`I have a very good fighting spirit'

FORMER world champion Viswanathan Anand scaled a new peak in coming back from deficit scores when he did it thrice in succession, and then went on to win 5-3 against Judit Polgar in an amazing match at Mainz, Germany.

ARVIND AARON

FORMER world champion Viswanathan Anand scaled a new peak in coming back from deficit scores when he did it thrice in succession, and then went on to win 5-3 against Judit Polgar in an amazing match at Mainz, Germany. The Indian believed in staging comebacks and remained positive and the rest followed.

"I have a very good fighting spirit," reassured Anand but said somehow journalists always wrote that I "lacked killer instinct." The 33-year-old Chennai-born chess professional listed some of his comebacks in his career and said this year has so far been "very successful year."

Recently, Anand has developed new skills in German and he gave press interviews and speeches from the podium in that language. Anand is a linguist speaking English, Tamil, Spanish, French and German and he even answers the press in all these languages. He also understands some Hindi and Dutch.

From the luxury of his hotel suite overlooking the Rhine river, Anand took on 10 questions from The Sportstar in an exclusive chat:

Question: Congratulations. The winning margin of 5-3 looks healthy. But did you feel that the match looked much more tense and close?

Answer: Yes. A two-point win looks like a pretty convincing win. In some sense it was. But the real difference was noticed only on the last day. For me, this time the main problem was that I found it difficult to concentrate. This was a serious problem. In all three games that I lost, I would say I was even better at some point. At least two out of three would not have been a bad score with these three games.

I am not claiming that I was unlucky. It was just a very hard fought match with errors flying all over the place. But especially what happened in the fifth game is just inexplicable — the moment I went Qc5-f2, which almost loses on the spot. And I missed my last chance just a move later. I had more time than Polgar. At some point the head was somewhere else. This I found quite disconcerting.

The good news is that every time it happened, I was faced with this one-point deficit. I was fully concentrated and I made a comeback. I felt somehow she was very vulnerable. It wasn't that she was playing great chess. It was just that I was playing badly. I felt that everyday I could somehow comeback, which was what happened. But it is better not to make a policy out of this.

Could the reason be playing rapid chess (25-minutes a game) immediately after a classical chess (seven-hour session) tournament?

Yes. That is certainly an issue. Then you have to ask the question why this did not happen in Linares (classical chess) and Monaco (rapid chess). But definitely here it affected me. In Dortmund, at very crucial moments I was able to sit there and take my time. Here I did not have that luxury. You don't have enough time.

Second thing, we both played very aggressively. We played every game to the maximum. Mistakes are bound to happen. First we were trading points because we were fighting so hard. Both of us made an effort to make the games exciting. Both of us were keen to fight in the sharpest lines. Also the 6.30 p.m. time was very difficult to get used to. Somehow I was motivated to play at 1 o'clock and at 6.30 that was gone (laughs). I took time to get used to it. Because, at Dortmund, I was used to playing at 3 p.m. every day. Here it was so late in the evening that I was trying to sleep in the afternoon because there was nothing much to do then.

Do you think there was some sign of overconfidence from your side since Gelfand had beaten her 6-2 in rapid chess recently and the chess world was expecting you to win by an even bigger margin?

I would say Gelfand played very well. One thing I noticed very quickly was that Gelfand's tactics were not giving him any problems like in the case with me. Very often I make a tactical blunder and throw a point away without fighting very hard. The third day was very illustrative of that. I lost the fifth game in 27 moves and won the sixth one in 60 moves. Partially my strategy was inspired by Gelfand. I thought if I go for the sharpest openings, I would make a big fight of it and perhaps put a lot of pressure on her. But honestly, you can't expect a 2715-rated player like Judit to lose 6-2 every time. It will happen once, not every single time. Even if Gelfand played again he wouldn't bet on that score.

The main thing there was that Gelfand played ruthlessly accurate. In every single game he managed to squeeze everything out of the position. After the third day I understood that my score no longer permitted that. So it was no longer even realistic since I was making too many mistakes. After the first game (in which Gelfand too lost like Anand), Gelfand made a power display. Yes, that match was quite important. Basically, they played with the same rhythm like us, two games a day. May be she had some kind of trial run, whereas I came from a different time control.

Even though I lost many games I did not feel that I was ever without a chance. Here, even if I had come to a deficit on day one I was sure I would fight back. She seemed vulnerable when I was concentrated and putting pressure. I was always fighting and in the end I came to a point close to Gelfand's achievement.

You said the best part of your play here was your ability to fight back and not give in quickly. But, looking at your own victories in Mainz, in every match you had to come from behind to win?

