`It gives me that extra boost to work on the game'

K. PICHUMANI

Viswanathan Anand remembers the moments that led to his crowning at Linares and how he felt on topping the ranking charts for the first time. An interview by Rakesh Rao.

After a job well done it is time to relax and look back.

Finally, Viswanathan Anand has become the top-ranked player in the world of chess after looking good to be the numero uno for a long time.

After the epoch-making triumph in Linares and retaining the Amber rapid title, Anand took some time off to share his thoughts with Sportstar; the moments that led to the Linares crown and how he felt on topping the ranking charts for the first time.

In this freewheeling interview, Anand talks about the Morelia/Linares tournament, compares it to his previous triumph in 1998, what the rankings meant to him and how he plans to maintain his position. He also spoke about his performances at Corus and Amber tournaments as well as the display of the prodigious Norwegian 16-year-old `kid', Magnus Carlsen; and his plans to celebrate his recent conquest and much more.

Question: Congratulations on becoming the top-ranked player in the world. How were the moments leading to the Linares title that in turn ensured the world number one spot?

Answer: In the penultimate round in Linares, I was leading by half a point. My rival for the last round was Vassily Ivanchuk. I was playing with black. A rival like `Chuky' is very tough. He is one of the most versatile players. Since I had black I had to be extra careful not to spoil my chances in the tournament. By now, (Alexander) Morozevich had beaten (Veselin) Topalov and irrespective of the last-round result, I was de facto World No. 1.

I remember going for a walk with Aruna. She looked at me and smiled and I smiled back. We both knew what had happened and both of us realised that tomorrow the job had to be done well.

We said nothing to each other. I played solidly against Ivanchuk. In fact, the idea came from a game I played with white against (Francisco Pons) Vallejo in 2005. White had this dominating position with a lot of space advantage, but black could sit and play short moves without diluting the position. This strategy worked well.

Perfect couple. Anand with his wife Aruna.-R. RAGU

When I finished the game I went for a walk. Magnus (Carlsen) was still playing. At first, I thought I calculated my tie-break like crazy and then we decided to call our parents. I had won Linares and I was World No. 1. There was no way anything could go wrong now.

To what extent is it possible to play without really looking at the rankings or not allowing that to influence one's performance?

It depends on how you take it. When I became a Grandmaster I found it difficult to play. Since the time I was about 12 years of age, everyone spoke on whether India would ever get a Grandmaster and we had many candidates. So, when I actually cracked it, I felt I had achieved what I set out to do. Somehow, the heart and mind work funnily in tandem. Both these are difficult to control. It can motivate you to higher performance or it can create a mirage that you are just on top. This time I am very consciously taking some time off and looking forward to preparing for the next set of events.

Does the world number one spot change anything in you?

It is like a 10-year-old getting new shoes. You feel like you are flying. Of course, I am extremely happy that I got to the top spot. It gives me that extra boost to work on chess.

You have never been affected by the rise and fall of ratings in the past. But now that you are on top, what are your plans to remain there?

Nothing. Just prepare well. Just because you are World No. 1, chess doesn't become a different game.

Now that you have achieved another goal of your list, what is left in that list?

Winning each tournament is an achievement. There are micro goals and macro goals. If you go after the micro goals only then you can get to the macro ones. Every tournament has become very difficult. You just don't have any minnows. Everyone has excellent analysis. So, winning each game is a difficult task. Mexico (the World championship) is the macro goal.

Coming to your performances this year, how do you look back at Corus? What are your best and worst moments?

I came to Corus with the reputation of being a five-time winner. Since 1996, I have either won the event or finished second. Now that is quite an impressive record. I worked very hard at Corus and even had better preparation. But in both my losses at critical moments I saw the right move and went for an inferior continuation. Sometimes you just play bad chess. I was able to recover a little. I did play some good games against (Sergey) Karjakin, (Loek) Van Wely and (Peter) Svidler. But it lacked the power of the previous years. I could have pushed a little more against (Teimour) Radjabov and (Magnus) Carlsen. But I was a little pessimistic in both those games.

After Corus, did you put in more in your preparations for Morelia-Linares?

Between Corus and Morelia we had only eight days (we went a week earlier to get over the jet lag). So I didn't have much time to train. I decided to do some work but more importantly to just get some rest. When you have an indifferent result you have 100 things your brain is telling you to do. You have this need to do something immediately. At that point just to switch off and start again is a good idea. We actually spent a week in Patzcuaro (an idyllic lake resort near Morelia). So it was part holiday, part work. We went on sightseeing tours, watched movies and I did some work. I got to Morelia, rested and was happy. Since I had Topalov in the first round I was keen to start the event well. I played well against Magnus and converted two games against Morozevich and Leko to wins. In both those games my position was not very safe but somehow it turned out that I emerged victorious.

