`I'd like to complete a hat-trick'

In this exclusive interview to The Sportstar, Anand shares his views on the present scenario, besides talking about his own success.

ARVIND AARON

THE Prague Agreement of May 2002 kept out Viswanathan Anand from competing for the world title. The Indian has won all major tournaments ever since and has used that issue as a motivating factor in his fabulous successes till date.

Viswanathan Anand with his wife Aruna during the Corsica Masters Rapid chess tournament at Bastia. — Pic. ARVIND AARON-

For most champions, their best effort comes in the brief period before they crown themselves as world champions. Here we have a different kind of champion, who continues to stay high and has won as many as 16 international tournaments since clinching the world title in December 2000.

On January 25, Anand won the Corus chess tournament at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands for the fourth time in nine appearances and second time in a row. At 34, he is now in the older group of players but is able to use his experience to wriggle out of difficult situations with ease.

In this exclusive interview to The Sportstar, Anand shares his views on the present scenario, besides talking about his own success.

"We are capable of winning a medal in the Chess Olympiad," says Anand. -- Pic. AP-

Question: A player who wins most of the tournaments he competes in is ranked No. 1. You are winning almost all the competitions but what is standing between you and the No. 1 rank? What is happening in the chess world?

Answer: In chess, the rating list reflects earlier performances and is weighed against the recent performance. A player could easily sit on his rating just fulfilling the minimum requirements. It needs an overhaul, perhaps a list that starts from scratch every year and reflects the best player of that year. Also, some consolidation of the rapid and classical games is needed, since players tend to play a mixture of both time controls over the year.

How does it feel to surpass Kasparov's three titles at Wijk aan Zee? You are now on a par with Euwe, Portisch and Korchnoi with four titles to your credit.

Of course, I am quite happy to have joined this select club, but I would like to complete a hat-trick. The last two years are especially notable since I won outright.

You have played in Wijk aan Zee from 1989. What is that special chemistry that makes you return each time and also to perform there?

It was my first big international tournament and of course that makes it a special place to return to. Also, the organisation is flawless and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed except for the chess. You can walk by restaurants or bars in the evening and they are all playing chess out there.

You had called Wijk aan Zee as the `Ice Box' of the refrigerator. How was it this time?

There were some really cold years (-31C in 1996), but the weather this year was really nice. It was a relatively mild winter this time.

Did you expect to score more than plus four (8.5/13) this time?

Well, had I not lost in the penultimate round, then plus five (9/13) or six (9.5/13) would have been within reach. However, it is a tough event and one has to expect a setback once in a while.

Do you share the opinion that most players, excepting you, failed to provide the lively spirit at Wijk aan Zee this time?

Not really. There was a lot of fighting chess and even the encounters between the top seeds often produced decisive results. I think it was one of the most interesting years.

In your own case, you had a stint of 70 undefeated games in Wijk aan Zee running from 1998 until you met Topalov in the penultimate round. Isn't that a sign that you aren't taking a lot of risk to win more games?

Well, the number of wins I score when I play black has gone up in the last two years, which is good. I think it shows that I play sharper openings now. However, sometimes you get into a rut of draws with black and it's difficult to break out of it. I still score heavily with white though.

Is this your easiest super category tournament victory ever? You nearly made it with a round to spare.

It would have been if I had remained undefeated. I prefer the word convincing rather than easy — it's never easy — sometimes you just score better.

Any regrets for not playing in Linares this year?

No. I plan to use the time to take some rest and to do some training. These days, you need to take breaks and rejuvenate yourself, because the tournaments are getting more competitive.

You have decided to play for India in the Chess Olympiad to be held in Spain this October. You are returning to the team after 12 years. Our team has since improved and had its best ever placing in Istanbul 2000. Do you believe that this all-Grandmaster team for the first time will give us a chance to win a medal?

We are capable of winning a medal, but there are a lot of good teams out there and we will have to do well in the crunch rounds. Russia will be a big favourite for the gold of course.

Are you a beneficiary of the Prague Agreement since those who had to benefit from it have gotten nowhere and you have hardened to win every tournament you are competing in? Or, do you see it differently?

I think it lies in the way one reacts to these things. I have used it to motivate myself and looked at it as a challenge and that has helped.

Which was your best game of the tournament?

I liked the games against Bareev and Akopian. But if I had to choose one, I would go for the game against Bareev.

Do lapses as those, which came in your game against Bologan, also come and go unnoticed in other games?

Sometimes it happens. He played a novelty I hadn't expected and I assumed he would have checked it thoroughly. So I dismissed the obvious lines. It turned out he simply blundered — he had forgotten something. It was funny.

Did the other Asian in the field, Zhang Zhong, measure up to the group?

It was tough for him, but he showed himself to be very tenacious in many games and certainly deserved to be in the group.

Where will you rank this Corus tournament victory in your huge list of tournament titles? Below or above Linares 1998?

Both are important victories in high category events. I would say that I played better this year and that the spectators would have enjoyed my games in Wijk aan Zee more.

Do you think the relevance of the world title is lost since Kramnik hasn't defended his title for four years now and Ponomariov won an annual knock-out and also has not had to defend his title for more than two years now?

Yes. The chess world needs something to happen soon. Without a clear champion and also a better, updated rating list, it is difficult for fans to understand what is going on and it hurts the sport.