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Anand on the World Championship in Moscow (Part 1)

7/14/2012 – Just six weeks ago Viswanathan Anand successfully defended his World Championship title in Moscow, against Israeli GM Boris Gelfand. Immediately after the final Anand spoke to an old friend, journalist Jaideep Unudurti. The interview was too long (and profound) for his newspaper, which carried only parts of it. Jaideep has given us the rest, which we bring you in three parts. Don't miss this!
 

Interview with World Champion Viswanathan Anand

By Jaideep Unudurti

This interview was conducted for the Indian Express in Viswanathan Anand’s sprawling preparation room at the Baltschug Kempinski Hotel. The previous evening saw him crowned with the traditional laurel wreath of the world champion.


The match winner crowned by FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov with a laurel wreath

“This is the best man-made view there is in Russia” he says, pointing out the sight. Indeed, the scene from the window is breathtaking. The Moskva river flows below and the Red Square just beyond, all presided over by the iconic towers of the Kremlin.

There were other events happening at the time of the match like the U.S. Championship, and some of it had theoretical relevance. Were you aware?

Yeah, the thing is, I was not following this stuff very well, but our guys made sure whatever was relevant – so they were keeping track – and I assumed, the summary they gave me, included the correct information.

And just before the match there was Kramnik-Aronian…

I followed that, though during four games of that match I was in Kovalam, Kerala on vacation. So I was not really following the match, but getting our guys to SMS the games. I got back and had a look. It wasn’t too relevant for our match as it turned out.

You played in the Bundesliga in the run-up to the match. Were you concerned about being rusty?

Well, that was the idea in playing the Bundesliga. The thing is, confidence is an elusive thing. You don’t know when you have it except when you do. But clearly my tournaments last year, from September to December did not increase it. I had the idea, I didn’t want to go five months without any chess before starting. When you are sitting in front of a chessboard things always look different. So it’s good to get that feeling. And it is very difficult to recreate that feeling at home. Even if I ask the guys to sit down and play, you know, it’s not serious. So I decided to play both the Bundesliga weekends. It didn’t really have the desired effect of raising my confidence, I must say (laughs). In the end it is what it is. Sometimes life is a bit frustrating.

You were able to finish on a win…

That’s true. Well, the last game was almost me lashing out with frustration than anything else. I mean, I just played like someone who didn’t understand chess at all. You know, sometimes when you are angry, you just blitz out this stuff. I mean, clearly my emotions took over in that game. But at least I got the feeling of remembering what a chessboard is like and so on. It was convenient also because my training was happening in Germany and there were very short distances to get to these matches. It worked out okay.

[Event "Schachbundesliga 2011-12"] [Site "Baden Baden GER"] [Date "2012.04.15"] [Round "15.1"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Buhmann, Rainer"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D10"] [WhiteElo "2817"] [BlackElo "2606"] [PlyCount "131"] [EventDate "2011.10.14"] [WhiteTeam "OSG Baden-Baden"] [BlackTeam "SV Hockenheim"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 a6 5. Nf3 b5 6. c5 g6 7. Ne5 Bg7 8. f4 O-O 9. Bd3 a5 10. Bd2 Be6 11. Qc2 Qc8 12. h3 Na6 13. a3 Nd7 14. Nf3 Naxc5 15. dxc5 Nxc5 16. Rc1 a4 17. Nd4 Bxd4 18. exd4 Nb3 19. Ne2 Nxc1 20. Nxc1 Bf5 21. Bxf5 Qxf5 22. Qxf5 gxf5 23. g4 f6 24. gxf5 Kf7 25. Kf2 Rfe8 26. Ne2 Rac8 27. Rc1 h5 28. Kf3 Rg8 29. Be1 Rg7 30. Ng3 h4 31. Nf1 Ke8 32. Bf2 Kd7 33. Ne3 Rcg8 34. Ng4 Rb8 35. Be1 Rh8 36. Rc2 Rhg8 37. Rg2 Kd6 38. Rh2 Rh8 39. Re2 Kd7 40. Rg2 Kd6 41. Bb4+ Kc7 42. Ne3 Rxg2 43. Nxg2 Kd7 44. Be1 Rc8 45. Bf2 Rb8 46. Ne1 b4 47. axb4 Rxb4 48. Nd3 Rb3 49. Ke2 Ke8 50. Be1 Rb8 51. Kd1 Kf7 52. Kc2 Rh8 53. Kc3 Rh5 54. Kb4 Ke8 55. Kxa4 Kd7 56. Ka5 Rxf5 57. Kb6 Rh5 58. Kb7 Rh7 59. Ba5 Rg7 60. Nc5+ Ke8 61. Kxc6 Rg3 62. b4 Rxh3 63. b5 Rh1 64. b6 Rb1 65. b7 Rxb7 66. Kxb7 1-0

