Vishy on Vishy gems!

by Sagar Shah
12/11/2019 – Viswanathan Anand, who turns 50 years old today, is a legend who has played many masterpieces throughout his illustrious career spanning decades. At the end of Tata Steel Chess India 2019, IM SAGAR SHAH caught up with the chess virtuoso to discuss nine of his career-best games. In this interview Anand talks about old times, untold behind-the-scenes stories of the pre-computer chess era and much more. Chess fans are in for a nostalgic treat!

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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Vintage Vishy 

Book cover

At the Tata Steel Chess India 2019, I handpicked nine positions from Vishy Anand's career-best games and posed them in the form of a quiz to Magnus Carlsen, Anish Giri, Hikaru Nakamura, Vidit Gujrathi, and Erwin l'Ami. A fitting tribute to the legend as he neared his 50th birthday. The challenge was to not only guess the moves Vishy played in those positions but also recognize the opponents they were played against. In case you missed it in "10 things that made the Tata Steel Chess India 2019 special", you'll find all the video clips at the bottom of this article.

After the above interviews were over, I got in touch with Vishy himself. The Indian maestro, who was found in a relaxed mood after the tournament, spoke unreservedly and went down the memory lane relating many untold stories connected to these masterpieces. We have transcribed this entire conversation below for you to read and enjoy. By the way, Anand's new autobiography Mind Master: Winning Lessons From A Champion's Life is out now for Kindle and in hardcover.


Vishy Anand on the nine best games of his career (transcribed below)

SS: We had prepared a test during this event where we had handpicked positions from nine of your best games. We gave it to all the players here and they all fared pretty well. We wanted to give you those positions to you, not to test you because you would surely remember them well, but to just take you back in the time so that you can tell us your thoughts regarding them and may be share some stories that most people won't be aware of.

VA: Well, the first one is very easy of course.

 

This is my game against Levon Aronian from Wijk Aan Zee 2013. The move here is 16...♞de5 and the previous move is 15...♝c5, in fact, this is one of the chapters in my new book — Mind Master, where I talk about this move a lot. I remember spending half an hour to find ♝c5 because of course I was drawing a blank and didn't remember anything of this variation. There were so many other variations we looked at that I didn't remember this. And so based on the smallest fragments of memory I had to reconstruct everything. So that's the story and then as everyone knows this became the modern version of Rotlewi - Rubinstein. There are other games that I am equally proud of but it's a strong case to say that this is the most beautiful game I have played in my life.

 

This game was also analysed by Anand (from 5 minutes) in the birthday tribute video from the Grenke Chess YouTube Channel: 

Celebrating the 50th birthday of Vishy Anand | Grenke Chess


Career highlights

1975: Young Vishy learns the rules of chess from his mother
1988: Anand became the youngest chess grandmaster from India
2000: Winner of the Chess Classic in Frankfurt ahead of Kasparov and Kramnik
2007: Vishy became the undisputed world chess champion in Mexico.
2008: He defended his title successfully against grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn
2010: Viswanathan won against his challenger Veselin Topalov in Sofia and maintained his title
2012: Successful world champion title defense against Boris Gelfand in Russia
2013: World chess championship in Chennai | Anand vs Magnus Carlsen
2014: World chess championship 2014 in Sotchi | Magnus Carlsen vs Viswanathan Anand
2017: Rapid world chess champion 
2018: GRENKE Chess Classic Participant in Karlsruhe & Baden-Baden


VA: Moving on to the next position, this again was very nice. This is my game with Gata Kamsky from Las Palmas. It is now 24 years and 9 months.

 

At this point we were deadlocked. I mean it seemed like a pretty convincing win by two points and one round to spare but at this point we were still tied on points. And it was only with this move 26.♘d1 that I was able to break the lock jam.

 

SS: Did this move come easily to you back then or was it difficult?

VA: You know I don't remember. Perhaps because of the added weight of the candidates match you don't just play any move. For me now it seems very obvious. I don't know if it's because I have already seen it. I mean, I played it and now it is obvious to me. You know just like once you see the solution the puzzle is not difficult anymore! But I can't see too many other plans for White. I think I must have seen ♖a5 and then quickly realized that 26.♘d1 was very good. 

