The king outplays the queen

VISWANATHAN ANAND'S versatile skills in chess and experience were required in full measure to win the Chess Classic rapid match, making a glorious hat-trick at Mainz in Germany on August 17.


VISWANATHAN ANAND'S versatile skills in chess and experience were required in full measure to win the Chess Classic rapid match, making a glorious hat-trick at Mainz in Germany on August 17. In doing so, the Indian kept his hold over this rapid tournament for yet another year.

Viswanathan Anand, wearing the winner's Black Jacket, speaks to the press after defeating Judit Polgar 5-3 in the Mainz Chess Classic. — Pics. ARVIND AARON-

This year the Chess Classic held from August 13-17 featured "The King meets the Queen" theme where defending champion Anand was pitted against Hungary's Judit Polgar, the No. 1 ranked woman player in the world. Although in head-to-head meetings Anand had a huge plus score of more than a dozen extra victories, the course of the match did not follow the expected lines. It turned out to be a pitched battle for supremacy and this was the only all-decisive rapid match ever.

The best-of-eight duels had two clear phases. The tactical dare-devilry in the first three days involving six games and one calm positional day which resulted in the match swinging in favour of Anand. The event saw three-fourths of see-sawing excitement and finally it was an expected result on the D-day after Anand chose a serious change of strategy for the last two games.

Just as how Anand is known for his speed in calculating chess positions, Judit Polgar is famous for her tactics and swindles. As such, the positions that came up on the board suited her natural playing ability in the first six games. Anand did miss his chances but it was a big tactical skirmish and the score was a surprise 3-3 after the penultimate day. Whether or not it was a Saturday Night Fever, the Indian adopted a new strategy for the final day to surprise Polgar in the openings on that Sunday. It yielded rich dividends and helped him complete a 2-0 sweep.

The overall 5-3 margin presented a healthy difference for Anand but the match was closer than what the scoreline indicated. This was largely due to Polgar's warm-up match against Gelfand, aided by her good fighting spirit and Anand's inability to concentrate on the first game each day. Also, his strategy to keep the game tactical played in Polgar's favour. Fortunately, Anand realised that a change was necessary on the last day and he turned the match trend by winning game seven. A game behind at 3-4, Polgar collapsed in game eight and lost without offering much resistance.

The king and the queen involved in a tough battle. — Pics. ARVIND AARON-

In game one, Polgar came prepared studying a Leko versus Anand game that had been played the previous week at Dortmund. Anand overlooked a tactic and lost a piece and the game quite easily. In the reverse game, he took his knight on tour to win a rook and played well to crush black and level the scores at 1-1.

If white prevailed on day one, day two belonged to black as both players won with this colour. Quite unusual but Anand missed a win in game three and later blundered, leaving his two rooks for Polgar to line them up with a bishop and wrest the lead for the second time at 2-1. If any one game looked close to being drawn it was game four. Polgar took the opposite bishop and queen-rook ending lightly and paid for it. Anand's blazing speed and slow tightening of the noose around the white king helped him to rebound to make it 2-2.

After day three, one of the event's followers remarked, "newspaper headlines each day looked similar with either `Polgar wrests lead' if they closed early or `Anand hits back' if they waited long enough." Game five was Anand's worst performance when he gifted his queen early after the opening. He hit back like on the other days but had to earn his point the hard way to reach 3-3. Entertainment had hit a new high, not seen in rapid chess.

A full house awaited the duo as they sat for games seven and eight. Although positional play dominated these encounters, Polgar missed some fighting chances in game seven and Anand seized the initiative in the ending. Polgar was in a must-win situation before game eight. Her ideas and planning went awry and a last ditch attempt to sacrifice material did not suffice as Anand gobbled up the material and gained a full point to win the match.

It was an amazing match and a memorable one too. Both players went for blood and it seemed overflowing. It is hard to pick when Anand lost three games in as many days and when Polgar lost five games in four days. It was as if draws did not exist in chess.

Polgar and Anand (facing page) made it by far the most entertaining rapid match ever, producing results in all the eight games. — Pics. ARVIND AARON-

To make a comeback every time in deficit, one needs nerves of steel and Anand had just that. The Indian Grandmaster who walks 45 minutes briskly everyday during the events and spends a part of his lifetime allocating time to the gym takes efforts to withstand such hot situations.

A big surprise was that not even a single game ended in a draw. After Judit Polgar drew first blood in game one, it was a fierce battle all the way with Anand finishing strong by winning the last three games to win the Chess Classic title for the third time. In 2001 he overcame Kramnik 5-5, 1.5-0.5 in the tie-break and in 2002 he beat Ponomariov 4.5-3.5 in a nail-biting final round victory.

