`We had a mini crisis in the Olympiad'

"Veselin (Topalov) is an incredible fighter and irrespective of a match situation he is always up for a tough battle," says VISWANATHAN ANAND.-MARCELINO SION "Veselin (Topalov) is an incredible fighter and irrespective of a match situation he is always up for a tough battle," says VISWANATHAN ANAND.

Viswanathan Anand takes a close look at the TURN OF EVENTS of the past few months, including the games against Topalov, old foe Gata Kamsky and the turbulence at Turin, in a chat with RAKESH RAO.

In the past two decades, Viswanathan Anand has courted success more successfully than any other Indian sportsperson. As a result, the rare sight of failure holding back the Indian genius is difficult to accept for most of his fans. Indeed, people forget that as a human, Anand, too, is entitled to failures. It is to the credit of the man that he has kept those failures to the minimum.

After starting the year with an epoch-making feat in the prestigious Corus tournament and following it up with the share of the Amber title, Anand hit the slope in the second half of the Mtel Masters and worse, in the Olympiad in Turin. The sequence of poor results meant a colossal loss of precious rating points.

To overcome the blues, Anand needed to tame none other than the World champion Veselin Topalov (2.5-1.5), after fighting from the brink of defeat against Cuban Lazaro Bruzon, on way to retaining the Leon rapid chess title. "It was good to play some chess again," was Anand's initial remark after his sixth triumph in Leon. Thereafter, it was time to take a break. Along with wife Aruna, Anand was off to South Africa that he later described as "truly an untouched paradise."

A refreshed and relaxed Anand chose to take a close look at the turn of events of the past few months, including the games against Topalov and old foe Gata Kamsky, the turbulence at Turin, and shared it all with Sportstar.

Question: What did the Leon title mean to you this time especially since it came after the Mtel Masters and the Olympiad?

Answer: It is an important event. This year the field was one of the toughest. Four very strong players and there was no clear favourite. I didn't try to put the event in perspective by feeling some pressure after the Olympiad. I just decided to play chess and not think about anything else. If you decide it doesn't bother you then it really doesn't matter what other people say. I reached Leon in a very relaxed mood. Saw a lot of movies, worked on the chess and it paid. As you know we were going to South Africa three days after the event, so in a way I just wanted to finish the event well, so that I could really enjoy the holiday.

Did Bruzon surprise you with his display? How was it to go into a must-win situation against someone who was not expected to run you so close?

When I played Bruzon in Turin, I understood he was a very tough player. He did play in Corus 2005 where at one point he was in joint lead. He has this ability to run his clock down and with one minute to go, play very precise moves. He can be very dangerous in these situations. In the four games I had my chances but always in the last minute he would find the right defence. In the tiebreak games it all changed, and I was a bit lucky to save the second game. In the decisive game I was able to clinch the match.

Was there any self-doubt during the match against Bruzon, since someone like Vadim Milov had pulled off the unthinkable in Corsica (in another rapid event last year)?

Bruzon is a very good player. With less time he always plays better. So I didn't really think I was the clear favourite. I just played my game and decided whatever be the result it would be hard fought. The match turned out to be the most hotly contested tie of the tournament.

How was it to beat Topalov without having to go through an extended battle? Can you take us through the match?

Clearly Anand-Topalov was the clash of the titans. I was very calm and patient. In the first game, I equalised the position and Veselin was not able to materialise his white advantage. In the second game I got a better position in the Berlin Defence. Clearly Veselin was all guns blazing while I played Mr. Cool. He has an aggressive style and maybe decided that aggression would play an important factor in the results. I kept my composure and put the pressure on him. In the fourth game, Veselin played in his usual style making it clear he would not buckle down. It was a Najdorf Dragon combination. I had a very comfortable position and got two pawns for the exchange with a very good knight. It was very clear that I had the initiative, and, since I needed only a draw I decided to go for it straight away. Veselin tried for some time, though he was not in a comfortable position. It was quite amusing to see the player with the better position saying `take the draw' and the opponent seeing if he could win.

ANAND IN ACTION against Ukraine's Vassily Ivanchuk at the Olympiad in Turin. "Everything went wrong for us at the Olympiad," says the Indian GM.-RAKESH RAO

If I had not won the second game, in all certainty I would have won the fourth. I didn't want to risk the position or give Veselin the chance for any kind of counter-play. In chess parlance "I cleared the board of any wild growth." Veselin is an incredible fighter and irrespective of a match situation he is always up for a tough battle.

Going back to the Mtel Masters, what really went wrong from 2/2, beginning with the match against Gata Kamsky? Was it a case of the ghosts from the past haunting you, as the western media wants everyone to believe?

Both in Wijk and Sofia I played Gata after a victory. In Sofia, 2/2 came too quickly and easily. I should never have lost that game. I couldn't get over it for the rest of the event. Earlier, I had a rough time playing Boris Gelfand and then my results improved. Against Peter Leko, too, I had two losses in 2004 and 2005, and then I beat him in San Luis & Wijk. So, surely the equation should have changed here. Okay, I shouldn't have lost to Gata, and I think enough sleep has been wasted over it.

Your views on the overall Indian performance in the Olympiad (30th place for the second seed) and your own performance, in particular.

If there was a perfect storm this was it. When I checked the first round results of the Olympiad in Sofia, I had this odd feeling that things were not OK. I would have liked to rest and started to play in the third round like the others from Sofia. But I think the team was in low spirits. In hindsight, my only victory came in that round. I think all of us had a mini crisis. Usually, in a team event, you see one player doing badly, but another player is able to steer the team to victory. Here we were racing each other to the bottom. Our team rotation was not very good. Four of us ended up playing too many games. In this reduced time format, the games are intense so you get tired very quickly. Unfortunately, we couldn't rest when we needed to. We got stuck halfway through the tournament and played teams, which were incredibly strong, although not top-rated. In a way being rated second had more drawbacks. Clearly, all of us were just not playing our usual level. Sasi, Hari, Surya & Sandipan did play some good games, so there was some silver lining. The sad part was that the women, who were doing well, also had a bad day in the end. In Calvia (in the 2004 Olympiad) somehow we played better. Here everything went wrong. I am neither superstitious nor do I like to complain. But in Turin it was like ground-hog day.

How do you look at the loss of 24 rating points and the resultant gap between you and the world number one spot? By how much time has this loss of points pushed you back?

One game (the defeat to Canada's Pascal Charbonneau) in the Olympiad cost me my rating. I could have avoided some of the lower-rated players but I also had a winning position before losing the grip on the position. So there is no one to blame. In 2006, I have won Corus, Monaco & Leon, the only blip being the Olympiad. I do not want to analyse this more than necessary or see what this means in the bigger picture. I know if I play my chess and just enjoy it, the ratings will improve. More or less what Parimarjan Negi will also be doing, I think.

What are the other events you are expected to play in the remainder of the year?

I will be playing in the World Blitz Championships in Israel from September 7 and in Corsica, in November.