have no complaints. In fact, I was really happy to see so many kids around. Chess has definitely become a major sport in our country.

What is the role of Aruna Anand?

Well, she understands my mind. She blocks the outside world during the championship so that I get the ideal atmosphere for preparations. Once in a while I discuss the game, though not in detail.

To whom do you dedicate this victory?

Well, to all my family members, officials and all those whose best wishes were always with me.

Any thoughts on the FIDE re-unification process?

Honestly, I have decided to put the issue behind me. I am least bothered about it right now.

Why is it that you avoid taking part in the Olympiad?

Somehow, I don't like the format which allows a particular team to squeeze in irrespective of its indifferent form in the previous rounds. There is a lot of imbalance in it.

How do you assess your role in the dramatic growth of the sport in the country?

I look it at this way. I consider myself as a catalyst to the whole process. But one should give credit to the youngsters for all their brilliant performances. Clearly, there is a lot of depth for chess in India now. All we need is more big tournaments back home.

You have won almost everything in chess. But what still motivates you?

I am still hungry for more success. The motivation comes from setting new goals. For instance, my immediate goal is to break into the 2800-plus ELO rating. I still love the game. I can't imagine of thinking about anything else. I can't visualise a role which is different from the current one - playing competitive chess, say in the next two years or so.