Rapid-action hero

Viswanathan Anand with the trophy.-PTI

IF there is one man who plays rapid chess more rapidly than any other player in the world, he is Viswanathan Anand.

IF there is one man who plays rapid chess more rapidly than any other player in the world, he is Viswanathan Anand. But what is more significant is the consistency with which he strikes in the shorter version of the game. It was no different when Anand came out stronger in the four-player Ciudad de Leon rapid chess tournament at Leon, Spain.

In the past, Anand had won four titles, including a hat-trick at Leon but they all came in Advanced Chess (computer-assisted chess). In 2003, a year after Vladimir Kramnik dethroned Anand, the organisers changed it to a four-player rapid knockout format, the time-control being 20 minutes plus a 10-second increment for every move made. In the event of a tie, five-minute blitz games were to be played to ascertain the winner.

This year, Anand returned to Leon. Given the field that included defending champion Alexei Shirov, World champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov and rising star Magnus Carlsen, Anand was expected to cruise to another title. He did live up to the expectations but not before staving off a 0-1 deficit and coming up with some fine defensive work in the third game against Kasimdzhanov in the four-game final.

Anand in action against Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the final.-

Anand's defeat in the first game of the title-match did introduce an element of excitement. Anand reeled off moves in a flash and seized the initiative by the 14th move. But Kasimdzhanov, who was looking for his first victory over Anand in eight games, took his time to find the right continuation and eventually forced Anand to give up.

Unfazed, Anand hit right back in the second game by catching Kasimdzhanov's king in the middle of the board. In the third game, things looked equal until Anand made some inaccurate moves to give his rival a chance. But Anand made amends by defending well.

The fourth game, where Anand played white, saw the players tread carefully. Before long, Anand saw his chance and sacrificed a knight for three queen's side passed pawns and sealed the title with plenty of time to spare. This was Anand's second title of the year.

Irrespective of the outcome of the individual games, Anand's ability to economise on his thinking time in each game put tremendous pressure on his opponents. This was something that Kasimdzhanov readily admitted at the end of the contest.

On their way to the final, Anand and Kasimdzhanov had scored identical 3-1 victories over Carlsen and Shirov respectively.

Shirov, who represents Spain, failed to get going against Kasimdzhanov. Notably, the Uzbek won both games with black pieces and drew the intervening game, with white, to make the final. But like in Davis Cup tennis, here too, the `dead rubber' had to be played.

Kasimdzhanov was rewarded for the risks he took in the first game. In the second, Shirov gained a pawn but the position was not good enough to help him level the score. In the third, Shirov over-reached himself and sacrificed a piece. Kasimdzhanov easily handled the attack and took a winning lead. Having assured of a place in the final, Kasimdzhanov tried hard to win another game but Shirov defended well to force a draw.

Magnus Carlsen in the semifinal.-

Later, at the press conference, Kasimdzhanov said he owed his victory to his preparation in Najdorf variation and wanted to test his new repertoire against Shirov.

The following day, the Anand-Carlsen clash aroused a lot of interest for obvious reasons. Firstly, the two had never played before. Secondly, Carlsen, already dubbed a future world champion, had embarrassed many leading players in the recent past. Currently, the 14-year-old is the youngest Grandmaster in the chess world and his progress is being monitored by one and all.

But Anand did not allow the youngster much leeway in the first game. He destroyed the Petroff Defence adopted by the youngster. In the second game Anand offered a pawn early for ample compensation but Carlsen managed to hold on to a draw. Interestingly, Anand had 10 minutes left on his clock when the peace was signed.

In the third game, Carlsen once again opted for the Petroff Defence. Anand deviated from the line he chose in the first game but still gained an edge owing to his pair of bishops. Thereafter, Anand displayed superb endgame technique to seal Carlsen's fate in the contest. In the last game, Anand allowed Carlsen to briefly enjoy a slightly better position before defending well and ending the encounter. — A Special Correspondent

The results Player Elo Country 1 2 3 4 Total Anand 2785 Ind 1 0.5 1 0.5 3 Carlsen 2548 Nor 0 0.5 0 0.5 1