Anand's helpers in Sofia – Part Two

5/20/2010 – In the second part of his interview on the old and new World Champion Vishy Anand talks about hardware – we now know that his opponent Veselin Topalov had access to an IBM super-computer with 8792 processors! – and how best to use computers for your preparation. He also compares them to human assistants, of whom Vishy had the very best.

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Just before the start of the World Championship match in Sofia Vishy Anand learnt that his opponent, Veselin Topalov, had access to a computer cluster, running the latest Rybka program, which was being held back for exclusive use by the Bulgarians. At the time nobody knew the exact specifications of the cluster. Today we know that Topalov had a seriously powerful set of computers, and in addition access to a Blue Gene/L super-computer that had 8792 processors and could execute around 500 teraFLOPS (one thousand billion floating point operations per second).

Against this frightening hardware superiority, made possible with the assistance of the Bulgarian government, Anand, as he narrates in the first part of the interview, received assistance during the preparation phase and during the match from a "human cluster": his four regular seconds, but in addition also Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik (with a small sparring session with youthful GM Anish Giri). This of course did not eliminate the need for computers, and in part two Anand talks about the use of electronic helpers as opposed to human seconds.

Vishy Anand: My human cluster was actually fairly impressive.

Frederic Friedel: “Human cluster" is an interesting expression, because I just found out today that Topalov and his team had a computer cluster with 112 cores. Your computers had eight cores, but then you got a 16-core machine?

We actually started to get a bit worried when we heard about it. We had already figured out some of the stuff – Rustam noses around in forums, so he had some inkling. And then we had some other sources who may wish to be private. Once we found out that he had some super computer, some cluster version of Rybka, something that can scale very well, it was obvious to us why Rybka 4 was being held back. So we had to do something in a hurry. Then the people from Hiarcs got in touch, Harvey Williamson and Mark Uniacke. Harvey had access to a very powerful computer, and he let me have it for the whole match. That helped – at least we could check some of the more critical areas with a really powerful machine for a couple of hours. That improved matters quite a bit. It’s one thing when you have it a couple of months before the match, but at least a lot of the critical areas these guys would check very thoroughly and make sure that I had something to play with.

This is what a computer cluster looks like – with just 52 cores. Topalov's had 112.

Still, we had this idea that maybe we should go off the more critical areas and stop going for positions which can be analysed out of the computer. Which is kind of why we decided to stay away from the Grunfeld for quite a while. I kept expecting Topalov to move along a little bit, but it never happened. I was a little surprised that he kept coming back for the Elista ending. We thought that will all his hardware and stuff he would go to sharper lines. Normally he moves around a lot, but I think maybe he decided that because he had such a big hardware advantage that he might just want to stay around and just overpower us everywhere.

GM Jan Gustafsson and Frederic Friedel during the Playchess interview

After game eight we were sort of in trouble with black, and we had some difficulty to pose problems with white. The Catalan was sort of thinning out and we were wondering how long we could keep going. It had worked brilliantly – we had already got two points. And then the idea came to start playing one-game systems. That led to the b6 Grunfeld, the Nimzo, for which we had done some work before the match. We had also done a bit of work for the English, but less. So that had to be brought up to speed a bit faster. Before the final game we had a rest day, and I thought we have a day and a half, so let’s move to the Queen’s Gambit – I need an opening that is going to give me a good sensible game and not hang by a thread on some surprise weapon here or there. So we went for that and it worked brilliantly. Even if he had got a sensible draw, at least it would have got me to the tiebreaks in reasonable shape.

One question I want to ask you, because you can judge it better than anyone: I have the feeling that if you do too much preparation and your hardware is too powerful, they keep coming to you and saying “Oh, this has been refuted,” and “here we have something new”… I don’t know if that is good for the player himself. What do you think?

It must be good for the player to have good hardware. The problem is that it often doesn’t tell you what you want. You want it to find an improvement for White, and it may choose to find it for Black instead. If you have good hardware the chances are your work will be good and you can be more confident about the work you have. If you are taking risks then you can feel you are going to have a head start. In that sense it is good. But the computer will only tell you what the position justifies. It is also insidious – it can stop you playing your favourite lines because of some obscure problems somewhere. I would say computers are very useful – especially very powerful hardware – but if working with the computer means you stop taking risks it’s of course going to kill you. But on the other hand if it encourages you to take the right kind of risks then so much the better. Managing it is I think very tricky. It is very powerful but it may not tell you what you want.

And compared to analysing with humans like Kasparov and Kramnik…?

With humans it is fantastic, because some of the things they tell you you can almost relate to. You can almost see how it is something you can apply at the board. In the last few days some of the suggestions came from Vlady – very intelligent suggestions, with his explanation of why you should do this or that. Or sometimes Garry will tell you a story about the player, and it is some insight which at a critical moment it may help you to choose between two moves and that can be decisive. So it is a very, very different kind of help. Of course these are some of the greatest players in chess, so you can’t really ask for more.

Fritz 12 does not explain why and tell you stories about players…

The problem with Fritz 12 is that except for when the coach feels like really insulting you it hardly tells you anything. The problem with computers is that they are very unreliable. You are trying to get them to do something for Black and they screw it all up. They never understand what you want.

But you don’t hate computers yet, do you?

Not at all. Computers are such a wonderful invention. They allow you to keep the computer working on something and feel good about watching a movie while you are preparing. It’s a nice way for us to feel like we are working all the time.

We should mention one more great helper you had, which is Skype. Isn’t it amazing how much you used Skype?

Yes. I am still blown away when I get an emoticon from Garry [laughs protractedly]. He turns out to be very sort of cool there.

Now I would like to hand over to Gusti, grandmaster Jan Gustafsson, who is going to ask you about a few of the games...

