Passion undiminished

RAJEEV BHATT

When Anand won the prestigious Linares-Morelia title for the second straight year and for the third time since 1998, he proved that he indeed is one of the most dedicated students of the game. Over to Rakesh Rao.

The secret of Viswanathan Anand’s success, consistency and longevity as a champion is as uncomplicated as the man himself.

“I enjoy chess as much as I did when I started,” maintains Anand and tells parents of aspiring champions to let their children enjoy the game without really thinking too much about immediate results.

When Anand won the prestigious Linares-Morelia title for the second straight year and for the third time since 1998, the champion proved that he indeed is one of the most dedicated students of the game. “As a chess fan, I thoroughly enjoyed following the games,” was how Anand chose to describe the feeling that kept him going at Morelia and Linares.

Anand was the first winner at Linares when the format of the event was changed to double round-robin in 1998. There were seven players in the fray and the lowest rated was Russia’s cricket-loving Grandmaster Peter Svidler at 2690. At that time, the average rating of the field was the highest among all chess events.

Since then, Linares has always attracted the cream of the chess world. Though former World champion, the now-retired Garry Kasparov, remains the most successful title-winner at Linares, Anand has missed quite a few editions since he was first invited to play in 1991.

Anand’s victory in 1998 came ahead of Alexei Shirov, Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Svidler, Vassily Ivanchuk and Veselin Topalov. Anand beat Shirov, Svidler, Ivanchuk and Topalov, while his lone loss came against Kasparov.

The triumph also saw Anand complete a rare ‘double’ of winning the Hoogoven (an event that later moved to Wijk aan Zee as the Corus tournament) and the Linares titles in the same year. For the record, Anand remains the most successful player in the history of the Hoogoven/Corus tournaments, winning a record five times. In addition, since 1996, Anand has finished runner-up on five occasions.

The two premier events, held in the first quarter of the year, are the biggest classical championships in the game. These events are to chess what the Majors are to golf and the Grand Slams to tennis. The fact that Anand has won the two events eight times in all underlines his greatness.

What separates Anand from the rest of the elite is his unmatched record in the shorter formats of the game. He is the most successful player in rapid chess where the stipulated time allotted for each player in a game can vary from 20 to 30 minutes.

Annual rapid chess events in Monaco, Leon, Mainz and Corsica have seen Anand win almost every time. Anand’s success in both the classical and the rapid formats brings him closest to being the most complete player in the game’s history. Though Kasparov, too, was known for his quick thinking, he chose to stay away from rapid chess.

No player has been able to strike a balance between the two formats of the game like Anand. He will be playing more rapid than classical chess this year and plans to participate in Monaco, Leon and Mainz before restarting his preparations for the much-awaited World Championship match against challenger Vladimir Kramnik in October.

Coming back to Linares, when Anand won last year he became the top-ranked player in the world for the first time in his career. This year, Anand’s performances have taken him once again past the coveted rating mark of 2800.

A closer look at Anand’s performance in Morelia and Linares this year reflects his domination. After beating Shirov and losing to Aronian in the first two rounds, Anand defeated Carlsen to trail Topalov by half a point. He became a joint leader with Aronian and Topalov at 2.5 points after four rounds and never trailed for the rest of the tournament. Anand scored three victories with black pieces against Shirov, Carlsen and Leko at Morelia and added a victory against Shirov with white pieces when the action shifted to Linares from round eight. He drew the next six games even as Carlsen stayed close to him.

When Anand drew with Topalov in the last round, Carlsen had the unenviable task of beating Radjabov and joining the World champion at the top. As per the tiebreak rules, Anand would have still been the champion as he had beaten Carlsen 1.5-0.5 in their mini-match.

What separates Anand from the rest of the elite is his unmatched record in the shorter formats. He is the most successful player in rapid chess where the Time allotted for each player in a game can vary from 20 to 30 minutes.