In general before the match I was inclined to be less confident than… maybe I would have been otherwise. Anyway it would have been insane to underestimate Boris, and I don’t think I would have done that. But I didn’t come here with particularly high expectations. I came here as someone who expected to fight for his life.

You have been playing each other for so long. To answer the question of who surprised whom, would it be fair to say, he surprised you?

Well, I think, within the Slav for instance, my choice of a6 was a surprise. So we also got him. We surprised him a lot and with some of the Rossolimos towards the end, I think. We were surprising him in every game. But in terms of opening concepts I knew, he was going to try and surprise me somewhere. But we didn’t spend a lot of time in the Grünfeld so we had to do a lot of catch-up work here.

Would it be fair to say, he was trying to do against you what you did against Kramnik in Bonn?

Correct. Though I would say with Vlady it is tough. You look at that match. I mean, when your first game goes like that, you think, you’ve done everything wonderfully and you think, you are a great match player. But in the games that followed I simply understood Vlady made some tactical errors. He challenged my preparation in an area (the Meran) where probably he didn’t pay any attention to this sub-variation I played against him. He simply walked into an ambush. And that explains the huge score differential. I’ll be honest. For the rest of my life with Vlady, our results have been more or less even. Tending one way or the other, but basically even. And after a lifetime of such equilibrium you are winning by three points after six games, it’s clear something went dramatically wrong with him. Now I feel you also have to be lucky. Vlady got in almost none of his preparation, I got in almost all of mine, and that happens just once in a while. He just walked into an ambush and that changed everything. The remaining games of our match did not go anywhere like that. And you have to remind yourself, this is probably normal and that was the exceptionally good day. You are not going to win that lottery every day.


Anand during this interview on the banks of the Moskva River, the Kremlin in the background

Gelfand surprised me. But I expected him to surprise me. We had also prepared surprises. But he was very good at side-stepping. I think my new Meran with a6, the system I played in the first four black games, was actually a surprise for him because he didn’t manage to get a lot of action there. Not even in the game he finally won. The thing is, even in an area you prepare thoroughly, there are small holes in your preparation. Small areas where you didn’t go into as much detail as necessary and map it out. That’s kind of what happened. We walked into their area and there was a violent turn to the match. You are used to being in control, and then suddenly at the slightest lack of control you become emotionally agitated and start to react badly.

Game seven came as a shock...

Game seven was a heavy blow because it was not a match where I was creating a lot of chances. Probably you can say, neither was he. But suddenly he was a whole point ahead. So in a match where it was very tough for us to find any weak spot in his armour I had fallen behind. Game seven was a heavy blow because suddenly you know that in the last five games you have to try hysterically to catch up.

