The secret of Vishy Anand winning the Tal Memorial Rapid 2018

by Sagar Shah
3/5/2018 – Chess is considered as a young man's game, but a 48-year-old gentleman from India is changing that perception! Vishy Anand seems to be on a mission - to win just about every rapid event that he plays. Gold at the World Rapid Championship 2017 was difficult, but winning the Tal Memorial Rapid was tougher. The field had some of the best rapid players on the globe and Vishy simply cruised to the finish line with 6.0/9, one point ahead of the rest. In this article we try to analyze the reason for his spectacular performance. | Photo: Eteri Kublashvili

My Career Vol. 1 My Career Vol. 1

The first DVD with videos from Anand's chess career reflects the very beginning of that career and goes as far as 1999. It starts with his memories of how he first learned chess and shows his first great games (including those from the 1984 WCh for juniors). The high point of his early developmental phase was the winning of the 1987 WCh for juniors. After that, things continue in quick succession: the first victories over Kasparov, WCh candidate in both the FIDE and PCA cycles and the high point of the WCh match against Kasparov in 1995.
Running time: 3:48 hours

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Anand wins!

While the drawing of lots at the opening ceremony was being completed I looked around. I was assessing the chances of Viswanathan Anand winning the Tal Memorial Rapid 2018. It's true that he is the reigning World Rapid Champion, but being an open tournament you sometimes do play against opponents who are not the absolute elite. While here at the Russian Museum of Impressionism Vishy was up against nine deadly adversaries. The youngsters included Karjakin, Nakamura, Nepomniachtchi, Dubov — all extremely motivated, sharp and hard-working players. You had the middle-aged group of Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Alexander Grischuk — both in their thirties but having the best runs of their chess careers by qualifying to the Candidates. And then you had the veterans Kramnik, Gelfand and Svidler, the best players in the world in the 40+ age category.

Vishy Anand has surprised everyone time and again with his resilience, but winning the Tal Memorial was going to be a tough task. Yet, at the end of three days and nine rounds, we see none other than the "Madras Tiger" strolling around, eating a bagel and celebrating his victory by analyzing variations with Boris Gelfand!

The media want to interview him, the young kids want his autograph, but Vishy is a bit too busy with his Bagel and analyzing variations with his last round opponent Boris Gelfand!

Final standings

 

How does he do it time and again? There must be some sort of a formula, right? Well, being at the venue and observing all of the games closely I have come to the conclusion that these points have helped Anand to win the title with a one-point margin:

1. Sticking to what he knows the best

I think this is the single most important reason why Vishy has been able to succeed — not only at the Tal Memorial but also at the World Rapid Championship 2017. With all his years of experience, he is able to prevent himself from succumbing to the temptation of trying something new in between the tournament. He sticks to what he knows the best and this saves him critical energy in deciding what is to be played. One example of this is the English Opening. After 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Bb4 3.Nd5 Anand had prepared the line 3...a5 for this tournament. He played it against Ian Nepomniachtchi in round two. When Boris Gelfand repeated it in the last round Vishy played the same variation without fearing that his opponent might have prepared something. He figures out that the time he has spent at home studying the ideas in the opening will most certainly outweigh his opponent's few hours of preparation.

An even more striking example was the game that he played against Kramnik in round five and then against Nakamura in round six. Vishy had the white pieces against Kramnik first. The Big Vlad replied with 1...e5 to Vishy's e4. Anand played the Italian and got absolutely no advantage. The game was drawn in just 16 moves. Now that's not a great result with the white pieces. After a few minutes, the next game begins and Anand once again has to make the first move. This time against Nakamura. What does Vishy play? 1.e4 e5 Nf3 Nc6 Bc4!? After the game, I ask him, "The Italian with Kramnik didn't go so well, so why did you stick with it against Nakamura?" To which he replied, "If you try to conjure up something (between the rounds), you might miss an important point. So I just took a deep breath and decided to play the Italian again!" 

When you stick to what you know the best, your chances of going wrong are minimized

Another thing that I had noticed in Anand's games is his classical approach towards chess. He just about always controls the centre, plays the most solid lines. Have you ever seen him opening with 1.b3 or 1.g3 or play lines with Black where you don't have a pawn in the centre by move three? I think it is by experience that Anand has realized that playing classical chess is 'Best by Test' and he doesn't need to experiment. This surely requires quite a bit of self-restraint.

2. When you see a good move, make it!

There was absolutely no game where Anand was behind on time on the clock. Be it against speed monsters like Nepomniachtchi, Nakamura or rapid experts like Karjakin, Mamedyarov. Even in the only game that he lost to Shakhriyar, he was doing very well time-wise. Vishy's strategy was simple — when you see a good move, make it! The advantage of it was that when the critical moment would arise in the game, Anand would have a lot of time to think. The best example was his game against Grischuk.