"For me the last two years have been very interesting. Ponomariov and Judit were real tough opponents. I would not like to think `who next,"' says Viswanathan Anand. — Pic. AFP-

If you see in 2001 I was totally unable to do this in Dortmund. In general I was able to fight back very well. In Moscow 2001 after this Touzane incident (as world champion Anand lost the first game in round one with the white pieces and came back to win the black game, force a tie-break and win that round) I still managed to make a good event though I lost to Chucky (Ivanchuk).

Look at the scale of the comebacks at Mainz. With Kramnik in 2001 I was under heavy pressure and I didn't really feel that I had won that match. More like I drew it and I won the tie-break. I just hung in there long enough because he was also missing this accuracy. Sometimes you need this clear headedness. The ability to cut through all the tactics and see what is essential. When you see it well you are able to finish off the job easily. For instance in Gelfand's match, in the second, third, fourth and fifth games he was accurate. When you are accurate your score explodes. Both Kramnik and Ponomariov also had these chances against me. If Kramnik had taken a two-point lead I don't think I would have been able to comeback. Since I kept the deficit to one point on the first day I was able to hit him (Kramnik) the next day. In general I have a very good fighting spirit. For some reason people always seem to write that I don't. If you look back I have often come back to win games and matches and so on.

Whom would you like to play next in Mainz?

For me the last two years have been very interesting. Ponomariov and Judit were real tough opponents. I would not like to think `who next'. I would like to spend my time analysing these games and also develop some feeling for the Sicilian, which I am playing much more frequently nowadays. It's exciting playing this chess. Against Kramnik it was an important match and also relevant (both were world champions) at that point. It's tough to play each other and also you know each other so well. You don't get to play new positions and so on. But in the last two years I have played really exciting matches. If there is someone like that it should also be exciting.

Now do you think the German spectators are going to expect a lot from chess due to this all-decisive match?

Certainly, this year we gave the spectators their money's worth. Eight decisive games is perfect chess. Mistakes going back and forth are nice. It is a different thing if you can have eight decisive games and all positional. But here it was tactics all the while and sharp Sicilian all the time, opposite side castling and so on. I think this time we did a good job in entertaining the spectators.

On the last day you changed your strategy. Why was that?

In fact Dautov pointed out something to me. Whenever you castled long (queen side) you lost except for this one game — game six. Whenever you castled short (king side) you won (laughs). It is funny but an interesting perspective. I did enjoy playing these first few games. It is not that I am going to play only short castle from now on. I did feel somehow he was right. This was at least Judit's type of game. I wanted to unsettle her a bit. I decided the Be2 (in game seven) and the Marshall (game eight) would unsettle her. She had used the Najdorf for many years and is quite used to it. Somehow in the end she was comfortable there! I wanted to put pressure on her in a different way. But I did not want to play something passive. So, the Marshall just seemed right. I was threatening to sack a pawn. She had to sit and defend for this one pawn. This was not what she wanted to do. Or, she played an anti-Marshall on which I spent a lot of time in Dortmund. I thought this would be a good strategy and it worked out brilliantly. When she played Bb1 (in game eight) I knew she was not mentally prepared for it. You have to play Bxe6 and play for the small edge. Somehow she wanted to keep the tactical possibilities open. In the end, the whole white front crumbled. In that sense it was a nice way to finish the match.

So, how did the first eight months go for you this year and what do you plan for the rest of the year?

It has been a very successful year. After Dortmund and Mainz it is nice to say things are fine. You can notice that I am able to overcome adversity quite well. It doesn't mean that I must put myself through it! Now I am happy to have this ability. This is not new. I came back twice in the match with Karpov (Lausanne 1998).

How different is Dautov (new trainer) from Ubi (former trainer Ubilava)?

He (Dautov) is not a permanent trainer. I mean we will work together quite often. We both enjoyed it a lot. We hit it off well when we were team-mates (for Baden Oos, in the German Bundesliga). I worked with him as often as I worked with Nielsen or Vallejo for example. In general I have been switching and working with a lot of people. Also, I have been alone once in a while. Sometimes he (Dautov) comes up with these nice remarks. He gives a new perspective and sometimes it helps. The job of a second is to point out the right direction once in a way. He analyses very well. It was a good positive combination.

What are you planning for the next few months?

I have a break for at least a month or a bit more. In October I will play in France at Cap d'age and Corsica. Then, there will be some Bundesliga matches and the tournament in Benidorm (Spain). Also it looks like the Kasparov versus Ponomariov match is on, so also the Kramnik versus Leko tie and I have heard some positive signals. If these things happen I would also want to study their games. Especially, the Kramnik-Leko match can be interesting for my opening repertoire. Kasparov-Ponomariov will also be interesting to me if Kasparov sticks to 1.e4. Then, next year the whole cycle will start with Wijk aan Zee, Linares and so on.