Rogers and Ajith Kumar on Anand in Sportstar

6/15/2012 – Almost two weeks have passed since World Champion Anand narrowly defended his title in Moscow, although he was supposed to win it in a breeze. How that came about and what was involved in preparatory work on both sides is described by Australian GM Ian Rogers. Meanwhile columnist P.K. Ajith Kumar tells us about Anand's charisma in India. All this in Sportstar weekly.

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Cut and thrust of the highest order

While genius no doubt helped, it is certainly true to say that perseverance and speed, two qualities that have never abandoned Viswanathan Anand throughout his long career, were decisive in overcoming Boris Gelfand's challenge, writes Ian Rogers.

Anand had already beaten two titans of the sport, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, in world title matches in 2008 and 2010 respectively, so few expected Boris Gelfand – 43 years old, ranked barely inside the top 20 and supposedly in the twilight of his career – to pose much of a problem for the four-time World Champion. Yet, Gelfand, who had won ten elimination matches – World Cup and Candidates contests – to get to the challenger's position proved a harder nut to crack than either Kramnik or Topalov. “Gelfand had played with enormous mental strength during the whole World Championship cycle so I knew he would be a very complicated opponent,” Anand confessed.

Team Gelfand

Using his long experience in World Championship qualifying matches going back to the 1990s, Gelfand took no chances with his preparation. The Israeli challenger assembled a large team of helpers, which included world number two Levon Aronian, the player who has given Anand the most trouble in recent years. Over months of intensive training, Gelfand threw out all of his traditional methods of opening the game when playing with the black pieces and prepared a completely new opening repertoire, one which rendered much of Anand's pre-match opening preparation useless. Gelfand even moved his training camp to the Austrian Alps, hoping that altitude training would improve his concentration and stamina.


The challenger in Moscow: Boris Gelfand

Team Anand

For the third world title match in a row, Anand stuck with the team of grandmaster helpers he knew and trusted – long-time second Peter Heine Nielsen of Denmark, Uzbek Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Pole Radoslav Wojtaszek, and fellow-Indian Surya Shekhar Ganguly. As usual, team Anand worked together in Germany at multiple training camps over many months. During the match, the seconds would analyse through the night looking for weaknesses in Gelfand's set-ups, often only sleeping while the games were in progress. “Boris' preparation was excellent,” said Kasimdzhanov, “but I thought we started to get on top at the end of the match, especially in game two of the playoffs.” After the tense finish to the match, Ganguly predicted that it would take him a month to recover and be ready to compete himself, while an exhausted Kasimzdhanov wondered if he, at 32, was already too old for World Championship seconding.


Still the same: Anand's team in his World Chamionship match 2008 in Bonn: Rustam
Kasimdzhanov, Peter Heine Nielsen, Surya Ganguly, Anand, wife Aruna and Radek Wojtaszek

The One-Percenters

In such a close contest, there are plenty of tiny decisions which in retrospect might have made one percent difference to the performance and therefore changed the outcome. For Gelfand, his decision to be his own manager and negotiate the pre-match conditions directly with Anand's manager and wife Aruna and the world body FIDE, might have taken up energy better used working on the Sicilian Defence. During the match, Gelfand was also following the coverage of the match, and letting some of the less flattering comments – inevitable in the Internet age – upset him. Anand knew from recent experience to wait until after the match before reading stories about the match; this was a tactic he had learned as a self-preservation technique during the bitter 2010 contest against Topalov.

Anand's Next Challenge

The field of players who could become Anand's next challenger has already been whittled down to eight. These eight elite Grandmasters will compete in London next March, with the winner going on to challenge Anand in late 2013 or early 2014. Two players stand out as favourites – 21-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the world's top ranked player and a multiple winner of Grand Slam tournaments over the past three years, and Armenia's Levon Aronian, who has beaten Anand more often in recent years than any other player.


A grandmaster in every sense

Viswanathan Anand's contribution to Indian chess has been quite remarkable. He has single-handedly inspired thousands of children, and their parents, to look at chess as something more than a mere hobby. As a result, India has produced several World junior and age-group champions and is a major force to reckon with in international chess. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.


Anand with his wife Aruna in Moscow

In 1987, when this writer was playing in the State junior chess championship in Pala, a small town in central Kerala, the organisers of the tournament had arranged a big function to honour Anand, who had just won the World junior title in Baguio, the Philippines.

There was also a simultaneous display by him as he played with the participants at the State Championship. If one remembers correctly, Anand lost one, drew one and won the rest of the 40-odd games he played. After the simultaneous display, Anand spent time with the players and charmed one and all with his disarming smile. He was an inspiration for the younger players, he was their pride. Twenty-five years later, he is still an inspiration for any chess player in India. Anand brought the World titles to India in 2007, 2008 and 2010 before winning his fifth in Moscow recently. Remarkably, he has won the World Championship in every conceivable format – classical matches, round robin and knock-out. Equally remarkable is the contribution he has made to Indian chess. He has single-handedly inspired thousands of children, and their parents, to look at chess as something more than a mere hobby. As a result, India has produced several World junior and age-group champions and is a major force to reckon with in international chess. India is ranked fifth among women and eighth among men in the world.

Anand is not only one of the greatest world champions ever, he is also one of the nicest. Before he won his maiden world title, he was often thought to be too nice to be a world champion. Anand is always polite, humble and a genuinely friendly person. He is also one of the most articulate sportspersons you would ever come across. He is also one of the world's most consistent players of all time. He has been among the world's best for more than two decades. And it looks like he would continue to be so for a few more years.


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