"I was able to play logically"

VICTORIES in two of the three major chess competitions in the first quarter of the year has given World Cup champion Viswanathan Anand a rosy start in a non-world championship year.

ARVIND AARON

Viswanathan Anand has brought more flexibility to his game. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

VICTORIES in two of the three major chess competitions in the first quarter of the year has given World Cup champion Viswanathan Anand a rosy start in a non-world championship year.

Displaying a mature approach he completed a hat-trick of sorts in the Amber chess tournament, winning his third title here and regaining the crown which he last won in 1997.

The Chennai-born chess legend who won the Corus tournament at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands and then slipped after looking like winning the Linares tournament, won the Amber tournament playing with great control against his opponents and observing caution when it required.

By winning the title for the third time, Anand leaves a positive impression as no other player has won the title three times unshared like the 33-year old Indian has done. Vladimir Kramnik has two unshared titles and two shared titles making it four.

A good year for Anand can be easily predicted. However, there is no world championship for him this year and he is not working with his trainer Elizbar Ubilava. This itself is a good sign as Anand is doing more work all by himself. He arrived having lost five kilos of weight and was in top condition as he was visiting the gym regularly.

While on a taxi from Monte Carlo to Nice airport early in the morning on March 28, Anand spoke exclusively to The Sportstar. He touched all the topics needed to be addressed in the chess world: Leko's success in Linares, Kasparov's outburst at the closing ceremony, FIDE's silence and the reunification plan, besides his own Amber tournament success.

Excerpts:

Question: How is it to win the tournament once again?

Answer: Obviously, I am happy. This has been long coming. This has not come since '97. It was pleasant to have been almost always in the lead this year. In the earlier years I fell behind pretty quickly and it became impossible to make up. After the fifth or sixth round I was already close to the lead. That is a great performance.

You kept a good balance between blindfold and rapid chess and became the first player to win the combined title without either winning the blindfold or rapid?

The main thing is to win it. It is quite frustrating to play when you already know after the first three or four rounds you are not going to win the tournament unless you start winning games like crazy. In earlier events I was forced to focus on the blindfold or the rapid and try and win something. This time I was always in contention.

Which was your best game in this tournament? The last round win against Topalov.

In 1994 you made a record score (17/22) and in 1997 you made another record of sweeping all the three titles. This time out would you say that in general chess events are getting tougher?

I think the point is if you look at the field this year there is hardly a player who doesn't belong to the world absolute top. I think everyone starts with 2650 rating here. This means it is a brutally tough field which was not the case in 1994 and in 1997. Having said that, 1997 was probably my best performance here. Not only was the field strong, I also managed a record score. But one should not start off with that aim in mind. This tournament is unbelievably strong like Linares. You want to win it handsomely, but it doesn't happen sometimes. Actually this tournament is not weaker than Linares.

You won and drew on alternate days in a religious manner. Were you playing a little too cautiously?

No. It was not that I was playing too cautiously. I am more practical may be. On certain days you will get a position where you have to decide to gamble or not. This time I hardly gambled. I didn't need to do silly things. More or less maintaining the pace was pleasure enough.

This sort of thing can always backfire. Look at Leko, he beat Van Wely 2-0 and was very excited. In the next match he lost to Ljubo with a rook up! Many of the others suffered these ups and downs. I mean, if you are trying too hard, giving the position more than it can give, this sort of thing happens. I was happy I was able to play, let's say logically.

Towards the end, many of your rivals only managed 1-1 or lost games. Did that help you?

No, not at all. In fact, it was the opposite. Someone like Leko, I would expect him to beat Van Wely, but not by 2-0. It came as easily as he made it look. Topalov beat Ivanchuk 2-0, again not an everyday result. These always happened one or two rounds from the end. It changed the situation dramatically. Had these been 1.5-0.5 I would have been a point clear without beating Topalov. It is also true that I came through at the critical moments. Maybe it looks easy but it was very tough.

Was playing blindfold a little more difficult since you took a one-year break last year?

Not really. It is clear that blindfold is more tiring by its very nature. Like I said, when you are playing a Linares type field, it is just tough.

Many grandmasters at the Amber tournament said blindfold chess doesn't mean there is a drop in normal playing strength especially when there are two contestants like you and Kramnik participating. Do you believe there is a drop in playing level when it is blindfold chess?

No. I think most of the participants here have come to a pretty high level. I mean, you see pretty beautiful combinations. All this stuff which people thought would not happen in blindfold is happening here. In fact the level of chess is very high. But it takes a lot more from you than when you play the rapid, that is for sure. It is certain that you spend a lot of energy in blindfold. Here, a lot of people are tired before the rapid round that way.

The organisers made a comment at the closing ceremony that "play was not at a very high level". What is your opinion on that?

I frankly don't know. I can't speak for all the players. Obviously, I did not have the time to look at every single game in depth. As for my games I would say they were pretty high level. Also three or four players played quite good games. May be other games had some mistakes. I do not know that. I can say my games were quite high level.

What is your schedule for the rest of the year?

I will play now (tomorrow) in the Bundesliga and then in Denmark and maybe there is a three-day tournament at Bilbao (Spain) in May. Then we are looking at Dortmund and Mainz in July-August. That is followed by Cap D'Age and Corsica Masters in France in October. That is how it looks like now.

Do you see the FIDE match and the reunification event coming as per schedule?

Well, there is no sign of that happening. Actually there appears to be very little movement on that front.

On your own play at Linares this year, do you think the two defeats — which could have been drawn — in rook endings to Kasparov and Leko spoilt your title chances?

Well, that is obviously clear. Otherwise, I would have been plus three. At a certain moment I got tired and the positions slipped out of my hands. That may be something to look into for the future. Okay, also I played better than I normally play there. So, that is good.

On Kasparov's outburst at the closing ceremony in Linares, do you think that best game prizes should be decided by Kasparov and some other players or by journalists like it happens there?

To be honest, I don't think the best game prize is that relevant. Okay, you can have people voting on these things, but there is no point getting upset about these things. We suggest ways for the fans to participate (like it happens in Wijk aan Zee) and you may not always agree with their decision. So, why such a big deal?

By winning at Linares has Leko joined the big three: Kasparov, Anand and Kramnik?

Well, it is a big step for him. Winning in Dortmund 1999 was a big single step. Winning in Dortmund last year and Linares this year he is making big steps forward.

What was new in your own chess in this Amber tournament?

I think a certain amount of flexibility. If you see, I am able to play lots of different openings. If somebody used a good idea and I liked it I was able to study it quickly and deploy that myself. You can see the two Najdorf games, against Leko and Kramnik. The Sveshnikov in one game against Topalov on the final day and also I was ready to play the Berlin defence with the black pieces. I think a certain amount of flexibility was the key to my success here.

Do you think the players were cut off from normal town life with the games held in a hilltop hotel?

Yes. But it was a comfortable life and we really can't complain. There were pros and cons for this hotel. Overall, it was a pleasant experience. Also for me it was nice. In 1992 (at the same hotel), I was leading the tournament here till the last round. In the last two games I scored half a point while Ivanchuk scored two out of two. And that was how the title slipped away from me. In fact, I was leading the tournament by one point till the last day. I was very happy I was able to finish the job this time and make amends 11 years later.