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

More...


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Tanmay is a young chess player from Bangalore, Karnataka, currently pursuing both chess and engineering at BMSCE Bangalore. Tanmay is also a Taekwondo Black Belt, who has represented the country in an International Tournament in Thailand. He is a big fan of Mikhail Tal and Vishy Anand, and sincerely believes in doing his bit to Power Chess in India!
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genem genem 12/15/2019 11:23
Anand is a jewel in the history of the greatest chess players. But Anand did not become the Match World Chess Champion in 2007, rather it was in 2008. Anand's 2007 FIDE Tournament victory did not make him the MWCChamp, by definition.

Yes Kirsan.I successfully pressured Kramnik in 2007. But Kirsan does not control my mind, and he should not control yours either.
hendrikchess hendrikchess 12/14/2019 07:06
chessstandards: Anand held the title for 6 years (not 12 as you said). You can add another 2 years for winning the FIDE title in 2000, although that is a disputed title, but even that does not make it 12 years.

Also, when you list matches, you have to list them completely. Don't forget Anand lost a title match to Kasparov with a crushing score, and lost twice against Carlsen, with a total losing score of 1-6. Also, he was behind Topalov at San Luis world championship 2005.

Beyond title matches, Anand's overall results were never dominating overall, unlike Kasparov, Karpov, and Carlsen, who during their reigns have (had) great overall tournament results, and were constantly no. 1 rated, often with large gaps ahead of the rest. Anand, even during his best years, did not achieve that level of tournament result and rating standing. At best, his overall standing was about equal to Kramnik and Topalov. He was never head and shoulders among his contemporaries, let alone all time.

It seems to me, the last 30 years: Kasparov dominating, he retired and we had Anand-Kramnik-Topalov, then Carlsen dominating.

Another interesting measure is Anand's lifetime score against other world champions:
Anand - Karpov +11-5=28
Anand - Kasparov +4-16=31
Anand - Kramnik +11-11=71
Anand - Topalov +19-13=40
Anand - Carlsen +8-12=49

Positive scores against Karpov (who is much older and already over his peak), and Topalov. Equal against Kramnik. And negative against Kasparov (with a big gap) and Carlsen (still counting).

Also interesting to note is that although Anand is known as a lightning player, his rapid score against Kasparov is also negative +4-10=15. By any measure, Anand cannot compare against Kasparov.

By objective results, Anand would still be among the best, among top 10 all time, but definitely not the best. But anyway, even if not the best all time, he is close, and he kept it over a long career. Happy Birthday!
chessstandards chessstandards 12/13/2019 04:32
Last but not least, Garry Kasparov’s recent message,
"Dear Vishy, Greetings from New York! You are braver than me! Continuing to battle the youngsters instead of teaching them. Good luck, my friend and Happy Birthday!"
chessstandards chessstandards 12/13/2019 03:18
Incidentally Bobby Fischer seriously considered the possibility of playing a match with Anand when he wanted to return to the chess world. They did meet. However, the match did not materialize. In his recent autobiography, “Mind Master” Anand explains the Fischer phenomenon at length and also examines the relationship between talent, preparation and the state of mind of a player.
At the cost of repetition, let me state it once again .Anand beat Shirov, Kramnik, Gelfand and Toplov in a series of world championship matches and held title for more than 12 years. The record speaks for itself.
chessstandards chessstandards 12/12/2019 04:09
In terms of chronology Morphy, Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and Botvinnik form the first line of All Time Greats. In terms of tournament & match success Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen join them. The only player who came close in terms of longetitivity, but missed the world title was Korchnoi.
Steinitz was both a player and thinker. He was succeeded by two schools of thought. Classicists, Rubinstein, Schlechter and Tarrasch. Hypermoderns, Chigorin, Reti, Nimzovich and Tartakower.
Smyslov offered a harmonious blend of both schools.
Among the modern romantics and rebels Keres, Bronstein, Tal and Larsen form a class of their own.
That stil leaves Euwe, Petrosian, Spassky who were all world champions.
Anand belongs to the later generation. His talent has stood the test of time. Fischer could not face Karpov who won the title by default. Karpov in turn was beaten by Kasparov. Right when the world thought Kasparov was invincible, he lost to Kramnik without winning a single game. And who beat Kramnik to win the world title? Anand. So let us not go about disparaging him.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 12/12/2019 08:59
This discussion about Anand having more talent is BS. You cannot quantify that, and thus, it is all opinion...mostly based on nothing.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/12/2019 03:48
Blaming nerves or psychology is just an screaming excuses to me. Anand was simply outmatched by Kasparov. And again by Carlsen. To say that Anand has talent but not the nerves is just jibberish talk....and oozes of excuse in my ears.

