'It was very interesting and enjoyable`

ARVIND AARON

FORMER world chess champion Viswanathan Anand, who kept his title in the Chess Classic at Mainz, said the quality of the games in his victory over world champion Ruslan Ponomariov of Ukraine was better than in 2001 when he beat Vladimir Kramnik, the other world champion from Russia.

Fresh after winning the most important match this year, Anand, 32, spoke on a wide range of chess topics featuring his match, his decision to play for a German club in this Bundesliga season, and also in defending his World Cup title at Hyderabad in October in an exclusive telephonic chat with The Sportstar from his hotel room.

Question: Congratulations. How do you feel after winning three in a row?

Answer: I am quite happy. I didn't want to lose this title. I think the way I played was also very nice. I am very happy especially with the last two days. I also think both matches (Duel of Graces included) were one of the most exciting I have ever seen. We really fought all eight games. It was very interesting and enjoyable. I also learnt a lot.

Did you both try to surprise each other in the openings though finally we had a not-so-surprising result after the various twists and turns in the match?

I had a feeling that he was very well prepared. For example, on the first day I played the Sveshnikov for the first time in my life and he was prepared! I played the Caro-Kann, he was ready. Whatever I did he was ready and had something waiting. I heard he had done a big training camp in July. So, after that I tried to keep him guessing by changing the openings often. And I guess he tried to do that as well.

Game eight sealed Ponomariov's fate, virtually. Honestly, you deserve a bravery award but did you check all the variations or did you leave a few of them?

At that point I was down to about four minutes. He was slightly under that. And I felt, okay, you have to take your chances. I felt I had a safe draw. There was a lot of counterplay. It was not that there was one easy tactic somewhere and all over for him. As it turned out Fritz (computer programme) claimed that after Kh8, Qg6, e5 and black (Ponomariov) was winning. But I had the feeling that I had to explore this further before giving it up. It was quite possible that it did not see the compensation for a while.

Is that your best ever rapid chess game? Can you rank your best three rapid games of all time?

I think in Frankfurt 2000 my (white side) wins against both Shirov and Morozevich were very nice. This eighth game I think is up there. Certainly it helped me win a very crucial match. Also, every bit of success is welcome. I mean it motivates you more. I was quite disappointed after Leon 2002. I am quite happy to do well here. I mean I have to think more.

Three in a row. Is it the right time to tell the organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt to change the colour of the (Black) Jacket?

(Laughs) Yes. But I have a nice collection of Black Jackets now. May be next year the men and women can swap black and red!

Your start was not as good as you may have expected. Was playing Advanced Chess a mistake on the eve of the match and did it have an effect on the opening day?

I would say even more, because I haven't played for a long time. After Prague I have not played chess. I played Advanced Chess, which is a slightly different format. Even though your mind is involved, you don't realise it because your computer does some of the thinking for you. I did not get the feeling of moving the pieces for three months. You can train all you want but it is very difficult to recreate the tension you feel in a real game. And I really felt this on day one.

In the first game, when he played this move a4, I was very slow to react. Somehow I miraculously saved that one. There was a second one and in the third one I was quite disappointed to lose but he played very well. After that I felt I had warmed up. Now I have many tournaments coming up and I don't have to take these long breaks.

You are known to stick to one opening in matches with either colour. Is there a reason for your change of direction or was it necessitated by what was happening at the board?

Basically yes. But I also asked myself, how long are you going to play the same openings? I wanted to try new stuff and I was able to do that here. But I have a lot of preparation in many different areas. I had a feeling that I have to somehow leverage this here.

Ponomariov missed his chance in game one. Did he also miss a chance in game six as claimed by his seconds Bologan and Komarov?

No, not at all. In game six he missed nothing. In game five I missed something. In game six, I don't understand what they are talking about. Even in the end if he plays fe5 he can claim some slight advantage, but that is very far away from victory.

Whom are you training with these days and was there a new strategy to jump openings prompted by someone else?

To be honest, in July I was alone, I was not working with anyone. I just sat, looked at my chess. The main thing is to have this tournament tension. You do more work in these two or three days than you do in three weeks because you have this tension and perform under pressure. All the problems come out here, not before.

Except for 1999 you have had a nice time winning this rapid tournament in the Frankfurt/Mainz area. What change did you see this time?