"A draw is the third legitimate result in chess," said Anand after making eight straight draws against Kasparov in the World Championship match at New York in 1995. "Chess is a drawish game," said Vladimir Kramnik after winning a tournament by remaining undefeated. When draws are absent, new chess followers come in. Also, the way they fought castling in opposite flanks made this by far the most entertaining rapid match ever.

After game six, Anand decided to put the brakes on the tactical option and chose to play quieter positional lines. Polgar was left unfamiliar with this slower pace and she lost the last two games, making one wonder as if it was another player who fought the first three days.

Polgar and Anand (facing page) made it by far the most entertaining rapid match ever, producing results in all the eight games. — Pics. ARVIND AARON-

Anand was the one who provided all the entertainment. Polgar played as tactical as she would like to play, taking and giving chances. She was accompanied by her husband Dr. Font Gusztal, who runs a hospital for animals. Anand was accompanied by his wife Aruna Anand and Russian-born German trainer, Grandmaster Rustem Dautov.

After losing the match, Polgar appreciated the organisers in her press chat but tossed in a little remark about the arbiter starting the eighth game of the match before she had even arrived. Losing time for rapid chess can be costlier than a little mistake at the board. The arbiter defended his action and told The Sportstar that both Anand and Polgar wanted to know when game eight would start as game seven was delayed due to the closing ceremony of the Open tournaments. "I told them both that it would be at 8 p.m. and started on time. If I had seen her walking towards the dais I would have certainly waited. She was not to be seen."

"I expected this game also to start late," Polgar said at the press conference. Game seven was to start at 6.30 but it was delayed by about 20 minutes but game eight was held as announced. She had played under the same organisers at Frankfurt but it was her maiden visit to Mainz.

"We received the best response from the spectators and press publicity was comparable to 2000 when we had the world top 10 at Frankfurt," said Hans-Walter Schmitt, the organiser of the Chess Classic. The organising club was Chess Tigers and through a large team of sincere people, they ran it very successfully at The Mainz Hilton International Hotel, which is on the banks of the river Rhine. Entry tickets to watch the games, headphones to listen to commentary by Grandmasters, sale of official T-shirts and memorabilia should help their club rake in revenues, which other like-minded clubs should take note of.

The games were played at 25-minutes per player plus 10 seconds for each move on the Fischer clock principle. Two games were played each day with reversed colours. This was in many ways a much-awaited contest. If Anand had a successful year including winning at Wijk aan Zee, Polgar was not too far behind, finishing with a career-best performance at Wijk aan Zee despite taking the second place. So, a match between them made sense and the announcement of their match was made as early as Wijk aan Zee in January 2003.

The players came in different shape. Anand had sunk to the bottom in Dortmund and recovered in the middle before the Mainz match. Polgar came after receiving a 2-6 thrashing from Gelfand. In fact that match proved a good training ground for her.

A lot of other chess programmes featured the Chess Classic as ever and chess players in Germany had a chance to meet more than fifty Grandmasters and members of the world's chess elite at the same venue.

The moves:

GM Viswanathan Anand-GM Judit Polgar, match game seven, Sicilian Najdorf, B92: 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Kh1 Nc6 10.Be3 Be6 11.Qd2 a5 12.Rfd1 a4 13.Nc1 Ra5 14.Bf3 a3 15.b3 Qc7 16.Nd3 Rc8 17.Rac1 h6 18.h3 Nd4 19.Bxd4 exd4 20.Ne2 d5 21.e5 Ne4 22.Qe1 Nc3 23.Nxc3 Qxc3 24.Bg4 Qxe1+ 25.Rxe1 Ra6 26.g3 Rac6 27.Re2 g6 28.Kg2 h5 29.Bxe6 fxe6 30.h4 Bd8 31.f4 Ba5 32.b4 Bd8 33.Kf2 Be7 34.Ke1 Rc4 35.Kd1 Kf7 36.Rb1 Rc3 37.Rb3 Ke8 38.Rd2 R8c4 39.b5 Bd8 40.Rg2 Ba5 41.Rxc3 dxc3 42.Ke2 Bb6 43.Kf3 Ra4 44.g4 hxg4+ 45.Kxg4 Ra5 46.Kg5 Kf7 47.Kh6 Rxb5 48.Rxg6 Be3 49.Rg7+ Ke8 50.Kg6 Rb1 51.h5 Rg1+ 52.Kf6 Rh1 53.Kxe6 Kd8 54.Kd6 Ke8 55.e6 1-0.