 

In the above position, Vishy spent a good four to five minutes thinking about various plans like doubling the rooks on the g-file, Rg4 followed by Ng5 and Rh1 and so on. When no tactics worked, he was happy with just nestling his rook on the f5 square starting with Rg5 Qe6 Rf5!? Grischuk replied with Rdg8 and this led to the brilliancy:

 

This video is timeless for three reasons:

  1. Anand's brilliant combination
  2. Sasha's expression of disbelief
  3. Grischuk's sporting attitude of allowing Vishy to mate and congratulating him after that. pic.twitter.com/bXBAIHsGHy
 

Post-game analysis between Anand and Grischuk which lasted nearly ten minutes

3. Having a routine between the rounds

After every game, there used to be a break of around 15-30 minutes (depending upon when your game ended) before the next game began. Anand would usually watch the games that were going on trying to keep himself sharp by calculating the possibilities or he would be doing something on his mobile. He wouldn't go out of the playing arena. The tournament being in a museum there would be a good chance that he would be approached by people for an autograph or photo or a conversation. It was important for him to keep his focus and for that he wanted to follow a routine.

Vishy checking and analyzing his games on the phone?! Maybe even on the ChessBase Online App?

Even after his games were over Vishy would make sure that he had his dinner on time, went for a walk (even in -18 degree temperature) and slept on time. It's these little things that count when you want to perform well at the highest level.

4. Believing in himself 

For a five-time World Champion, this might not be too difficult. But we all have our moments of doubt. After losing to Mamedyarov Vishy could have begun doubting himself. But instead, he immediately left the playing, went back to his room, had a nice dinner and got ready for the next day. 2.0/3 was after all not a bad score! Anand waited for his opportunity to strike and didn't miss them. He beat Nakamura in round six and Grischuk in round eight which were the much-needed victories to ensure that he becomes the champion. While both of these games were nice, I think much more important was his draw against Svidler in the rook endgame where he was a pawn down. When you can defend the difficult positions, your confidence improves. Check out this video to see how confidently Vishy defended the inferior rook endgame.

Winner's interview

ChessBase caught up with Vishy and asked him about him missing the bus to the round, last three games of the day and how he remains tactically alert.

Vishy Anand after he won the Tal Memorial Rapid 2018

After his brilliant combination against Grischuk, I asked Vishy Anand — "How do you keep yourself tactically alert?" The five-time World Champion gave a very nice response: "In the events where things go well you can start to write a book on how you do it and then in the next event it doesn't go well and then what do you say? I think you just keep practising and hope that at the right moment it clicks!"

The same thing I can say about all of Vishy's points which have been mentioned above. Him playing his fixed set of openings worked really well here and at the World Rapid Championships 2017. It might not work in the next tournament. Having a fixed was great here, it may not be good in the next one. What is important is that Vishy believes in each of these things and he will keep doing most of them irrespective of the results. The moral here is — if you believe in something do it consistently. The results may swing in your favour sometimes, sometimes they will not. But as long as you think it's the best for you, you must continue doing it!

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov finished second. He was doing really well until round seven, but the loss to Dubov derailed his tournament

 

While Dubov's game against Mamedyarov was impressive, his real heroic feat was against Nepomniachtchi in round seven. The way this lad held the draw was just unbelievable!

Daniil Dubov's tremendous defence against Ian Nepomniachtchi - Part I

That's part II

Karjakin ended the tournament on a high with a win over Vladimir Kramnik

This win, however, did spoil his plans:

 

My Secret Weapon: 1.b3

Meanwhile, 1.b3 has also found its way into the practice of today's world elite, and now finally a modern top ten player has taken on the subject for ChessBase: none other than Grandmaster Wesley So!

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Nakamura had three wins (Gelfand, Kramnik and Nepomniachtchi), which was great, but he lost two games to Anand and Dubov which left him in fifth place

His win against Vladimir Kramnik was a clinical one:

 

Boris Gelfand ended the tournament with a 50% score

Grischuk played well, but his loss against Anand was the turning point towards sixth place

For Kramnik, such a performance (eighth place) is quite rare. He will be looking for revenge in the blitz event

Peter Svidler struggled with seven draws and two losses...

....and so did Nepomniachtchi

On 5th of March, a 14-player round robin blitz event will be held at the Russian Chess Federation. These ten players will be joined by four more Russians: Vladislav Artemiev (mind you, he has a blitz rating of 2833!), Dmitry Andreikin, Vladimir Fedoseev and Alexander Morozevich.

After the rapid tournament ended a small gathering was organized in memory of Vladimir Dvorkovich. Anand, Kramnik and Karpov teamed up against three Russian youngsters: Karjakin, Nepomniachtchi, Dubov. Who do you think won the game? We will soon bring you an entire report on the exciting game and the evening.

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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Martin Minski Martin Minski 3/10/2018 10:22
Here is my study version dedicated to Vishy Anand with his great idea in the game against A. Grischuk:

https://www.chessstar.com/competitions/standard/annual/annual.php?SECTION_ID=1304&ELEMENT_ID=9300
Aighearach Aighearach 3/6/2018 08:26
@fons3
Not Einstein, just Alcoholics Anonymous. Like most of their pithy lines, after a few repetitions the members manage to put a famous name next to it.
jonkm jonkm 3/5/2018 04:33
Well it certainly supports the cliche 40s are the new 30s. When you consider he also won the World Rapid in 2017, we can see he's doing something right!
fons3 fons3 3/5/2018 11:21
Quote: >> The results may swing in your favour sometimes, sometimes they will not. But as long as you think it's the best for you, you must continue doing it!

1) Of course you do what you think is best (in general). What would be the alternative? Do what you think is worse?

2) If things go wrong, sticking to what you have been doing might not be the best course of action.

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Albert Einstein (?)

It's good to be confident and have faith in yourself, sure. But life ain't that simple, and neither is chess.
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