I won Linares because I salvaged every half point that I could. I just hung in there long enough.

Your memories of Linares, particularly when you won in 1998 ahead of Kasparov and Kramnik, with Topalov finishing last. In comparison, how do you look at the 2007 edition?

I played for the first time in Linares in 1991 and I was seen as a young revelation. I met Maurice and Nieves Perea there. I told Nieves if I beat Karpov I would treat her to the best Chinese food. When I did win, we went out and this was how I became their Indian child and made Spain as my training base. Of course, you would have seen them in Brussels, 1991.

In 1998, I had just finished a marathon in Groningen-Lausane. After that I had to play this unjust match against a player who had just come off a beach vacation. I lost the match by a whisker.

Within five days I played in Wijk aan Zee and won the event along with Kramnik. When I got to Linares, I was not expecting to be a candidate for the top prize. Halfway through the event I found myself in contention for first place. I played a nice game against Svidler, Topalov and Ivanchuk. Nieves was so happy and as tradition dictated we went to a fine Chinese restaurant and I insisted on paying.

This year I was coming after Wijk Aan Zee and my form was not too good. I decided to just try and put in a decent performance. I took it round by round. By the time the Morelia half was finished, I realised I had a good shot at first place. The difference between 1998 and 2007 is not much. In both the years, I came to the event just hoping to have a decent run. In 1998 I found myself in the reckoning. In 2007 I never let the top spot out of my sight.

Your thoughts on Magnus Carlsen. Is it too early to say that he is part of the elite club?

Magnus Carlsen showed a lot of tenacity and talent in Morelia/Linares. In Wijk, the same kid (if I can use the term!) was suffering with a huge minus score. In Linares, he was very confident and played with a lot of ease. In his games against Ivanchuk and Topalov, he showed tactical finesse and good execution. I have been interacting with him over these months. He is a nice kid. He has a very good sense of humour and we also play in the same German league.

To put him down already as part of the World Elite — Is it too early? No, not at all. He is among the world's strongest players. He is touching 2700 and a Candidate for the World Championship cycle. At 16, that surely is an indication of his present strength.

In the Amber tournament, your rapid performances were in keeping with the expectations. But what went wrong in blindfold this year, especially against Kramnik?

If you are not fresh or not feel 100%, blindfold is the most punishing format. I just started playing badly in the blindfold. I understood quite early in the event that my blindfold is going to turn out quite bad. In the game against Vlady (Kramnik), I forgot where his rook was. I played rook takes f2, thinking his rook was on f2. Because, in all the calculation I made I was not able to figure out where his rook was. Rf2 was a clear blunder. I lost my rook and the game.

How were the rapid games? What does winning the rapid title in Amber mean to you?

I played very well. My game against Ivanchuk was very good. So was the one against Aronian. In the latter game, I had a good advantage but played very subtle moves to keep the pressure like b4. With Ivanchuk, nxh4 was again a very good move. In both these games, I came back after a loss to win the rapid. Actually, in Monaco, it is very difficult to do well in both formats if you don't feel 100%. When I saw my blindfold suffering it somehow liberated me to do well in the rapids. When I got to Monaco I was not expecting great things. Generally, players who do well in Linares, always have a rough time in Monaco. Also, I was still in euphoria-mode. I had been playing for a month so I didn't want to put more pressure on myself. I started badly. When I beat Teimour (Radjabov), 2-0, I was a bit optimistic but realised I was not going to do what I did in 2005 or 2006. After the rest day, may be, I was able to calm myself a little. I was very happy for once to actually finish No. 2. Vlady (Kramnik) played a very good event. He was fresh and had a lot of good ideas. The break between Corus and Monaco had helped Kramnik as he had not played in Morelia/Linares. In the rapid, I played a very interesting game and was very close to winning. But I actually hit a blind spot and didn't see the clear winning plan. In the end, it turned out to be a very good event for Vlady. A very professional show considering that he led from start to finish.

Personally, I was extremely happy to wrap up the rapid with a round to spare. A two-point margin that too. And also, finishing No. 2 overall was quite in tune with my play. I had three 2-0 wins and that made a difference in the final standings.

How do you usually celebrate your success? Will it be any different this time?

Every time I finish a game, whether I win or lose, Aruna will be waiting for me. From her face it is very difficult to make out whether she is happy or sad. When I finished the last game in Linares, I could see her waiting for me and I just came to her and said, "We did it." Linares has always been one of my toughest events. I have spent sleepless nights in previous years and I was really happy that Aruna didn't have to go through that. The celebrations will be at home first.