[Event "WCh 2012"] [Site "Moscow RUS"] [Date "2012.05.20"] [Round "7"] [White "Gelfand, B."] [Black "Anand, V."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D45"] [WhiteElo "2727"] [BlackElo "2791"] [PlyCount "75"] [EventDate "2012.05.11"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. Nf3 a6 6. c5 Nbd7 7. Qc2 b6 8. cxb6 Nxb6 9. Bd2 c5 10. Rc1 cxd4 11. exd4 Bd6 12. Bg5 O-O 13. Bd3 h6 14. Bh4 Bb7 15. O-O Qb8 16. Bg3 Rc8 17. Qe2 Bxg3 18. hxg3 Qd6 19. Rc2 Nbd7 20. Rfc1 Rab8 21. Na4 Ne4 22. Rxc8+ Bxc8 23. Qc2 g5 24. Qc7 Qxc7 25. Rxc7 f6 26. Bxe4 dxe4 27. Nd2 f5 28. Nc4 Nf6 29. Nc5 Nd5 30. Ra7 Nb4 31. Ne5 Nc2 32. Nc6 Rxb2 33. Rc7 Rb1+ 34. Kh2 e3 35. Rxc8+ Kh7 36. Rc7+ Kh8 37. Ne5 e2 38. Nxe6 1-0

Your Slav was working so well, did complacency set in game seven?

A little bit. But you know, even when an opening works incredibly well for a long time, you have to be careful, because probability is edging against you.

You came back immediately...

But then game eight went beautifully. I assumed, he was trying to double his lead rather than sit on it. He was very motivated, but something clearly went wrong. I went Bg5, I don’t know if it surprised him. But he went Bf6.There followed Bxf6 exf6 and I played Qd2. Then this move g4. When I played g4 I saw this trick, …Qf6 doesn’t work. I saw the key idea very quickly. I first looked at Qf4 and then j’adoubed it (smiles) to f2, and the queen gets trapped. So fine, I thought. First, g4, I have space on the kingside and I can press. At this point I was reasonably content. Of course if Black goes back with his knight to f6, brings the other knight to f8 and puts his rooks on the e-file nothing dramatic is going to happen. And then I went backstage. I was waiting for my move. I thought of …Qf6, but was telling myself, it’s too naive to expect. It’s not going to happen. And then I suddenly saw him make a move from the back of the board. I looked up and saw it was –Qf6! I thought “Oh God!” I came back, checked for a few minutes and then just went for it. Of course after Qf2 he thought for a while and resigned.

[Event "ICC 120 0 u"] [Site "Internet Chess Club"] [Date "2012.05.21"] [Round "8"] [White "Anand, Viswanathan"] [Black "Gelfand, Boris"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "E60"] [WhiteElo "2791"] [BlackElo "2727"] [Annotator "Ramirez,Alejandro"] [PlyCount "33"] [EventDate "2012.??.??"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. f3 {This has been a popular way of trying to avoid the Grunfeld. Shirov used it successfully in the late 90s against Kramnik and it gave Anand great chances in the third game of this match.} c5 4. d5 {The position now goes into the Benoni waters, a defense that is not very popular for Black right now - but white has committed to playing f3.} d6 5. e4 Bg7 6. Ne2 O-O 7. Nec3 {0.36/0 This knight dance is seen sometimes in this variation to bolster the center and to develop the knight - notice it isn't very useful on e2.} Nh5 {0.44/0} (7... e6 {had been played once before, but I'm sure Gelfand was out of preparation by now.}) 8. Bg5 {0.11/0} Bf6 {0.33/0 very logical - White's dark squares are weak, so Gelfand exchanges the bishops to emphasize the weaknesses.} 9. Bxf6 {0.19/0} exf6 {0.43/0 Opening the file and allowing f5.} 10. Qd2 {0.44/0 The start of a develish trap. Looking back at the game, you just wonder when Vishy saw the upcoming sequence.} f5 {0.00/0} 11. exf5 {0.28/0} Bxf5 {0.48/0} 12. g4 {0.50/0} Re8+ {0.36/0} 13. Kd1 {0.73/0} Bxb1 {0.36/0} 14. Rxb1 {0.65/0} Qf6 $4 {1.69/0 I understand that not too many people saw Vishy's idea. However, you always have to be careful playing such a brilliant tactician.} (14... Nf6 15. Kc2 Nbd7 16. Be2 {Must favor White a little. His space advantage is considerable and his king is quite safe. Maybe Na6-c7 is better than Nbd7.}) 15. gxh5 {1.52/0 When a world champion hangs an exchange and a pawn, you should know you are lost.} Qxf3+ {2.05/0} 16. Kc2 Qxh1 17. Qf2 $3 {Surprise! The queen is trapped in the corner. The threat is simply Bd3 and there is no adequate defense. Black resigned instead of continuing in a hopeless situation.} (17. Qf2 Na6 18. Bd3 Nb4+ 19. Kd2 Nxd3 20. Kxd3 { Doesn't help Black one bit.}) (17. Qf2 Nc6 18. dxc6 Qxc6 19. Bg2 Qd7 20. Nd5 { is beyond hopeless when you play someone of Anand's caliber. Or even a little less.}) 1-0

How did you set the trap? And what did you feel when he played …Qf6?

