Master of the universe

Anand versus Grischuk (left). The Indian came up with a splendid defensive plan to escape with a draw in the penultimate round.-Anand versus Grischuk (left). The Indian came up with a splendid defensive plan to escape with a draw in the penultimate round.

By winning the biggest title of his career, without trailing or losing a game, Viswanathan Anand has reinforced the belief that he is the strongest chess player in the world, writes Rakesh Rao.

Anand versus Grischuk (left).

As Viswanathan Anand delightfully crossed one chess milestone after another, the whole of India waited in anticipation for the day when this bundle of talent would realise his dreams.

From being the country’s first Grandmaster in 1987 to a World Champion in 2000, Anand had covered the distance by overcoming monstrous hurdles along the way.

Anand did not have the benefit of following in the footsteps of his predecessors since they had been left far, far behind.

It was his love for challenges that took him closer to perfection. He had a vision for himself and the sport, and he scaled the summit in grand style.

Even as a generation of players were preparing strenuously to take a leaf out of his book, Anand was busy adding new chapters to his tome of success.

The year 2007 will go down as one of the most glittering in Anand’s career. On April 1, the 37-year-old became the top ranked player in the game.

On September 29, Anand took over from Russian Vladimir Kramnik as the undisputed champion of the world in Mexico City.

Since 1972, Anand is the first non-Russian, after American Bobby Fischer, to own the top rank and the world title at the same time. In a sport dominated by the Russians, Anand carved a niche for himself with a rare consistency that is matched only by former champion Garry Kasparov.

Consider this. Anand made the world top-10 list in July 1991, moved into the top-three in January 1997 and, remarkably, never slipped from there.

In a sport where every move of the champions is analysed threadbare by the experts and the lesser players, Anand’s ability to stay ahead of his peers is splendid.

He is not averse to sharing ideas with close friend and main ‘second’ Peter Heine Nielsen; there is admiration for an Indian GM like Sandipan Chanda. From June to August 2007, Anand prepared hard with Nielsen and was quick to acknowledge the Dane for finding the ‘novelty’ he used in the second round victory over Armenia’s Levon Aronian at the World Championship.

It is truly amazing how Anand has been able to maintain a high standard in all variants of the game. In the classical form, Anand still has close competition from Kramnik and former world champion Veselin Topalov. But when it comes to rapid (25-minute game) and blitz (five-minute game) chess, Anand is way ahead of the rest.

The young brigade, which grew up handling chess pieces on the computer screen with the help of a mouse, is known to play fast and furious chess, but it is Anand’s craft of thinking right in less time that puts him in a league of his own.

It is indeed ironical that the World Chess Federation (FIDE) has not treated this great ambassador of the game with the dignity he deserves. In 1998, in what was an obvious favour to its favourite champion Anatoly Karpov, FIDE came up with a format that was designed to help the Russian keep the title.

At Groningen, Germany, a knockout event was organised to identify the challenger who was then expected to travel to Lausanne, Switzerland, to straightway play a six-game match for the world title.

Unflustered, Anand won the gruelling knockout phase by facing six rivals spread over 24 games, rushed to Lausanne, drew the six-game battle 3-3 before running out of steam in the two tiebreak games.

There was worldwide criticism of FIDE for making an exhausted marathon winner race against a well-rested sprinter for the world title.

Again in 2002, when FIDE, grappling with the issue of unifying the world title, brought in Garry Kasparov, then reigning World champion Ruslan Ponomariov and Classical champion Kramnik to the World Championship cycle, Anand did not figure anywhere. Even when the current format was mooted in June, FIDE finalised a cycle that clearly favoured Kramnik and Topalov.

Kramnik has been given the chance to challenge the winner (now Anand) in case he failed to retain the crown in Mexico City. Topalov, dethroned by Kramnik, was out of the World Championship cycle till 2009 but has been brought back by the announcement of a match between the Bulgarian and the winner of the World Cup slated for November.

As things stand, the winner of the Anand-Kramnik World Championship match in 2008 and the winner of the Topalov-World Cup champion match, will clash with each other in the 2009 World Championship.

Anand had reasons to be peeved at FIDE’s arbitrary ways and gave vent to his frustration in an interview to a German newspaper this August, saying: “You cannot make special rules for every individual. I have stopped fretting over FIDE. It would be nice if they did not keep discarding their own rules. At some stage, you become sick of all this and decide to just play chess. This is exactly what has happened to me.”

The shabby treatment meted out by FIDE has only strengthened Anand’s resolve to get better. He prepared well for the World Championship, where he won four games with some very precise execution of complicated plans.

In the penultimate round, when he faced a losing position against Russian Alexander Grischuk, Anand came up with a splendid defensive plan to escape with a draw.

By winning the biggest title of his career, without trailing or losing a game, Anand has only reinforced the belief that he is the strongest chess player in the world. He is a true master of the game.