Royal challenges

The two Russians,Mikhail Botvinnik (third from right) and Vasily Smyslov (extreme right), provided one of the greatest rivalries in chess history and were involved in four World Championships over a decade.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY The two Russians,Mikhail Botvinnik (third from right) and Vasily Smyslov (extreme right), provided one of the greatest rivalries in chess history and were involved in four World Championships over a decade.

P. K. Ajith Kumar looks back at some of the memorable rematches from the World Championship, played over different eras.

Viswanathan Anand may be the nicest man ever to have moved a piece on the chessboard, but even he is unlikely to consider revenge a dirty word, when he faces Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship in the Russian city of Sochi from November 8. The long history of World Chess Championship — the first one took place in 1886 — is replete with tales of grudge matches. Sometimes, the vanquished avenged the defeat. Sometimes, they didn’t.

Here are some of the memorable rematches from the World Championship, played over different eras:

Wilhelm Steinitz v Mikhail Tchigorin, Havana, 1892

Austrian Steinitz was 55 years old and his Russian rival 41 when they squared up in the Cuban capital, three years after their first meeting for the greatest crown in chess. In the first match in 1889, which was also held in Havana, the older man had prevailed 10.5-6.5, as he defended the title he won in the inaugural World Championship held three years earlier.

When they faced each other in 1892, Steinitz had already won three successive World Championships. He made it four in a row and underlined his stature as the first truly dominant personality in world chess.

But he had to toil hard for his victory in the rematch against a fighting Tchigorin. The condition was that a player would have to post 10 victories, if neither could get 10.5 points after 20 games. The score was 10-10, with both men scoring eight victories each.

The 21st game was drawn. As the match wore on, it was the younger man who began to crack under pressure. The Russian blundered in Games 22 and 23 to concede the match 10.5-12.5.

Alexander Alekhine v Max Euwe, the Netherlands, 1937

It was after shocking Jose Raul Capablanca, the first superstar of chess, that Alekhine became the World Champion in 1927. The Russian, who was one of the greatest players of all time, went on to rule world chess for the next eight years. He lost just seven out of the 238 tournament games he played between 1927 and 1935.

After successfully defending his World title against Elfim Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934, he was confident of brushing aside the challenge from Max Euwe, a German with a doctorate in Mathematics. But in 1935, his calculations were proved wrong by Euwe, who won a close match 15.5-14.5. It was believed that it was a potent mix of overconfidence and alcohol that undid Alekhine.

He stayed away from the bottle for some time and was thirsty for revenge in the rematch with Euwe in 1937, played in seven cities across the Netherlands. A sober Alekhine made the German sombre. The Russian won the match convincingly 15.5-9.5, posting 10 victories en route. No spirit could have cheered him up as much as revenge.

TIGRAN PETROSIAN (left) defended his World title, against Boris Spassky (right), in 1966, but Spassky had his revenge in 1969.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

That was also the last title match he played, as bloodier battles replaced chess, with the onset of the Second World War. Thus Alekhine was still the World Champion when he died in 1946.

Mikhail Botvinnik v Vasily Smyslov, Moscow, 1958

The two Russians provided one of the greatest rivalries in chess history and were involved in four World Championships over a decade. In 1948, the world chess governing body FIDE had conducted a quintuple round-robin World Championship, necessitated by the death of Alexander Alekhine, featuring five players — Botvinnik, Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky and Max Euwe, who finished in that order.

Three years later, Botvinnik defended his crown against another Soviet player David Bronstein; the 12-12 draw was enough for the champion, while the challenger needed a victory. Then in 1954, Botvinnik retained the title again, this time drawing (12-12) with Smyslov, who was also a trained opera singer.

In 1957, Smyslov could sing a song of revenge, as he comfortably defeated Botvinnik, a qualified electrical engineer, 12.5-9.5. That set up the 1958 match in Moscow (which hosted successive World Championships from 1948 to 1969).

Botvinnik, who had begun the great Russian revolution in chess, engineered his own revenge with some style. He got off to a brilliant start, winning his first three games before slowing down a bit. He still won with a game to spare, 12.5-10.5. Smyslov’s victories in Games 19 and 22 had come a bit too late.

Boris Spassky v Tigran Petrosian, Moscow, 1969

Petrosian’s first World title in 1963 marked the end of the long reign of fellow-Russian Mikhail Botvinnik, who had won his maiden crown in 1948. It was meticulous preparation, including physical ones that helped the younger man overcome the defending champion in convincing fashion, in spite of losing the opening game. He won with two games to spare.

Petrosian, who had a tough childhood — he was a street sweeper — then defended the title against another Russian, Boris Spassky in 1966, though he wasn’t the favourite. He kept his reputation as the most difficult player intact, winning the match 12.5-11.5. He also became the first player to win a title match as the World Champion after Alekhine in 1934.

He began well against Spassky in the rematch of 1969 too, winning the opening game. But Spassky, an all-round player of exceptional skills, came right back, winning Games Four and Five and established a two-point lead after eight games. Petrosian, though, made it 5.5-5.5. That was followed by five draws in a row, before Spassky surged ahead with wins in Games 17 and 19. But there was more drama as Petrosian won the very next game, only to see Spassky bounce back immediately with a victory.

Spassky drew the following two games to wrap up the match 12.5-10.5, with a game to spare. He had his revenge.

Garry Kasparov v Anatoly Karpov, 1985, Moscow

Theirs was the greatest rivalry in chess. They fought for the World Championship over two decades, through some 148 games. And there could not have been a starker contrast between two rivals: Karpov was cautious, solid, hard to beat and very much the conformist the authorities wanted to win, while the younger Kasparov was imaginative, aggressive and a non-conformist, who was a thorn in the flesh of the establishment.

BITTER RIVALS... Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.-AP

Their first meeting for the World title was in 1984-85 in Moscow, when Karpov, the champion since 1975, was aged 33 and Kasparov 21. It looked like the reign would continue when the older man posted four wins from the first nine games and needed just two more for the title. Those two wins never came, as Kasparov produced one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history. The match, whose momentum was now with Kasparov, had to be stopped after 48 games and five months.

Kasparov was stunned by FIDE’s decision, based on apparent health concerns of the players. He wanted to play on, though he was trailing 3-5.

After that marathon match was abandoned without a result (a player had to win six games to be crowned), the stage was set for a rematch later in 1985. This time FIDE ensured it would not be an eternal match; it was going be a best of 24, with Karpov, by virtue of being the champion, needing only to draw.

Kasparov opened with a win, but Karpov fought back by winning the fourth and fifth games. Then Kasparov won Game 11 and the match was perfectly poised at the half-way mark at 6-6.

A brilliant victory in the 16th game gave Kasparov the crucial lead, which he doubled three games later with another win. In the 22nd game though, he made a mistake and lost, allowing Karpov to claw his way back into the match. The next game was drawn. That meant Kasparov led 12-11, but Karpov could still keep the title with a win in the final game. A draw would have been enough for Kasparov, who, however, won in 42 moves to clinch the match 13-11. He did not lose a World title match for the next 15 years, as he built up a reputation as the greatest player of all time.