Anand of Old Too Hot for Fancied Challengers - The New Indian Express

Anand of Old Too Hot for Fancied Challengers

Published: 31st March 2014 02:00 AM

Last Updated: 31st March 2014 01:29 AM

The odds were heavily stacked against Viswanathan Anand before the start of the 2014 Candidates tournament. The Indian had lost the world title in demoralising fashion to Magnus Carlsen last year and his performance in the Zurich Chess Challenge last month was far from inspiring. Plus, he had not won a tournament of this calibre in the last five years.

His stunning triumph in the Candidates with a round still remaining was a remarkable turnaround when one considers his ordinary tournament performances in the last four years.

“I didn’t know what to expect before the start of the tournament but it went ridiculously well. To win the tournament was incredibly important. It’s a very, very strong field,” was how Anand summed up his victory.

Three factors helped Anand script his triumph in emphatic fashion. Gone was the edgy and tense Anand which one saw during the World Championship match against Carlsen. Having come to terms with the loss against the Norwegian, Anand looked relaxed and confident right from the first round. Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik being dubbed the tournament favourites put less pressure on Anand. The third and most important factor was Anand played like the Anand of old: performing in all the phases of the game with equal felicity, willing to take risks when required, and keeping his unwavering focus for long hours, which is a pre-requisite for success in such a long and intense event.

Anand started the tournament by outplaying top seed Aronian, who has been his nemesis for a long time. After seizing a slight edge, Anand demonstrated the power of double bishops with subtle manoeuvres giving no chance to the Armenian to wriggle out of a tight spot. Carlsen was so impressed with Anand’s win, that he said: “Anand defeated Aronian with sheer technique. His bishop manoeuvres were striking.”

He followed it up by punishing Shakhriyar Mamedyarov’s provocative pawn push (17. e5), combining his pieces effectively to wrest the lead with two wins in the first three rounds. Except for a brief period when Aronian shared the lead, Anand remained on top throughout the event. It took the Indian  another five rounds before he could post his third victory of the event — against Veselin Topalov in the ninth round. The Bulgarian was positionally outwitted after making a dubious pawn move in the opening.

Another pertinent point was Anand made a conscious effort not to get into dull and boring positions, which might result in uneventful draws. He also made it a point to take the initiative and his two draws with black against Topalov and Vladimir Kramnik, sacrificing a pawn in the opening and forcing a draw with dynamic play, showed his deep understanding of the game.

Anand’s biggest test came in the 13th round against Sergey Karjakin. It was the battle of the oldest (44 years) and youngest (24 years). Despite being down by 1.5 points, Karjakin had a chance to overhaul Anand if he could beat the Indian and tie for first place, which would have been be a dramatic twist in the plot. However, Anand showed the doggedness of a champion, thwarting Karjakin’s bid and forcing a draw after a long battle.

Aronian and Kramnik fell apart in the second half of the tournament, while Anand maintained his high level of play, which proved to be decisive in the end.

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