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Vishwanathan Anand :among all-time greats of chess

Chess players are by nature a sensitive lot. The slightest of things upset them – even the colour of the chair they sit on! So, to be forced to travel by road for 40 hours on the eve of the World Championship match would without doubt have been a trying time for one defending his world title. But not for Viswanathan Anand.

With volcanic ash from Iceland forcing a suspension of flights all Europe and the World Chess Championships organisers refusing to change the dates, Anand travelled by road to reach Sofia, Bulgaria, the venue of the world championship, to meet Veselin Topalov.
Anand lost the first game to Topalov, but quickly found his feet, bounced back and won the next two games. He held the lead past the midway stage and held his nerve when Topalov equalized in game eight. Then came the cruncher in game 12 where Topalov held the advantage of white pieces, but Anand came out with flying colours.
Showing a level of maturity that has come with age and experience, Anand chose a practical opening – the Queen’s Gambit Declined Lasker Variation widely considered a safe opening for black – and then proceeded to dismantle the normally aggressive Topalov to win 6.5-5.5 and retain the undisputed world title for the third time.
Before the latest win, he won in 2007 and 2008. And even before that in 2000 he won the title for the first time in a knockout format.
Widely considered as the greatest Indian sportsman, Anand, born Dec 11, 1969, has been among the game’s elite for more almost two decades. Now with world title in virtually all formats – knockout, tournament and matchplay – he has legitimate reasons to stake a claim to being one of the all-time greats in his sport.
Not till a few months before defending his title against Kramnik in 2008 when he fell to No.5, Anand was always in the top-3 of the world for almost 15 years.
In 2007 World Chess Championship in Mexico City, Anand won the eight-player, double round robin tournament with a total of nine points out of 14, with a total of 4 wins and 10 draws. Anand was the only undefeated player in the tournament.
In 2008, he successfully defended the title against the previous world champion, Vladimir Kramnik, beating the Russian in the famous Battle of Bonn 6.5-4.5 with one game to spare in the 12-game final.
Now the win 6.5-5.5 over Topalov in 2010 adds lustre to his six chess Oscars, the last of which came in 2008. Anand has won the Chess Oscar – an award given by polling votes from the global chess fraternity, including players and best writers across the world – a record six times with the wins coming in 1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008. His six Oscars make him the best ever, with Kasparov having won it only four times and Bobby Fischer three.
Anand, who learnt the game from his mother Susila Viswanathan, learnt the nuances while following the game on chess in Manila, the Philippines, where his father R.Viswanathan, a senior railway officer, was posted for some years in the early 1980s.
Anand’s early success in the sport came in 1983, when at the age of 14, he stunned the field with a nine out of nine perfect score winning the National Sub-Junior Chess Championship.
A year later he became the youngest Indian to win the International Master’s Title at the age of 15 in 1984.
By 16, he was the National Champion and he won it twice more.
Playing his moves at great speed, he earned the nickname of ‘Lightning Kid’ and also ‘Tiger from Madras’ and in 1987, he returned to Manila, to become the first Indian to win the World Junior Chess Championship.
In 1988, at 18, he earned three Grandmaster norms in a span of less than 12 months and in December, he became India’s first Grandmaster.
His first big moment came at the Reggio Emilia tournament in 1991 where he finished ahead of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, signalling his arrival at the world stage.
In 1991, Anand lost in a tie-breaker to Anatoly Karpov in the quarter finals of the FIDE Knockout World Chess Championship.
As the world of chess split, Anand also played in the Kasparov promoted Professional Chess Association and reached the final, where he lost to Kasparov in New York City’s World Trade Center. After eight draws, Anand broke through with a win in ninth game.
But then the more experienced Kasparov hit back and won four of the next five games and went on to win the match 10.5-7.5.
In 2000, with Kasparov and Kramnik staying Anand’s win at the FIDE World Championships in New Delhi and Teheran did not impress the chess fraternity, which still considered the classical Matchplay as the real world title.
But on the tournament circuit, Anand continued his domination in various forms, winning Advanced Chess tournaments in Leon, Spain, and the Chess Classic of Mainz, where he won the title 11 times.
His five successes at Wijk Aan Zee have been a record and he has also won in Dortmund and Linares, the latter three times.
In 2007 he won the Linares-Morelia with the world’s top players in attendance, though Kasparov had retired by then. The tournament was played to crown the undisputed world champion and Anand was finally one.
Then with critics still claiming Anand had not won a title in Matchplay, he came up against Kramnik, who had dethroned Kasparov.
Anand decimated Kramnik and went three-up in first six games, before Kramnik began his fight. The Russian challenger won the tenth game, but that only narrowed the deficit to two points before the Indian drew the 11th game and won 6.5-4.5 to retain his world title.
Anand is the only player to have won the world title in three formats – the 128-player FIDE Championship in 2000, the closed tournament format in Linares-Morelia in 2007 and now the Matchplay against Kramnik.
In October 2003, FIDE, organised a rapid time control tournament in Cap d’Agde and called it as the World Rapid Chess Championship. Each player had 25 minutes at the start of the game, with an additional 10 seconds after each move. Anand won this event ahead of ten of the other top twelve players in the world with Kasparov being the only missing player.
Apart from six Oscars, his other awards include the Arjuna award for Outstanding Indian Sportsman in Chess in 1985; the Padma Shri, National Citizens Award and Soviet Land Nehru Award in 1987; the inaugural Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India’s highest sporting honour in the year 1991-1992. His book, ‘My Best Games of Chess’ also won the British Chess Federation ‘Book of the Year’ Award in 1998.

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