Perfect 10 at Mainz

“Every year I come to the event and think maybe this year it won’t go so well. But in the end I understand that my worries are all irrational,” says Viswanathan Anand in a chat with Rakesh Rao.

Viswanathan Anand has attained a level of success, which no other Indian sportsperson has achieved, by defying the dreaded law of averages. Blessed with the ability to remain motivated and hungry for more, Anand has set standards that are seemingly beyond the reach of not only his contemporaries but also those he has inspired during his illustrious career.

By winning the World rapid chess championship for a record 10th time, Anand has only improved upon his increasingly enviable record. At the German town of Mainz, Anand won the title for the seventh straight time to go with the three titles he claimed at Frankfurt, the previous venue of the annual event.

This year, Anand tamed Armenia’s Levon Aronian 2.5-1.5 in the best of four finals following a four-player league. Former World champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan and Etienne Bacrot of France were the other contenders. Three days before Anand retained the rapid title, Aronian had won the Chess960 world title by beating the Indian who was making his debut in this vastly popular variant of the game.

For the record, Anand had won the rapid event in 1997 in a four-player field where he beat Anatoly Karpov in the final. He retained the title the following year by stopping Vladimir Kramnik. In 2000, when the format involved eight players, Anand won with a round to spare.

After his latest conquest, Anand took time off from his preparations for the World Championship in Mexico City and shared his thoughts with Sportstar.

Question: A perfect ‘10’ in any sporting discipline is an awesome achievement. How do you look at your journey so far?

Answer: I have been playing in the tournament since 1994. The only year I skipped the event was when I got married in 1996. The event was first held in Frankfurt and then in Mainz in 2001. The most remarkable event was of course the to urnament in 2000 when I finished ahead by a point. The field was one of the strongest with (Garry) Kasparov, (Vladimir) Kramnik, (Peter) Leko etc.

In Mainz, the format was changed. Chess wise the match against Kramnik (in 2001) was, maybe, not so interesting, as we were both World Champions at that time. The most entertaining match was the one against Judit (Polgar) when we played eight decisive games (in 2003). I would lose game one and win game two on the first three days. Against (Ruslan) Ponomariov, I was quite happy with my last game of the match (in 2002). I took some risk and it paid off. (Teimour) Radjabov (in 2006) was a very difficult opponent, too.

Every year I come to the event and think maybe this year it won’t go so well. But in the end I understand that my worries are all irrational. I enjoy the atmosphere very much. The members of the Chess Tigers team are all my personal friends and somehow I just feel very special there.

Does Mainz bring out something special in you more than, say, Leon or Corsica, in rapid play?

Leon, Corsica and Mainz are all events I thoroughly enjoy. Over the years we have struck a personal chord and these organisers are good friends of mine.

Both in Corsica and Mainz, I have been involved with the event from the beginning. My results in Leon are comparable to Mainz.

How was Levon Aronian as a rapid challenger when compared with some of your other illustrious victims in Mainz?

Aronian is one of the best players in the world. He is excellent in blitz and rapid. So I never really thought I was a favourite. Also since both of us will be playing in Mexico (in the World Championship) there were some undercurrents. We both didn’t want to give anything away. So that made it really difficult to play the match. In the end I was able to win with black and it seemed smooth. But I guess our attitude was not to lose and we were willing to just sit and take our chances.

All smiles. From right: Viswanathan Anand, Levon Aronian, Rustam Kasimdzhanov and Etienne Bacrot during the opening ceremony of the Mainz Chess Classic rapid tournament.-CHRISTIAN BOSSERT CHESS TIGERS

That explains the three draws. In the last game, I just got a good position and he had time trouble. The position looked fairly innocuous and at some point turned dangerous with his weak queenside pawn falling and this made it easy to seal the advantage.

Didn’t you have a good chance to take the lead in the second game of the final?

Not really. The position looked very promising but after my extra pawn was off the board it was about equal.

Did you plan to press harder in the fourth game?

I didn’t have any plan. Since I had black in the fourth game, I didn’t really know what Levon would do. My guess was we would go for the tiebreak games and then it would be a toss up.

Did you fancy your chances in the tiebreak?

This year was one of the toughest challenges and Aronian’s talent for blitz and rapid chess is commensurate with his reputation of being one of the best. So I didn’t think of myself as a favourite in case of a tiebreak. Maybe in rapid chess, being Anand, my reputation precedes me.

Did Rustam Kasimdzhanov’s lack of form reduce it to a two-horse race?

Kasim is a very dangerous player. In Corsica, 2006 he proved his mettle in our final. Here, he was just going through a rough patch and sometimes you have these days when nothing goes right. In spite of that he played some very good games. In fact, if he had been a bit lucky, he could have got to the playoff for a spot in the final.

How was the Chess960 experience? How different is it for a player from the elite group to get adjusted to his variant? Do we see you returning for future editions of Chess960?

It was good fun. Funny that after so many years you still have a lot of chess you don’t know of. I don’t know about future editions. But I did enjoy the format. It takes some time to unlearn your chess and look at the board differently.

How do you see the performances of K. Sasikiran and P. Hari Krishna in the Chess960 and Ordix Open?

Both played excellently. Hari was very unlucky against (David) Navara where he blew a very good chance (by losing on time). In the Ordix Open, Sasi also made 9.5 but Navara just had an excellent progressive score of 9.5/10. Hari finished on 9. If you look at the Open, 760 people played and knowing how difficult these Opens can be, Hari and Sasi showed their class.

Do you think beating Aronian in the rapid final will give you any psychological edge ahead of the World Championship?

Mexico will be very different. First, it is a round robin and the time controls are different. It is nice to get to Mexico feeling good but I don’t think it will make such a difference especially when we are talking of someone of Levon’s calibre and talent.