Six years to the day

9/18/2001 – On September 11, 1995 New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani played the move 1.c4 to start the World Chess Championship match between Anand and Kasparov on the observation deck of the world Trade Center. Once the TV cameras were switched off, Anand corrected the move to 1.e4. "Wish we could do the same, switch off the TV screens and reverse what the barbarians have done," writes V. Krishnaswamy, who spent five weeks in the WTC, looks back in sorrow at the 1995 match in his India Chess Diary.

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MEMORIES OF 1995

SEPTEMBER 19, 2001

INDIA CHESS DIARY

By V KRISHNASWAMY

V. Krishnaswamy was one of the handful of Indian journalists at the World Trade Centre, when Viswanathan Anand played Garry Kasparov in 1995. As he watched the Twin Towers burning and then collapsing, memories of that great Autumn of 1995 flashed through his mind. He shares those memories with all those who share the grief of the Americans, who are now trying to recover from a terrible tragedy.

IT WAS six years to the day. September 11, 1995 was when the New York City Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, made a symbolic move to signal the start of a World Chess Championship match between India’s pride Viswanathan Anand, and Garry Kasparov, unarguably the best chess history has known, at one of the most spectacular venues in the world, the World Trade Centre.

On September 11, 2001 heartless terrorists blew up that spectacular piece of man-made structure, the ultimate symbol of market-driven America. They called the World Trade Centre, the “Top of the World” and for us, a handful of Indian journalists in attendance for the match, it was “Half-way to Heaven” for Anand had traversed an arduous path through a maze called the Candidates Cycle to set up a clash with Kasparov.

But for a handful of barbarians, it was a one-way ticket to Hell as they flew their hijacked planes into the Twin Towers of WTC.

In 1995, Giuliani’s amateurish first move was 1.c4, which once the TV cameras were switched off, Anand corrected to a preferred 1.e4. Wish we could do the same, switch off the TV screens and reverse what the barbarians have done.

Chess may have been the sport Indians were said to have to given to the world but for Indian media, Viswanathan Anand versus Garry Kasparov fighting for a world title and prize purse of US $1.5 million, was still secondary – maybe even further down the list – to cricket.

Despite being a regular chess journalist, I had to apply for leave to go for the event. The paper I then worked for did not see it fit to cover the event. So I used up all my privilege leave, and went to partake of history. I covered the event surreptiously for a news agency – reports from whom my paper used – and an Indian TV Channel to cover my expenses. Sure, there was always the worry – aggravated by some colleagues – that my erstwhile employer might get to know of it, but the sheer thrill of being part of the historic event made up for all it. Six years on, I am glad I did it.

My wife joined me later during the match with our new born son, who I had named after Anand as the chess superstar. During the course of the match, I took my wife and son to watch the more famous Anand in action. And need I say though chess pieces still did not hold much attraction for the my Anand, he enjoyed himself thoroughly at the spectacular sights from the Observation Deck on the 107th floor. Alas, there is no WTC.

The author, Vishy Krishnaswamy, and his son, Anand, named after the Indian chess super star. These pictures at the World Trade Centre's Observation Deck, was taken a few days before Anand Krishnaswamy celebrated his first birthday.

UNFORGETTABLE MATCH DESPITE ANAND’S LOSS

SOME years back, Anand had told this writer, that he had “deleted the New York match” from his memory, which is no different from a huge “hard disk” in a super computer. But it is doubtful if he could forget that match, as he and his family watched a “Reality Horror Show” on TV that evening. Anand was at home Chennai, taking a break to spend a few weeks with his parents. The rest of the year, he spends pushing pieces on a chessboard around the world and preparing at his European base, near Madrid in Spain.

The terrorists who had wiped out the Twin Towers of WTC had done more than “deleted” a bad match for Anand. They had shaken the world.

During the match, more than once the WTC bombing of 1993 had figured in conversations. And when terrorists re-created a Hollywood-like scenario and rammed two planes in a span of 18 minutes to wipe out that symbol, it was hard not to think of happier days, when things as simple as a chess match gave us so much pleasure.

It must have been the same for Anand, Kasparov and all those who were there at the WTC, four days a week for nearly six weeks that the match lasted, it must have been a nightmare as the TV screens flashed images of the Towering Infernos and the inevitable chess images of September 1995 must have been juxtaposed in each our memories.

IDEAL SETTING AND TOO MUCH WAS HAPPENING AROUND

Circa 1995, the Observation Deck at the 107th floor of the WTC provided the ideal setting for a world title match. A championships to be decided on “Top of the World”. It could happen only in America and only in New York. Spectacular and so very American, that’s what the WTC was. A melting point for people from across the globe, a must-see for every visitor to New York and a landmark like no other in the world. The Observation Deck was 400 metres up in sky, and from up there we peered through glass windows at the world’s most powerful financial center, the Wall Street. Down on the streets they sold souvenirs and dreams.

Non-chess playing spectators paid US$ 15 to come to the experience the magnificient view from the Deck. They paid quarters and dimes to look at the city and identify their homes and hotels in New Yorks through the binoculars strategically placed at various windows. The café and the snack bars on the 107th floor were the “Windows to the World”.