Every thing else is the same. I think it was well organised as always. Obviously this match between the two women had a new touch. You don't see that often. Basically I would like to single out my play. I think Ponomariov was a very interesting opponent. Because he is so aggressive and fights so hard, the chess becomes so interesting. Last year somehow both (Kramnik, Anand) of us were under tremendous pressure. So, that made it really low quality. It was full of blunders and we were really struggling. Here, if you see the games they are very interesting. I think the spectators enjoyed it a lot.

Did you miss chances in any game besides winning game four and eight?

Well, in game five, had I gone a3+ to his Kb2, then I would have been in a better position. I don't know if it was a forced win but it would never have been better. I might have missed a chance. In general it was a sharp opening. He also could have been better at some point.

How do you get motivated when you play someone like Ponomariov, an 18-year-old? The last time you played a FIDE World Champion was at Leon when you vanquished Karpov 5-1. Do the titles of your opponents mean anything to you or is it always your motivation to win at chess whatever format you play?

Ponomariov is clearly the real thing. Karpov - I didn't take him seriously in 1999. I mean, I didn't take his title seriously in 1999 because it was clear that he got it as a gift. Ponomariov is different. I mean, this is the guy who earned it at the chessboard. I have no real problem with that. After (winning at) Prague and now this, obviously, I think I am making a point.

Which was your best moment in Mainz and also the worst if you had any? Did you celebrate your victory?

Oh... no celebration. It finished at around 11 O'clock. We went for dinner and went to sleep. Friday (trailing 1-2) night was tough. I mean I felt I should start fighting now and that was it.

Your next event will be playing for the World Team (Rest of the World versus Russia) at Moscow from September 8. Frankly, who is the favourite?

I think it is a close call. Maybe Russia is a favourite but it could go either way. The World Team also has incredibly strong players.

With the attempted FIDE Grand Prix falling apart (India did not organise in July and Croatia did not do it in August) after just two events, how does the calendar look for you this year?

Things have worked out quite interestingly. I will play Russia versus Rest of the World. I have Corsica Masters later. I have some Bundesliga matches. I am playing for Baden OOS and then Wijk aan Zee.

Will your training camp with the Indians be an annual affair or one random attempt to try and help Indian chess buddies?

I hope that this is something I will do very often. I am also in a learning curve here. I wanted to do something like this. I definitely want to do something along these lines in the future. I don't know how the future events will be. I would like to work with people who are interested on a long term basis.

Can you tell us something of what this camp is about and do you have any clue to which person or age group it will benefit better?

I have generally picked these young players. Of course they are also our top players. This is like a trial thing with the (Indian) team. I hope to work in general with broad groups of people, kids and it is not restricted to any category. Since this is the first shot, I am going to try with one group and see if I can help them a little bit. And I hope one day it will lead to a full scale academy. I will take it step by step.

Is this training session part of your future plans to start an academy? There is no retirement in chess unlike as in cricket or tennis. When you see Korchnoi playing you will realise that there is no retirement for chess players. So, how are you going to divide your time between chess playing and teaching in the realistic sense?

I think you can always find some time in the year. Not to dedicate it to full time coaching but if I can collaborate with them it will be interesting for me. Hopefully it will be quite interesting for them too. The other thing is, obviously I am involved with my own career, I cannot devote too much time to the academy. I am still in the thick of things and I can pass on things more directly. It is one thing to pass on your experience of seven years ago and it is another thing to pass on your experience of two days ago. I think that aspect is also important. I don't see it bad to combine a career with this. I will do it on a limited basis.

There might be a FIDE election this year for the first time after Moscow 1994. Do you believe that we need reform or is not FIDE on the right track already?

I don't follow the chess politics that much any more. I hope there are some positive signs. Once this unification deal is over, something positive will happen in about two years. I mean there are lots of isolated efforts in chess. I hope they will pull together and do something.

Do you think that someone should question the authority of the Indian chess federation from making misleading press releases that Kasparov, Kramnik, Fischer and Anand would play in the World Cup at Hyderabad without getting the actual consent of the concerned players? Have you actually decided to defend your World Cup title you won at Shenyang 2000 in Hyderabad this October?

In my case I am likely to play. This is something we will finalise in the next few days. As for the others I knew Kramnik and Kasparov were never going to play. Kramnik has his computer match at the same time. I was surprised to see their names on the list but I know at some point the final list will come. Anyway this is for the press to clarify.