There are a few tiers of supergrandmasters (in my opinion):
Very top: Fischer, Alekhine, Capablanca, Morphy, Kasparov, Carlsen (newst minted).....any of these here could arguably been the GOAT.
Second tier: Karpov, Topolov, Botvinnik, Tal, Lasker
Third tier: Keres, Smyslov, Reshevsky, Gligoric

I think when Anand retires he will be placed in either the second or third tiers. The first top tier is virtually untouchable and there's no question that Anand was never in that class. Anyone who says otherwise is likely a fanboy nationalist.
saturn23 saturn23 12/12/2019 02:20
@sshivaji It's impossible to quantify talent. However, it's unlikely that Anand had more talent than Fischer or Kasparov. Fischer became a GM at 15 years and 6 months and WC candidate at 16. Kasparov became a GM at 17. Anand became a GM after 18. Becoming a GM in 1958 was much harder than becoming a GM in 1988. Also, Anand was not really a prodigy like Morphy, Capablanca, Fischer or Carlsen.

Bad nerves might have played a role in his defeat against Kasparov in 1995. He was leading after 9 games. In the 10th game, Kasparov unleashed a big novelty and won. After that Anand collapsed and lost three more games. However, overall, Anand has a very bad score against Kasparov: 4 wins, 16 loses. Psychology alone can't explain this difference. Kasparov was the better player.

Against Carlsen, he has been soundly defeated in both WC matches. It was pretty clear that Carlsen was the better player.
sshivaji sshivaji 12/12/2019 12:58
As an objective Anand fan, I would say in talent he has more than people like Kasparov and Fischer. However, his psychological nerves have let him down several times. That prevented him from achieving their level of greatness. Anand's bad nerves made him lose to Carlsen, Kasparov, and even two matches to Karpov.

Anand is far from GOAT [Greatest of all Time]. However, his talent level was close to GOAT.

Had he worked on his psychological weaknesses, and removed the fear of Kasparov and Carlsen from his system, he would have had a great chance to be GOAT.

Off late, we have seen other problems in his play such as lack of desire to play on in slightly better positions and lack of technical precision. These are mostly due to age.
saturn23 saturn23 12/11/2019 10:07
"I would like to state that I along with many others consider Anand the GOAT [Greatest of All Time]...Sounds controversial?"

No, it is not controversial at all. You are simply wrong. I dare you to find a single serious chess player that considers Anand the greatest ever.

I dare you to find a single good reason why Anand should be considered the GOAT. Here are many reasons why he isn't:

- He has been world champion for 6 years, while others have held the title for longer (Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov and soon, Carlsen).
- He has been number 1 for less than two years. Kasparov has been number one for 20 years! At least 10 other players have been number 1 at their best for longer than 2 years.
- He is number 8 on the all time Elo list.
- He lost WC matches against both Kasparov (4-1 overall) and Carlsen (6-1 overall).
- He has a very bad record against Kasparov: 4 to 16, with 31 draws. Keep in mind that Anand was the younger player.
- He won less WC matches than Lasker, Kasparov or Botvinnik.
- He obviously won less tournaments than Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen (and others).
- It's true that he has been at the top for a long time. And by top I mean, top 10-20, not best best or second best. But he hasn't won a strong classical tournament in more than 4 years. He managed to keep his rating high because he got invitations to the top tournaments. But let's not forget that Lasker and Korchnoi won very strong tournaments in their 60's.
- He became a grandmaster at 18 in 1988, while 30 years earlier, Fischer became grandmaster at 15.
- You compare Anand with Fischer. But I haven't seen Anand destroying a top player as Fischer did in 1971.