You can imagine, suddenly I understood, he had just missed Qf2. My thought process was something like this: I can play Be2 or Kd1 or even Kf2. I thought about it for a while. It seemed to me Kd1 was the best move. I was reluctant to play a move only for the purpose of setting a trap, but finally convinced myself that Kd1 was the best move in the position as well. So I played Kd1. Maybe a small part of me was hoping it would happen, but I didn’t believe it. And then he moved his queen to f6! I went back and tried to calm down. I wanted to spend a few minutes just to calm down, but I couldn’t. After a few minutes I just went gxh5 because I had seen Qf2 and because there is nothing really that can surprise you there.

That was in a sense, a lucky break because it allowed me to play the rest of the match not from a desperate situation. But in general I would say, he had been very, very effective in side-stepping my preparation with both colours. With white he kept controlling. He kept control, I mean, if he did not manage to predict specific opening choices of mine, he was able to stay in a general area where I couldn’t do anything violent to him like I did with Vlady. So he had prepared this Meran, you know, tight control.

With black he played the Grünfeld for the first time in his life. Sveshnikov… well, he had a period in ‘98 when he was playing it, but I don’t recall too many games afterwards. In the Rossolimo he went …e6 which he had not played before. So everywhere he made specific effort to do something new & difficult to keep a sort of an information advantage in the match.

I would say, still we were doing okay with black. Black was not a crisis, but with white we were finding it very difficult to make headway. And that is why the match went like this. In every game we would probe a little bit, nothing would happen, then you would go back home, refine it a little, try a bit more, and this was the tendency in the match. You knew that things were slowly going to happen. In the end when I switched to the Nimzo, again he made a clever choice. He played e3, which I myself had started playing in the match against Topalov, and played it against me. In fact I had difficulties there because I couldn’t remember clearly what I was supposed to do and there was some struggling. But then game eleven went a bit better.

It was a tough match like I expected it to be. A tough match. Because I saw Boris as someone who is a professional, who knew how to do preparation properly, who knew how to control – the point of preparation is to be able to control what happens in the game. I also knew, he would be very motivated, he would come, play the middle-game very well, he would defend well, be resourceful. Basically, everything positive that you can say about a chess player, those qualities Boris has.

I never saw myself as a favourite. There were a lot of people who kept saying, I was the favourite. But they simply missed the plot. One statistic that kept coming up was that he hadn’t beaten me in 19 years. That was the main theme. Everyone sort of latched on to it. But look at our scores. He beat me in five out of six games from 1990 to 1993.

And there was that famous Queen’s Gambit accepted…

Correct. That was the exception. The other five he won. And the final one in the series is the one they showed in the painting.

The Nc3 Sicilian which you win with a sacrifice on e6?

Correct, that was my win and this win was on the painting. I beat him four times from ‘96 to ‘97. But essentially, you can say he didn’t beat me since ‘93 and I beat him just once after ‘97. So in classical chess there wasn’t much to separate us, I think. “He hasn’t beaten you since ‘93” sounds impressive till you realize, I had beaten him only once since ‘97.

There was one decisive game in the last 15 years, and that was in 2006.

Rapid, of course, was tilting in my favour. But again I knew, what mattered was recent tendencies, and in Khanty-Mansiysk and Kazan he showed, he played the matches well. But if it came to rapids or tie-breaks, he exerted himself fully. He concentrated fully and hauled in the point. He did it against Vachier – long match, I think, 8-10 games, something like that. He did it against Ponomariov, 12 games, and he showed he was able to do this for the long haul. Therefore, when I came here I never had the impression that I was the favourite. I mean, this is the one thing I can say truthfully and clearly – I never felt I was the favourite in this match.

