Decoding the Lightning Kid!

by Tanmay Srinath
12/11/2019 – December 11th, 2019, is the 50th birthday of Viswanathan Anand, the subject of ChessBase's most recent Masterclass Vol.12. TANMAY SRINATH critically examines ChessBase's latest offering in this series, a foray into the mind of a chess genius who has influenced the game in countless ways. | Pictured: Anand and his wife Aruna in Kolkata. | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Master Class Vol. 12: Viswanathan Anand Master Class Vol. 12: Viswanathan Anand

This DVD allows you to learn from the example of one of the best players in the history of chess and from the explanations of the authors how to successfully organise your games strategically, consequently how to keep your opponent permanently under press

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Still going strong at 50...

To this day, Vishy Anand remains a force to be reckoned with, relevant in the scheme of things, while his contemporaries have either retired or sunk into the history pages. His sheer passion and zest for the game confounds the best critical thinker out there, and his personality has not changed one bit over the years — humility and a willingness to go out of his way and help people makes Anand a role model not only in chess but in life!

Anand is a celebrity in India, but his games and ideas have not been elucidated in a depth comparable to the Russians Karpov and Kasparov, who dominated the game for decades before Vishy disturbed the balance. Coming from a non-chess background, Anand's meteoric rise and continued vigil at the top astound many a chess fan.

Anand in Kolkata

Anand during Tata Steel Chess India | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

With this, it was only a matter of time before a masterclass on his wonderful chess life came up. Anand is not the most covered player out there — he remained in the background for ages before doing an autobiographical 2-part DVD in the late 2000s — which is still a great buy. However, the Tiger continued to perform after that, which meant that his latest scalps had to be accounted for, by the very best that ChessBase had to offer — Yannick Pelletier, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Dr. Karsten Muller. Without further ado, let's get into it then!

The Opening: Half empty rather than half full

This time, instead of Niclas Huschenbeth, Yannick Pelletier was assigned with documenting Anand's narrow but well studied repertoire. While I admire Yannick as a commentator who respects top players and is understanding of their occasional misses, I have to say that I am slightly disappointed with his coverage. He spends too much time telling us that Anand is classically bent — which is obvious to any studied chess player, and very little going into the thick of things. I am not happy with his choice of games to illustrate Anand's ideas as well — his game against Kasparov was no doubt a good game, but the game against Topalov was not the best choice to illustrate the 6.h3 Najdorf. Perhaps the familiarity with Anand's games having gone through his autobiographical series worked against me here, but then, why buy a new product if they don't show something that is rarely seen, or never seen before?

A deeper look into the opening — why Anand chose it, what are the subtleties, why it is a good choice, who does it suit, some middlegame patterns — these are some of the reasonable expectations I have of a presenter of the opening. These are the questions I would ask, and the answers to this will benefit the viewer enormously. Opening study is not just about memorising moves, it is about understanding middlegame plans, and I am sorry to say that Yannick falls short in this department — it is as if he wants it to get over quickly in most cases.

I offer one of the positions here: his immortal against Gata Kamsky.

 

Anand's plan here is rather difficult to spot if the idea is not found — 16.b3! with the idea of playing ♗b2, ♕c1! and ♗c3. It spoke volumes of Anand's understanding that Kamsky failed to find the best way to equalise and was ground down with ease.

All is not negative about Yannick's portion. He does mention important details about Anand's play, such as his machine-like precision in converting an advantage, but in general I am not satisfied. Viewers unfamiliar with Anand will find this portion useful as well, but for others it is something to graze over.

Strategy: Intriguing choice of games

Mihail Marin is a ChessBase author I have the utmost respect for. His presentation of his pet English Opening and his previous coverage of Karpov's and Kasparov's brilliant strategic wins increased my expectations. However, when I opened the strategy section, I was stunned to see only a handful examples of Anand's strategic prowess.

According to me, this is the most important section of the DVD for intermediate players, who need to refine their positional play. Anand is certainly no slouch in strategic play, as Marin explains himself. He says that he underestimated the positional nature of Anand's active positional Capablanca style (as described by Khalifman) and in their only encounter would have lost if not for Anand's trigger happy blitzing which led to tactical oversights.

The above explains why five is too low a number — Anand has played innumerable such games, but at least eight of them would have satiated my thirst. Anand vs Vallejo was an interesting choice by Marin, as it is a relatively lesser known game, and I was in general happy with his explanations, but was left wanting for more — for example the beautiful game Anand vs Ponomariov where Vishy sacrifices a pawn in the opening and completely ties down Black's army to win.

Here is a famous example showing why Anand is head and shoulders above his predecessors, Fischer included:

 

The game which helped Anand take the lead in the World Championship. White had for years struggled in the Classical Scheveningen, so much so that Karpov abandoned 1.e4 altogether. However, the opening fully suited Anand's universal style, and he imposed such order in play that after this Kasparov had to switch to the Dragon. Here the wonderful tactical-positional strike 17.b4! exposes the defects in Black's position, and Anand went on to win a masterclass itself.