Watch the full interview on Playchess

This is where GM Jan Gustafsson takes over and runs through all the games with Anand. You can watch it in the Premium Training room on the Playchess server, in the section "Live".

The interview is available for members of Playchess in the Premium Videos section. It is free for all Premium members – regular members need to have 50 ducats on their account in order to watch the 70-minute interview, which also contains extensive discussions between GM Jan Gustafsson and Vishy Anand on the course of the match.

Early reports

Early feedback

Paulo Cheroto, Brasil
Anand, the extraordinary. They way this guy talks about people, things and evertyhing... Such a Champion! - in chess, heart, etc. Brings people together. It is so cool that we can get to know a bit more about Anand through this interview (he is discret). My admiration only gets bigger and bigger. Anand, congrats, man!!!

Amit, Kureel, Bangalore, India
I read Anand's interview part 1 and felt very good. It was an amzing piece and I can't already wait for part 2. Thanks for this interview. I have an interesting idea for you. I think, you should also interview Anand's Seconds also (PH, Kasim and others) to look at the whole match from their point of view. What experience they had. What they were thinking during the preparation, the problems they faced, before the match and during the match, what they thought about Topa's preparation and so on.

Saadi Manipal
It is heartening to see a great bunch of sportsmen in the most (fiercely) competitive of games pouring out their creative geniuses...

Greg Koster, Chicago
Wonderful report. Especially appreciated the material about Kramnik's calls to Team Anand.

Jose Tomsig, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
According to today's article: what's going on here? Why all three took Anand's side? Do they hate Topalov? Can you explain?

Julian Wan, Ann Arbor, USA
Thank you for sharing this information! The top players respect Anand's ability – that great players like Kasparov, Carlsen and Kramnik would assist him show that they think he is a worthy champion. I believe it shows that they understand that he is an interesting and unique player – someone who understands chess and plays the game as a very high level. At the end of the day, they all find the game fascinating and so being able to delve into another great player's thinking is hard to resist. The second and probably most interesting observation and one that is more applicable to other walks of life is that they respect him as a person – I get the impression that they like him and appreciate that he isn't someone who has to create conflict to psyche themselves up or just to be contrarian. Chess makes for strange alliances – just look at Kasparov supporting Karpov for the FIDE presidency – but there is something here more than just some shared lack of closeness towards or even dislike of Topalov. I think they really like Anand.

K. Srinath, Pune, India
Are you aware of any other World Chess Championship in which a player was assisted by such an elite group? In fact, can you imagine Kasparov "getting in touch" with anyone else? And Kramnik, and Carlsen!! OMG. Can't help but think that Anand's being such a nice (any other adjective falls short as well) person automatically makes all this happen. It is funny to think people were scared that Anand played in Bulgaria; more important was the fact that he was on Earth, where even his keenest rivals root for (and help!!) him. He's "home" wherever he goes because people everywhere love him.

Benoit Chamuleau, Istanbul
This interview is just another proof of what a class player and human Anand is: who else manages to make the world's cream of chess to root for him?

Neeraj Sharma, Swansea, UK
Hi everyone in Chessbase! The first thing I did halfway through reading your first article on Anand's seconds is to check the calendar. Thank God it was not the 1st of April, because it could have easily been your yearly joke! Unbelievable! I nearly fell off my chair! The camaraderie amongst the chess players definitely seems to have gone up a level, and how nice to see a nice human being like Anand helping this process. I don't think he had to do anything out of the ordinary – just be himself in all situations, and everyone seems to like him for that. Anand's human cluster was clearly the cream of modern day chess, and that undid the hardware advantage which Topo had. With all this happening if God was wondering upstairs, "which side do I put my money on?" he opted for Anand as it was a safer to go with the Ks and Carlsen, I guess! Hence the luck factor went in Anand's favour!

Over the years I had been a great fan of Anand's interviews, and I have a huge collection of them. I think the best people to interview him are Fred and Arvind Aaron, followed by Rakesh Rao (for the gallery). It was really a treat to read the interview! Thanks once again. I could not make to Sofia this year but I will definitely be around in London in 2012, waving a big Indian flag!

Martin, Coetzee, Johannesburg, South Africa
Thank you so much for sharing your interview with Anand on Chessbase. It was wonderful reading. I agree with another reader: interviews with his seconds and maybe even KKC would be fantastic. I see people wondering why KKC "sided" with Anand. Some answers from them would be enlightening. An interview with Topalov and his seconds would complete the picture. He might still be hurting though so it might be difficult to get him involved. It was a wonderful World Championship match and it wouldn't have happened without him. Once again thanks for this, I enjoyed reading it immensely. Also thanks to Chessbase as a whole, you guys provide wonderful coverage and I visit your site nearly daily.

James Brydges
I almost feel sorry for Topalov – not only did he have to fight against Anand (a fairly equal match in terms of chess strength), he also had to fight two ex world champions, one of whom is possibly the strongest ever and the other the man who beat him and is still playing. Add to that the preparation given by Carlsen, the world's number one, and someone with the potential to be stronger than them all, and a team of strong and dedicated seconds. Topalov had the odds stacked against him.

Armando Covarrubias, Guadalajara, México
This is a heart-warming human story. It would be good to put the overwhelming chess community support for Vishy in context: for one thing he is a nice and well balanced individual, who has earned admiration and and respect from the chess world at large. There is also a hint of outdated cold war here: it feels like the otherwise admirable Topalov was being used by the Bulgarian state to "buy" the prestige associated with World Chess Championship at the expense of resources needed elsewhere in the country. The story resembles a Hollywood script. In a typical case of "life imitating art" the "cavalry" of big chess minds poured in just at the right time to level the field. Congratulations to Anand, and my admiration to that fantastic warrior, Topalov the individual.

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