When Viswanathan Anand was nine years old, his father took a one year contract in the Philippines. Having learned the game three years earlier, Anand was intrigued to see an hour-long chess programme on television every day. Anand, at school when “Chess Today” was broadcast, had his mother tape the programme.
Anand soon won so many prizes from the daily competition that he soon had a fine chess book collection, which he devoured.
On his family’s return to Madras, Anand soon impressed with his incredible speed of thought and ever increasing ranking.
At age 14 Anand was selected to represent India at the Chess Olympics and he took the chess world by storm.
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In 1986 he left spectators in London gaping when he beat a top US Grandmaster using only eight minutes on the clock. A year later, Anand was a Grandmaster himself.
Anand was clearly one of the great talents the chess world had seen. However, becoming a top chessplayer is one thing. Becoming World Champion quite another.
Between 1886 and 2008 only 14 players had captured the world title. After the second world war the USSR had made possession of the world title by one of their representatives a sign of the superiority of their communist system. Challenges to the titleholder, usually once every three years, had to be earned through long and arduous qualifying matches and only in 1972 did the American Bobby Fischer briefly interrupt the Soviet/Russian domination — and certainly ruin the communist superiority theory.
In 1995 Anand’s first title challenge was snuffed out by Garry Kasparov and, with the schisms in the chess world, he did not get a second chance at the match title until 2008.
By the time the 2008 match began, some feared that Anand’s time had passed. At 38 he had dropped from first to fifth place on the world rankings just before the match began and his opponent, Vladimir Kramnik, aged only 33, was believed to be near-invincible in match play.
However Anand dominated the $3m match from the start, though suffering a bout of nerves before winning 6.5-4.5.
In the final game, Kramnik needed a victory to keep the 12 game match alive but after 3 hours and 24 moves saw in front of him an endgame which offered chances only for his opponent and offered a draw.
As Anand accepted his trophy from the World Chess Federation Chairman Florencio Campomanes — the man who hosted the Chess Today programme back in 1979 — he received a 3 minute standing ovation from the packed Bonn Exhibition Hall.
The win will be even more warmly received in India, where Anand is a living legend, having already been given almost every possible civilian and sporting award, including the coveted Padma Vibhushan in 2007. Just as the Soviets took their success at chess, music, ballet and other sporting and cultural activities as a sign that wealth should not be the only measure for judging a society, India will view Anand’s success as a sign that they are becoming a fully developed country. Cricket success is all very well but, as Information and Technology Minister Pramod Mahajan said in 2000: “Anand won the [FIDE Knock-out] world title in a game that is played in over 150 countries while cricket is just a Commonwealth game.”
Anand, relieved more than happy after the eleventh game, explained that the match had required him to look extraordinarily deeply into the game over his ten month preparation period. “The struggle was very intense. Vlad was punishing me in the last few games.”
Kramnik, losing his title after eight years, was generous in defeat. “It may have looked as if I had been lying on the beach but in fact I prepared for many months and Vishy prepared better than me. It’s a harsh lesson but life is like that — you don’t always win.”
Guardian cricket writer Mike Selvey had recently used Anand as an example to Ricky Ponting of how a player should accept a loss, but it is hard to beat Kramnik’s final words.
“It’s only a game. There was a lot at stake — the world title, millions of dollars — but that is not a reason to get depressed. It is only a game. To lose to Vishy was always a possibility — I knew this at the start. You are responsible for the quality of the game but not the result. Vishy was better this time — it happens. I have no reason to complain except about myself.”
Opening: Sicilian Defence
Despite needing only a draw to win the title, Anand had no hesitation in heading for the sharpest line, even though “he surprised me a bit with the Najdorf. I don’t play 6.Bg5 that often,” said Anand.
“With this move I mess things up,” said Kramnik of this anti-positional move.
“I was just happy to have a game — a complicated position.”
“A very precise move,” said Kramnik.
“Probably 15…0-0 was the only move to try to fight,” said Kramnik.
Eliminating the only Black piece which could cause annoyance.
“Now I am out of danger,” said Anand.
“20…Nb4 is not working because of 21.Rxf5 Rxc2 22.Rxf7,” said Kramnik.
“Vishy played well, especially under such tension,” said Kramnik.
“Miracles happen, but very rarely.”