This wasn't included in the strategic section, but I felt it was necessary to illustrate how deep Vishy's understanding is of the game in general: 

 

This razor sharp position was reached two times in the World Championship 2008, with Anand being Black on both occasions. Here Black's position looks strategically suspect: doubled pawns and uncastled king. However, Vishy had seen deeper. The king will be perfectly safe on e7, and the open g-file coupled with the beautiful bishops on d6 and b7 will create deadly threats against the castled White king. Should I mention that Anand won both games?

Tactics: The Silver Lining Amongst the Clouds

Perhaps the only section where I was fully happy with the choice of games. Oliver Reeh doesn't discriminate. Usually his section contains 20 games, and this time his selections were absolutely gorgeous! I loved his presentation and explanations, and feel that the DVD is a must watch for this section alone. Anand's rare gift of Tal like intuition and Kasparov like calculation combine to give mystical combinations and the rarest of patterns! Here are a few examples:

 

This can never be quoted too many times! A picturesque position where Black is hard pressed to find a move that doesn't lose instantly! One of Anand's best games ever!

Here is a more recent example for the millennial:

 

Anand's move 26.d4!! is breathtakingly beautiful, but strategically sound as well. White wants to play 27.♖c5! and challenge the rook. It took Vishy only a few more moves to mop up the pieces and win one of his modern classics!

Of course these are well known, but the reason I am not revealing too much is obvious; get the DVD and watch how the Tiger catches its prey!

Anand

Home court advantage | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Endgame: Adequate to say the least

The only thing about this section is that there is no interaction with the user/viewer, like in the opening, which means that learning endgame nuances is that little bit harder. That said, I have to appreciate Dr. Muller here. The examples he has chosen beautifully illustrate the essence of Anand's style — a dynamic and lively approach to the position and the ability to penetrate into the position like none other. That said, his presentation style is a little boring, so sometimes I found myself wanting to skip over to the next video.

Otherwise I really enjoyed this section. The endgame is often neglected for no good reason, and Anand's endgame play is surprisingly underrated. I make my point with the following two examples: 

 

The 2016 Challenger is always a difficult guy to beat, especially in an opposite-coloured bishop endgame. Here Anand's wonderful usage of his pieces and superior endgame skill prevailed over the Russian Minister of Defense!

 

Beating the future world champ is never an easy task, but the way Anand outplayed Carlsen here is godly to say the least. Let Dr. Mueller take you through the reason Anand played the mind-boggling 17...h8!!

Carlsen and Anand

Together again in India: Magnus Carlsen and Anand opening a cricket match | Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour

Conclusion: Worth a buy, but only just

I have followed Anand seriously for some time now, and time and again he teaches me something new. It is always important to learn from the past and implement it in our games — that is how we evolve with the game. The ultimate goal of the Masterclass is to provide an insight into the minds of the greats so that we can learn from them and improve. I believe that whatever material presented here should be suitable not only for players with zero knowledge of Anand, but also some of his die-hard fans.

Vishy Anand after becoming the World Rapid Champion in 2017

Indian Chess players have never been covered well. A normal GM/IM in Europe has a long Wiki page, a big bio on his personal website and in general a lot of publicity. Indian super-achievers on the the other hand have never been taken seriously, partly due to the lack of information about them and mostly due to the lack of attention on Indian Chess. Many of the games from our national level events in the past decade featuring the best players in the country have failed to make it to the Mega Database, while an obscure 1500 in Europe has at least 10 games of his with either color. This is in general wrong, and deprives the chess world of many beautiful games played in the birthplace of Chess.

Soon, this will change, due to super-talents like Praggnanandhaa, Divya Deshmukh, Gukesh etc. Where better to right the wrongs than an exhaustive coverage of India's greatest sportsman? In addition to the four sections mentioned above, there are four additional components: Anand's powerbook consisting of his repertoire with White and Black, a detailed biography by Andre Schulz, a collection of all of Anand's games and a tactics training consisting of 137 of Vishy's finest exploits. All this make the DVD a must watch, though it barely scrapes through to it.

To end the review, I would like to state that I along with many others consider Anand the GOAT [Greatest of All Time]! His understanding of the game, and his achievements despite not having a chess background makes his wins similar to Fischer, only that Anand managed to surpass the American genius eventually by broadening his horizons and staying at the top for longer. Sounds controversial? Well, I dare you to pick up this DVD and prove me wrong! Chances are that by the end of it you will most likely agree with me!


Master Class Vol. 12: Viswanathan Anand

This DVD allows you to learn from the example of one of the best players in the history of chess and from the explanations of the authors how to successfully organise your games strategically, consequently how to keep your opponent permanently under press


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Tanmay Srinath has been writing for ChessBase India since quite some time now. His tournament reports and depth of analysis have been widely appreciated. Pursuing a full-fledged career in engineering Tanmay doesn't get enough time to pursue chess, but he loves to follow top-level encounters and analyzes those games with his Fat Fritz engine. We hope you find his analysis useful in your games.

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