KING OF CORUS

V. GANESAN

I think it is difficult to single out the most important victory. At different stages in your career, different things take importance, says Anand to RAKESH RAO.

For Viswanathan Anand, winning titles is nothing new. But adding this year's Corus chess title to his long list of conquests was indeed very special for this genial Master of the Game. The fact that Anand equates the triumph to the 2000 World Championship title reflects the importance he attached to Corus. Anand became the first five-time winner of this prestigious tournament after being tied for this year's honour with World champion Veselin Topalov.

In this candid interview to Sportstar, Anand elaborated on the factors that made this title so special, his feelings on crossing the rating of 2800, the quality of his games and the general standard of the 14-player field. He took a close look at the games, including his last-round victory over Boris Gelfand. Excerpts.

Question: Anand, what makes this victory so big, so special?

Answer: In a game with such historic antecedence, doing something for the first time is very rare. Winning Corus for the fifth time is a first in chess history. It is one of my most important victories. In 2000, being World Champion was most important. Now being a winner in Corus is. I think it is difficult to single out the most important. At different stages in your career, different things take importance.

This time you did not start as the favourite. Did it help in handling the pressure better?

I didn't really think of it. In many events, I have started as the absolute favourite and won, sometimes not. I just concentrated on my chess and didn't want to take on other non-chess issues.

In terms of quality of play, how do you rate your games in particular, and others in general?

This year Corus had a very good mix of players. It had a very fresh appeal (both the stage and the players!). There was a mix of the wolves and the lambs. At the same time playing styles complemented the mix of players. For the first time, I played against Levon (Aronian), Sergei (Karjakin) and Etienne (Bacrot) in classical chess. The new faces added the spark. You have new rivals and you start looking at their games in detail. See, Levon is the revelation of 2005. He impressed in the World Cup. Etienne had great results, too. I was, in general, very happy with my play. In many games I tried to get an advantage. I had some good ideas and somehow kept the rhythm till the end.

Topalov played just like he did in 2005, attacking style. Adams had a very good event and his win against Topalov was very well executed. Sergei played excellently. He showed depth and an excellent result given his rating and young age. Aronian had a few bad days. He showed real class in his last round against (Ivan) Sokolov. Later, he said that the whole game they had prepared. Except, I think, the last move of the game. Leko played well, but he was unfortunate in some games.

How satisfying was it to beat players such as Vassily Ivanchuk, Sergey Karjakin and Etienne Bacrot with the black pieces?

Nowadays black scores as much as white. This time my results with black were great. Against Karjakin, I found Nc7 on the board and in fact, later on, realised Vallejo had some notes. My other victories with Bacrot and Van Wely were nice. With Ivanchuk, the game should have been a draw but I think this one move Rfe1 gave me some chances.

Where would you place the victory with white over Leko? Were you really keen to set the record straight after suffering a loss in the second round last year?

Preparing for a game against a player of Leko's stature is extremely difficult. He is well prepared and has a very strong repertoire with very little drawbacks. I was quite happy to have tried a little in a dry position and it worked out well. Ok, sometimes you just fall into a bad position and this time Peter was at the wrong end of it.

In which of the six drawn games did you think you had your chances to win?

Maybe against Aronian, I would say I had some chances. There could have been an edge somewhere but it was very difficult to find one.

After 1999, this was the first time you won six games at Corus. How do you rate it where the average rating stands at 2716?

In 1999, Gary and I made this huge score. Excellent by any yardstick. +4 (8.5 points from 13 rounds) would seem like a natural score. Sometimes, when you see someone ahead, you also push yourself harder. Here it worked out well. In San Luis, the idea was the same, but it backfired against Morozevich.

Your comments on the lone loss, to Kamsky with black.

There are dark days and even our coffee will taste bad on those days. Maybe I thought I could win. In a way, in San Luis, I fell into the same kind of trap with Morozevich. (He was also having a bad tournament until he beat me!)

Tell us something in detail about your much-awaited game with Topalov.

When I saw Topalov-Sokolov I realised I had some notes in that line. In the post mortem of that game, I realised their analysis had not reached the same depth I had dwelt in. Actually this piece of analysis (and the move d6) was something Surya (Shekhar Ganguly) and I had analysed. In fact, during the event, I mailed him and told him that Topalov-Sokolov had not found out the move. Coincidentally, Peter Heine also had come to the same conclusion in the position. Actually the game was highly relevant for theory. In fact, Veselin (Topalov) mentioned the next day that they were still looking at the position.

