World Championship Chess: Anand’s senior moment means Topalov draws level
In chess, however far ahead you are one points, you are also only one mistake away from oblivion. And on Tuesday night, World Champion Viswanathan Anand discovered that the hard way, writes Ian Rogers in Sofia.
Chess is an unforgiving sport — comparable perhaps only to boxing.
While Rogers Federer can make 50 unforced errors and still win a game of tennis, while Sachin Tendulkar can play a loose shot and live to fight another day, chessplayers and boxers knows that, however far ahead they are on points, they are also only one mistake away from oblivion.
On Tuesday night in Sofia, World Champion Viswanathan Anand discovered the hard way that hours of good work can be ruined by a single bad decision.
After almost five hours of resisting challenger Veselin Topalov’s pressure in the eighth game, a draw was within the Indian’s reach. Then, to general astonishment, Anand made a casual and disastrous bishop move, allowing his opponent to achieve a set-up which previously Anand had carefully prevented.
Two moves later, with defeat inevitable, Anand resigned the game.
Anand, who had lost only one serious game in the 12 months prior to his world title defence, makes stupid mistakes — well, one every five years — but not a senior’s moment like this.
Suddenly Topalov had levelled the €2 million Euro contest at 4-4 and all the talk was all about age; is Anand too old for World Championship chess?
Before the Sofia world title match Topalov, 35, claimed that his edge lay in his being five years younger than his opponent, and the pundits are beginning to wonder if the brash Bulgarian might have been right.
In the modern era, when only one player over 50 is ranked among the top 100 and teenage Grandmasters are commonplace, 40 is considered to be near the end of the useful life of a professional chess player; the age of oblivion.
Experience should count in chess, but not as much as the ability to concentrate for hours on end without miscalculating or making the smallest of errors.
Peak age for a Grandmaster used to be thought to be 35 but nowadays the magic number is just under 30, after which time the best can maintain their strength for up to a decade but few make substantial improvement.
Anand has preserved his strength wonderfully well, but with age comes inconsistency.
The World Champion is still more than capable of beating the best but of late he has also begun experiencing failure; most notably a last place in the Grand Slam Final in Bilbao in 2008. (Soon afterwards Anand went on to take the world match title from Vladimir Kramnik, so little was read into the Bilbao result.)
As part of the pre-match mind games, Topalov questioned how well Anand would cope with a 12 game, three week contest, especially one where Topalov had declared that even a completely equal position must be played to the bitter end.
Add to that, the tiring overland journey to Sofia which Anand was forced to undertake due to the volcano ash closing airspace in Europe, and there was every reason to believe that Anand could fade at the finish.
While Anand controlled the first half of the Sofia match, the last two games have seen the titleholder doing nothing but defend and it is hard to imagine a more demoralising finish to a game than Tuesday night’s collapse.
Anand and his team of seconds from Denmark, Uzbekistan and India have been known to chill out to Coldplay after a hard game, but on Wednesday, a rest day, he would be advised to turn to Chumbawumba for inspiration. After all, this is a 12 round contest and though Anand has been knocked down, he has not yet been knocked out.
Anand realised that he had no constructive moves and resigned. After 56…Bd7 47.g5 Be8 everything would be fine for Black were it not for 48.b3!. Now Black has to move his bishop and allow White to play 49.g6, whereupon the White king reaches e7 and wins the house.