Living up to expectations

RAKESH RAO

GIVEN Viswanathan Anand's awesome reputation in the shorter version of the game, the chess world had expected him to remain the Master of Mainz. In the eight-game rapid match against Russia's Alexander Grischuk, Anand clinched the issue in the seventh game before the young challenger squeezed out some consolation by winning the inconsequential eighth game. A 5-3 result looked pretty healthy but Anand was the first to say that there was a lot more in the contest than what the eventual scoreline suggested.

After becoming an eight-time winner at Mainz, Anand shared his thoughts with The Sportstar about the games and even took a quick look at the upcoming World championship. Excerpts.

Question: Do you think the final margin reflects the true picture of the contest?

Answer: Not really. The games were all hard fought. They don't really reflect the state of mind of the players. In most games the positions went back and forth. I think in the sixth game, I was so keen to finish the match and get the half point, but I lost. In the second half things seemed to liven up.

Are you pleased with the quality of the matches? Especially your performance.

Yes. 5-3 against Grischuk is a good result. I expected the match to be very keenly contested and the winner emerging with the minimum required margin. I played Games 1 and 2 well. They were normal games and I was happy to turn them in my favour. I think I won Game 4 due to Grischuk's time trouble. In Game 6, like I said, I lost the thread quite early in the game. I was very happy that I was able to win the seventh game and clinched the issue. I preferred not to take the safe route of only a draw as that had cost me my first loss in the match. In the eighth game I was very close to a win but somehow lost a bit in the complex calculations.

What do you think were the reasons for Grischuk losing three out of the first four games? Did this not, more or less, end the contest at the halfway stage itself?

I think he had trouble with his time. He is one of the best players in the world with a very sharp tactical style. Before the match, many Russians came up to me and said that Grischuk is one of the best rapid players from Russia. Of course, I have seen him play rapid chess in Dubai and he was impressive. But the score of 3.5/4, I think, did the trick.

Your thoughts on going 2-0 up on the very first day.

Of course, starting with two victories makes you understand that things are going well. I was happy with my play in both these games. Since I was back after a long break I was a bit apprehensive about how I would play. Both of us hadn't played much before Mainz and were not sure how things would look on the board. I was quite pleased that I handled the two games with accuracy. I think, for Grischuk, losing with white in the first game was tough. He played well in the fourth game but the time trouble cost him the point.

How did you take your two losses?

After the loss in the sixth I was back to my usual self, rather than worry about how to get the half point to win the title. Saying that, I was also careful not to spoil things and make the going tough for myself. In the sixth game, there was not much co-ordination in my pieces and I lost material. In the eighth game I was very close to winning. The position was incredibly complex and I miscalculated something. (My rook couldn't move out of h8 and it was unable to take the white bishop on h7). I could have taken a draw at any point. Sometimes in chess the beauty of the position stays in your mind and somehow that erases the reality on the board.

Was the pressure to win against a young rival any different from what you had experienced against your previous challengers at Mainz?

I always try to erase this legend and the records in Mainz. Each rival is tough and each one is trying his or her best to spoil it for you. I think all the opponents have been hard. (Ruslan) Ponomariov was equally young and I had to claw back just to stay in the match and the win the eighth game.

Finally, your thoughts on the coming World Championship.

A 14-round event, especially a double round-robin, is a very tough format. I hope to be physically and mentally fresh. In Argentina, there are no favourites. Any player can upset the other's applecart on a given day.