Now, on to the clincher against Boris Gelfand.

Before the last round, you get the usual murmur of how I have a chance to catch up and the field was open. Boris (Gelfand) and I have been rivals since 1989, so we know each other very well. With black, he is extremely solid and very difficult to beat. The previous day he saved a completely lost position against Ivanchuk. It was a long game and Ivanchuk had a win at many stages. I had prepared the Najdorf also. Boris played a line in the Najdorf and I had some notes in that line. I didn't really think of it as a game-plan. By the time Leko-Topalov was a draw, my position was good. I realised that I had a fair chance to win but I had to actually execute the win. I think, round about e6, I was winning.

Your feelings on crossing the rating of 2800? You are only the fourth man in history to get this far.

Very happy. In 2001, I was very close and had a disastrous result in Dortmund. I think coming back after that and winning two Chess Oscars is more relevant. I did it and I am happy that one more record I can scratch out as done.

What are the events you are likely to participate in, in the year ahead?

Amber will be next and the usual events. I may play one or two new events but I have not yet confirmed.

With the Olympiad not too far away, how early do you think the players should get together and reach Turin (certainly not like they did in Mallorca in 2004) in May?

Informally I do interact with all chess players. Maybe after the National `A' something will happen.

With Hari Krishna and Sasikiran also breaking the Top-30 barrier, how much will these factors improve our medal winning chances in the Olympiad?

The Olympiad is a gamble. Maybe, we will start with a better hand!

My first invite to an elite event was here in Wijk aan Zee. By winning the World Junior (in August 1987) I got an invitation to play here. Those days there was a progression. You became a World Junior champion, then you became a top GM, a Candidate etc.

K.V. SRINIVASAN

LOOKING BACK

Now the age barriers have collapsed. Magnus Carlsen doesn't have to win a World Junior to prove that he is in the inner circle. If he wins it, great, but it is not a pre-requisite.

1989: When I played in '89, I was still a novice. I had not played in many elite events and of course, Indian chess was at a nascent stage. I remember the cold weather here and I used to wear these heavy sweaters. I was very happy to win in Wijk, although, it was a four-way tie (with Bosnia and Herzegovina's Nikolic Predrag, Hungarians Zoltan Ribli and Gyula Sax).

It was my first big win in a round-robin event. I never expected to win. But OK now when I play Corus anything other than first place is seen as a disappointment.

I was really happy to be invited to Wijk. It was the first real closed round-robin I played. I think when I won people, especially the Russian chess world, took notice of this non-Russian, who played chess.

Actually, when Corus had their 64 years of the event, they had a photo gallery of the winners. I was quite kicked to see myself in 1989, so unused to the cold European weather. I liked Holland immediately and for many years that was the country I visited the most.

1998: In '98, I remember (Vladimir) Kramnik started with 4/4 and I had drawn two games. Then I won a few games and tied with him. This event I played just after Lausanne/Groningen. I think by the time the event was over, we had spent something like 53 days from home just playing chess. I think I had prepared really well for Groningen and could bank on those ideas. I had a nice win over Topalov and also a few Dutch players and all of a sudden I was in contention for the first place.

In 2003 and 2004, I somehow made +4 (8.5 points from 13 rounds) and just cruised without much problem.

2003: The year '03 was again the start of a good run for me. I won Wijk very easily. I played some very nice games against Karpov, Ponomariov, Shirov and Topalov. My win against Ruslan (Ponomariov) was particularly nice. I think Judit (Polgar) was also playing really well. Maybe against Vladimir (Kramnik), I defended a tough position and that was the only game I had some trouble.

2004: In '04 I made this +5 (9 points from 13 rounds) and in the penultimate round had a loss against Veselin (Topalov). I think, I had gone something like 69 games in Wijk without a loss! And this loss spoilt the record. Against (Peter) Svidler, I had a very delicate position and had to use some real manoeuvrings to draw. Of course, my best game in the event was against (Evgeny) Bareev.

I remember drawing the last round and going back to the room and watching Leko and Adams as they could theoretically share the title with me. But they drew and I won unshared.

You can see the average rating of the event has been going up. Generally, I have always liked playing in Holland. The chess tradition is really impressive with Euwe, Donner and Timman. Also they have some nice traditions like best game prize etc. Sometimes you go to a restaurant and you can see people analysing your game. Once I overheard one man tell another about my game with Kramnik in 2005. He was so impressed with the game, although it was a draw. I think, I really blushed when he realised that I was actually sitting behind him.