I think, a lot of the criticism, “He is playing without motivation, he is playing without interest…”, this droning on endlessly, simply came from the fact that people who assumed I was the heavy favorite had to find a way to explain why I wasn’t leading. But I never considered myself the favourite. So there was nothing to explain from my point of view. I expected a tough, nerve-wracking match, and I got a tough nerve-wracking match.

You didn’t look too comfortable in the press-conference…

You know in these press conferences, if people ask you 20 times, “Are you motivated, are you trying, are you heading for tie-breaks?” Well, it gets frustrating. It was a difficult match, I was not getting anywhere because my opponent was well-prepared and he wasn’t giving me any quarter. It gets annoying to keep on saying over and over – “No, I actually love chess, I’m trying to play chess well, I didn’t come here to waste your time or mine.” I respect the fact that the chess audience here is very sophisticated, and they were perhaps very disappointed with my play in the Tal Memorial. So naturally they might have assumed that the same tendency was continuing now, but it wasn’t like that. In that sense there was a negative ambience. Even without reading the papers… I had a good reason not to read anything about chess because I understood, it wasn’t going to be very positive.

Some players did appreciate it. I think Aronian tweeted enthusiastically about the last game.

Yeah, some people who had experienced these things themselves understood, we were both trying hard and we had both prepared very well, we had prepared deep ideas and the lack of the breakthrough was simply because we were both putting in a lot of effort. And our teams were putting in a lot of effort. I mean, whatever else you were expecting, we were trying. Aronian got it, Kramnik got it. These guys got it. But in general it’s frustrating if you have to explain 20 times a day, “No, I’m trying, No, I’m trying.” Then you just wonder what is really going on. And of course Kasparov was in complete over-drive. And he always comes up with eminently quotable statements which make them much worse. Again he is someone who could not bring himself to admit, his prognosis, that I would have been a favourite in this match had I been firing on all cylinders, was wrong to begin with. Even if I had been in top form, you still need an area to break through. So rather than admit he was wrong, he was simply doubling up his criticism. It wasn’t just him.

All this comes from last year’s results...

I am the first person to admit that my play last year was bad. I don’t need Kasparov to tell me this. I don’t need anyone to tell me this. Anybody who looks at these games will understand something had gone wrong. But it is also difficult to play with a gun to your head. If everyone goes on saying you are not playing – you feel, in every tournament you have to prove yourself. You can’t work like that. I hope, when I get to Bazna [the tournament was unfortunately postponed] I’ll be able to shut all these guys out, just try and enjoy playing. Of course there are technical problems in my chess which I’d like to fix, there are probably psychological problems as well which have to be fixed. I’m not going to say that all the criticism was unjustified, but simply in this match it went into overdrive. But for me it was always clear that I was not the favourite. I knew that if I fought I would have my chances, but didn’t see any grounds to be considered the favourite.


Chess at the airport: just before boarding the Aeroflot flight from Delhi to Moscow...


I was gratified to see coverage of the match in Doordarshan in the lounge

– Parts two and three to follow –


Previous interview with Jaydeep Unudurti

The Delhi Interview with Viswanathan Anand – Part two
11.06.2010 – In December 2009 Jaideep Unudurti conducted an indepth interview with Viswanathan Anand. Some of it was published in Mint – a collaboration between the Hindustan Times and the Wall Street Journal – but a lot fell on the cutting room floor. Thankfully Jaideep saved the entire interview, which provides deep insights into the personality of the current World Champion. Here's part two.
The Delhi Interview with Viswanathan Anand – Part one
08.06.2010 – Back in December 2009 Mint – a collaboration between the Hindustan Times and the Wall Street Journal – commissioned their journalist Jaideep Unudurti to do an indepth interview with World Champion Vishy Anand. The discussion lasted for an hour, and only a small section landed in the journal. Jaideep has thankfully transcribed the entire contents, which we will publish in three sections.

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