Anand was of course a great chess player. But he is simply not a contender for the GOAT.
macauley macauley 12/11/2019 09:24
Heaven forfend we should carry a review of a Masterclass DVD and an instructive article full of annotated games and videos both about the 15th World Champion on the occasion of his 50th birthday!
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/11/2019 08:20
Anyone who’s been surfing chessbase long enough could see that all the india fanboy (nationalism) articles started with IM Sagar Shah. I’m really appalled to see that now we have another indian author doing the same (though with even less credentials than Shah). Shouldn’t these pro-india articles be kept on chessbase.india site? Sadly whoever the editor is for chessbase.com is doing a very poor job of reviewing what gets published here.
KevinConnor KevinConnor 12/11/2019 07:22
@saturn23 I couldn't agree more. I understand that the Indian 'market' is important to Chessbase but the overload of articles on Indian chess and Indian chessplayers is getting ridiculous. As long as the quality of the articles is decent I guess it is somewhat ok but the quality of this article on Anand has no quality at all! Ican't understand why Chessbase publishes an article this poor.
saturn23 saturn23 12/11/2019 06:53
I have been a reader of this website since 2000. But I had enough of this promotion of the Indian chess here. I have nothing against Indian chess. But there are other countries and chess players out there. There are other young and talented players besides Sarin and Praggnanandhaa. Currently, there are no Indian chess players in the top 15.

I know this is a sensitive subject, but other people have been complaining about this (just read the comments below). You have to do something if you don't want to lose your readers.
saturn23 saturn23 12/11/2019 06:39
How does a single game show that "Anand is head and shoulders above his predecessors, Fischer included"? Fischer had a much greater impact on chess than Anand. Get used to the fact that Anand is not in the same league as Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen. He is simply not one of the greats because he has been dominated by both Kasparov and Carlsen.

When you write an article you have to be objective. Keep your personal opinions for yourself.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 12/11/2019 10:54
So, Tanmay Srinath, a 1352-rated player, has decided that Anand is better than Fischer. Sure.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 12/11/2019 10:39
I admire nationalism of any kind, be it Indian or not, however, in this article I find it alien, not only because I expected the end to show us Anand's personal contribution to Indian chess, but also because Indian chess is repeatedly shown in this very website. I do not see as many articles about French chess as about Indian chess, for example. I didn't make statistics, but that's my feeling. So, by just showing some wonderful chess in India or played by Indian players I think you can achieve more for Indian chess than complaining about lack of coverage.

But most importantly: Happy birthday Anand!
Krennwurzn Krennwurzn 12/11/2019 10:07
All the best to the role model man Vishy Anand !!
KevinConnor KevinConnor 12/11/2019 08:54
'Here is a famous example showing why Anand is head and shoulders above his predecessors, Fischer included:'

This claim is flat out not tue!
Why even bother to write a piece about Anand if you're not going to be somewhat objective.
TheBowtieClub TheBowtieClub 12/11/2019 08:36
The nationalism in this review is over the top and quite unnecessary.
tom_70 tom_70 12/11/2019 06:01
I have always respected and admired Anand as a player. If he could have defeated Kasparov in their 95 match, he might be considered higher on the GOAT list. The fact the he was crushed, certainly moves him down the ranking order. While he may not be on the level of Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen, He is certainly right there with Kramnik, Karpov or Topalov.
flutewearer flutewearer 12/11/2019 04:35
Salute to Master and appreciations for for well matched writer of the article.
Jayarama Iyer Jayarama Iyer 12/11/2019 03:59
Appreciate the article. Anand is a great chess model in chess and in life and a very famous person in India.
Seen him as a 11-year old beating rows of strong club-level chess players in minutes at Tal chess club in simultaneous display. He has always been well rounded and very charismatic.
He would have been an outlier in any other field also. There was always something very special about him and I am not saying it now because he is so famous.

Wish him a very happy 50th birthday.
Scorpion29 Scorpion29 12/11/2019 02:23
Magic Knight atleast Anand didn't lose his mind like Bobby and remains super strong at 50!
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 12/11/2019 01:49
To say Anand is head & shoulders above Fischer though.....that's a hyperbole at the very least and flat out false at most.
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