 

This is a match I don't look back with any pleasure but I played 27.♖d5 here against Kasparov, and I am still baffled that he took the rook. I mean if you play ♛c6 or something. I keep saying I am slightly better which is what the annotation I have put, but these were very forgiving days, nobody checked it with engine. I don't even know what the engine says. I cannot believe that I am still better. Of course, after he played 27...xd5 28.exd5 followed by c5, e2, d6 it was a runaway. So that was very nice for me. It is interesting that he took it, clearly there is some hidden flaw in Kasparov that sometimes he is very impulsive. The person who took maximum advantage of this weakness of Garry was Kramnik. I remember their second game in the Gruenfeld for instance where he did exactly this. It didn't look like a game which Garry should lose necessarily but very quickly White was just better and the opposite-coloured ending also was just winning very fast.

 

SS: In a way, this was your first win in a World Championship match, right? 

VA: Yes, that's true!

This is one of my favourite games (looking at the next position on his hand). Now that I remember this game I would have to say the Aronian game and this one are or something.

 

We are talking about a time well before the computer in 1992. This was a little private match we had in Linares. By now I had seen the idea, but this is typical thing ♛a5 ♘d5 ♛xd2 ♘xf6 gxf6 ♖xd2. You know, I don't remember how this happened. The way I remember it now is that, I had seen this idea ♝c4. It is the kind of thinking you hardly get to do these days because the computer is interrupting you always. You want to do something beautiful, you want to make a plan, you want to be an artist and the computer interrupts you in every move. But I remember the thought process: ♝c4, we will exchange the bishops, if it exchanges on c4 even better, but we will exchange bishops and then I will put the rook on h3 so that h2 cannot defend g4. I will play ♚d7-e6 and then I will attack the g-pawn with ♜bg8, ♜h4, the e2-rook will have to come to g2, the only way to defend this pawn. Then I will play d5, exd5 ♚xd5, then I will go back ♚e6 and remove the rook, somehow press him here and there and play f5, making two connected passed pawns! What a wonderful way to get two connected passers and the funny thing is I was able to execute this idea till the very end. It is great to be able to execute an idea this way. I remember Patrick Wolff, who was my second at the time, was completely blown away by this.

SS: In a way with ♝c4 you exchanged your good bishop for a bad one. Magnus stated that this was not anti-positional but really wonderful understanding of chess.

VA: (smilingly) Yes, I would agree. In those days we found these things on intuition and it was happy times. I am sure I take similar decisions nowadays but like I said whenever I try to make a plan the computer always interrupts me. It interrupts everyone!

 

(Turning to the next position) This was the first round of Wijk Aan Zee 2006 against Karjakin. 

 

Well, I played the Najdorf. I don't know if I really expected him to challenge me in this but he challenged me in a very sharp line which came all the way up to here. And this line was brand new at that time, now it is an established one, but at that point it was almost brand new. I remember studying this line extensively in San Luis 2005, I mean extensively by the standard of those days when there were Rybka 2.3.2 or Fritz 5 or something! Again I didn't remember my prep and initially hesitated to play 24...♞c7 fearing my opponent must have checked this with the computer but then I just went with ♞c7!

SS: And then you sacrificed two pieces?

VA: Well, that really plays itself and anyway after 24...♞c7 25.♕xc7 if I go ♜e8 then it is really a failure of the imagination. I had to play this because after ♕xc7 ♜xa3 bxa3 ♛xa3 ♕a7 I am just winning!

 

(Holding the next position in hand) I see another rival to the Aronian game (laughs).

 

Here I was trying to make 20.♗g6 and ♗a3 work and later found 20.h6. This again is one of those games where there wasn't much preparation involved by today's standards. The event too became one of my fondest memories. I remember the whole tournament you had the feeling of being happy, it was in Biel. I won two good games against Joel [Lautier], I won a game against Boris [Gelfand], I beat [Pelletier] Yannick twice. The only game I lost was against [Vadim] Milov but overall this was a great tournament for me and I remember feeling very well there.

