'Undisputed supremo'

By winning the World title consecutively in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012, Vishy Anand has established himself as the strongest player of all times, writes Pravin Thipsay.

The 2000-2001 World Championship knockout was about to begin in New Delhi. Sixty-four top chess players from all parts of the world, including the top seed, Vishy Anand, and other bigwigs such as Adams, Shirov, Khalifman, Short, Ivanchuk, Topalov and Dreev had gathered in India’s capital city, waiting for the pairing. A large group of Indian chess lovers and press were indeed thrilled to meet the cream of world chess for the first time. While we were waiting for the pairing to be displayed, the press started interviewing the participants and the question in everybody’s lips was: “Who would be the champion?”. Few hours later, GM Valery Salov, Vishal Sareen and I started going through the interviews. The verdict was absolutely unanimous — “Vishy Anand and only Vishy Anand!”.

“Anand has already won the championship!” remarked Salov.

His prediction came true after a couple of weeks’ intense battles for the crown.

Indeed, Anand not only won the championship, but he did it with a bang by winning the final with a 3.5-0.5 score! There have been several world champions, but how many have had the distinction of being accepted as the undisputed best by their own rivals? Strangely, that had been the case with Vishy since his very childhood.

He had always been a supremo, and that too, the undisputed one!

Since the time I first saw Anand, his chess mastery made an unforgettable impression on me. It was in May 1983 that Anand had come to Mumbai for the first time to play in the National team championship. The venue was IIT Bombay, and it was excellent, but there was not a single hall big enough to accommodate all the participants. So the event was also held in adjacent halls. My elder brother and coach Abhay was playing the role of Tournament Director.

One day he came home with an amazed and amused look on his face. He said, “Today a strange thing happened in the second hall. A well-known national player alleged that he had a faulty chess clock on his board. Halfway through the game, the player had apparently used 90 minutes while his young opponent had used hardly one or two! So, I decided to monitor it personally. And what did I see; a small boy from ‘Madras Colts’, who was making his moves in just a second or two, had smashed this national player in less than three minutes of his time! You must see this wonder-kid!”

The next day I went to see the wonder-kid; he was playing IM Manuel Aaron. A small, inexperienced lad, who had suddenly taken ill, was taking on a great champion. I had expected the game to go only one way but to my surprise, it went the other way from the very beginning! The boy went on to play fascinating chess against his famous opponent and win the game even before the other games had entered middle-game stage! That is the first time I saw the future world champion — “The Vishy Anand”!

The next year, as the National Champion, I accompanied Anand as his coach to the World Sub-Junior Championship in France. To my surprise, the boy did not seem to need any training! He just needed to discuss some critical positions and that was it. He would then just go and play. So impressed was Nona Gaprindashvili (former women’s world champion) with Anand’s game that she came to us one day just to tell me, “He is a very good player!”

The following year, the Indian team went to play the British Championship and Lloyds Bank Masters’ Championship in London. As usual, the Indian contingent did extremely well, but the trip was really dominated by the youngest Indian — untitled Viswanathan Anand! His historic victory over former British Champion Grandmaster Jonathan Mestel made him a star overnight.

The most stunning part of the game was that Anand had consumed just 10 minutes of his time to win, while his mighty opponent was unable to hold the position despite consuming two hours and 28 minutes. The BBC interviewed Anand the same day and named him “The lightning kid”.

In 1987, Anand became the first Asian to win a World title when he emerged winner in the World Junior Championship in the Philippines. His victory over GM Agdestein (coach of Magnus Carlsen) was the best game of the championship.

When Anand first qualified for the World Championship candidates’ matches in 1991, he had no match experience compared with the Russians. Yet, he won the eight-game match against Alexei Dreev of Russia in just six games — something that wasn’t heard of at that level. In 1992, when Ivanchuk’s Elo rating equalled that of Gary Kasparov, Anand was invited to play a short match with Ivanchuk in Moscow. Anand’s easy 3-1 victory surprised the chess world, but those who really knew him had predicted this feat.

In 1995, just before the Kasparov-Anand match, I met former World No. 2 Viktor Korchnoi in Kishinev, Moldova. “I think it is time for a change,” Korchnoi opined about the match. Sadly, it was not to be. However, the match taught Anand a lot. He learnt to study harder rather than depend on his instinct.

By 2000, Anand became one of the most formidable players in the world. However, he continued to remain the same simple and humble person despite his unparalleled glories. With Kasparov’s retirement in 2003, it became clear that the chess world would be dominated by none other than Anand. Then came an unexpected jolt to his career. In the 2003-2004 World Championship cycle, Anand was kept out by tricky ‘off the board’ moves by the European Chess Federations.

But the champion did not grumble. He just waited for the next cycle. When FIDE decided to have the ‘unification World Championship’ by including PCA (the breakaway group), Anand was the first one to welcome it. This gave him an opportunity to establish his superiority in the world. By winning the World title consecutively in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012, Anand has established himself as the strongest player of all times.

(The author is a Grandmaster)