To those who came to see the world from the top, the chess match going on was a bonus. Chess as a sport was nothing compared to NBA and NFL. Chess reports were featured in the city pages of New York Times, written by that doyen Robert Byrne, who once played against Bobby Fischer.

That autumn, the front and back pages were dominated by OJ Simspon, the infamous chase and the trial that followed. The chase, as Anand recollected this week was something he remembered from the time he played Oleg Romanishin in one of the earlier PC matches in Trump Plaza in New York.

On September 25, as Anand laid low Kasparov in Game 9 after a series of eight draws, Hindus around the world queued outside Ganapathi Temples as word spread that Stone idols were ‘drinking’ milk. It was a story that vied with the infamous Simpson chase for space on front pages. But chess was still inside on city pages. But for Indians, it may as well have been written in the skies.

TOO GOOD A SIGHT TO MISS

CHESS on the Observation Deck, was just too good to miss, even for those who couldn’t differentiate a bishop from a knight. If the tourists paid US $15 for a glimpse of the world from the top, the chess lovers paid five times that amount to see the match itself. And what did they see? Two players enclosed in a soundproof glass room in eerie silence. The soundproofing was hardly as good as it was supposed to be, with one or the other players mentioning they could heard voices of spectators and even the commentators, Maurice Ashley and Daniel King, who provided live comments.

Chess had never commanded such attention in America since Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky in icy Reykjavik in 1972 to become the first American world champion. Spassky interestingly dropped in for a few days during the match, as did the legendary Miguel Najdorf, who when denied entry at the door of WTC, told the watchman, “Tell Garry (Kasparov) I am here. He will come down.”

Word was sent up that a certain, Mr. Najdorf was down there. Organisers rushed down to receive Najdorf, after whom one of the most well-known variations in Sicilian defence is named, as the Sicilian-Najdorf variation. When Anand played a brilliant and innovative move in the drawn eighth game, Najdorf was at the venue to applaud the Indian champion.

Najdorf, a millionaire businessman apart from being a great chess player, died in 1997, and last week when terrorists were razing the WTC, Anatoly Karpov was resurrecting his sagging career by winning the Najdorf memorial tournament in Buenos Aires.

EIGHT DRAWS IN A ROW AND THEN ANAND EXPLODES

There was so much happening that autumn that it is hard not to think of all that. Eight games had been drawn in a row, and the visitors were hardly pleased. Americans, who couldn’t understand a draw at the end of a six hour match, were bewildered at such a sequence.

Then came the ninth game, when Anand faced Kasparov’s Sicilian defence. After the first 12 moves, which mirrored a similar match between Kasparov and Karpov, which the former had won in 1985 to become the youngest world champion in Moscow, Anand threw in a stunning rook sacrifice for a knight. Kasparov accepted it after eight minutes of thinking, half the time the terrorists gave between striking the two towers at WTC. And then in a matter of minutes, in the manner WTC in 2001, Kasparov’s position collapsed. He resigned after move 35 and Anand led 5-4.

BFORE the match, Anand had engaged a team of seconds to help him out for the match against Kasparov. The team was formidable, Arthur Yusupov, Elzibar Ubilava, Jon Speelman, and Patrick Wolff and for three months worked for almost ten hours a day for three months at Anand’s European base near Madrid.

Meanwhile Kasparov worked with Yuri Dokhoian, Evgeny Pigusov, and Vladimir Kramnik, who in years to come would become his adversary across the board. His mother, Klara, was the “head” of the team.

KASPAROV STRIKES BACK

There is the belief that Kramnik, then still upcoming, was one who came up with the stunning sacrifice, which lay low Anand in Game 10, and which started the slide for the Indian in the match. Kasparov moved into top gear as he won Games 11 and 13 and drew Game 12 after a tense tussle. In five games between Game 10 and 14, Anand managed just one measly draw as Kasparov ran amuck with four wins to lead 8.5-5.5. Anand was smiling alright, but those around him knew he was lost.

Game 14 was probably the defining moment in the match. Anand, realizing he had to win to stay in with a chance, fought ferociously with black pieces. The Indian had worked a clear advantage when Kasparov offered a draw. Anand refused. Then Kasparov came up with some brilliant play, and soon forced Anand on the backfoot and finally into resigning after 38 moves. It was like a boxing match. It was a great game, but sadly Anand lost. The knowledgeable at the WTC realized and they applauded the players in the manner of a scorer of a World Series final.

Four draws followed and only in Game 17, which was the longest of the series played till 63 moves, did Anand have a chance to win. He missed it. The draw allowed Kasparov to reach 10 points, which assured him of a title. A 12-move draw in Game 18 brought the curtains down as Kasparov went through 10.5-7.5.

The match over, Kasparov was crowned king yet again. Anand lost, but as usual left smiling. As critics and fans wondered whether Anand would recover from the mauling, the Indian in his heart of hearts knew, it was only a game and only a match he had lost.

Six years on, Anand is still around, smiling as ever. Kasparov is still around, with his grouses against the world intact. But what we don’t have are the Twin Towers of World Trade Centre. They may re-build the towers, if only to show the terrorists that human spirit can never be crushed, but the landscape of our memory is forever scarred.


The writer can be contacted at swamy007@vsnl.com or v_krishnaswamy@yahoo.com


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