 

SS: No one could actually guess your opponent in the next position. What are your thoughts about it?

VA: This is actually my game against Beliavsky and I can see the thought process. It is very hard to guess that this was Beliavsky who played Najdorf against me.

 

I don't think it is a particularly beautiful game. Certainly it is a quality game but not as beautiful as the ones we have seen. But this was important for me for entirely different reasons. I had my nightmare in Biel interzonal 1993 where I lost to Gelfand in round 8 or 9 and every day I was sitting there fighting and trying to beat someone and get back to the required plus four. And it was the most annoying tournament because it was in the summer and I was sitting in the seventh board or something and within the first five to ten minutes the first six boards would disappear (the players would make draw among each other). I would be sitting on the seventh board and thinking what the hell am I doing here struggling in this position and missing. I would sit there till 7 or 7:30 working, playing some miserable game and imagining Kramnik, Khalifman, and others back in their rooms after just five minutes, going for a walk in the summer around the lake in Biel! I, on the other hand, had to fight every game and I didn't succeed at it. Finally, in a much worse position [Viktor] Korchnoi blundered against me but even that was not enough, I still needed five results to go well on the last day. I remember the last of them was [Lajos] Portisch against [Evgeny] Bareev. Portisch had my score but he had the best tie-break in the whole tournament and needed half point but couldn't win. I had better tie-breaks against all the others for some reason.

(Coming back to the position) Anyway, this was from the Groningen (PCA) interzonal 1993 and here all I wanted to do was avoid another Biel. But surprisingly, I don't know why I ended up taking some insane risks by charging in with the mainline of a very sharp thing. This game incidentally took place shortly after the Short-Kasparov match where Beliavsky and Azmaiparashvili were Kasparov's seconds. And I am sure they must have checked this line thoroughly. But I didn't care at all.

 

(Going to the next position) And this of course is a very special memory.

 

This is one of those oversights. You know you can ask yourself afterwards how could you miss it but when you miss it, you just miss it. And this is the end of a combination where Kramnik thought after ♞xh2 ♔xh2 ♜xf1 f3 it would be a race with the pawns. He suffered a blindspot and completely missed the square e3, and e3 was all I saw!

 

SS: You actually made that move and walked away yes?

VA: Well, I was obviously very excited. This again features in my book Mind Master. At the start of the game I had a panic attack because suddenly I couldn't remember my preparation in the Botvinnik and I couldn't reach my seconds either. It is quite detailed in the chapter because it tries to deal with the nightmares you have before a game. First I was terrified as I couldn't remember my line, but it ended well and was a happy day.

SS: The last position is quite recent, just from two years ago. 

VA: Yes, this again is against a very difficult opponent, Fabi of course. And once again a few moves ago he initiated a sequence which ends up here. I think I was a pawn up but it was a half pawn as he had decent compensation but then he initiated a sequence which led to this position and I had already seen it and was very excited.

 

Find the beautiful move played by Anand

 

SS: Any other games apart from these that come to your mind as particularly special?

VA: Well, I could add three or four games from Saint Louis except they were all misses. There must be many, but I guess my win against Kasparov in Tilburg was special. In fact all my wins in Tilburg became quite memorable.

SS: Well, Vishy thank you for sharing this with us. Wishing you a safe journey back home and also good days leading up to your birthday! Your 50th birthday is a big moment for Indian chess. Thank you for all that you have done, it really is amazing.

VA: Sure, thank you! To conclude, I will celebrate my birthday. It is just that I celebrate it for others.

SS: Yes, please do celebrate because it is a big day for us.

VA: I appreciate everyone who celebrates with me. It is probably the reason I celebrate it at all. Thanks!


So how did the five top-class Grandmasters, including the current World Champion himself, fare in the test? To know, check out the videos below:

Anish Giri in his usual candid self

It is interesting to see how he could remember the different positions in different ways. Some he had come across in training, while some just on social media! A delightful insight into the mind of one of the world's best chess players!

Erwin l'Ami is Giri's second for a reason

Vidit Gujrathi grew up studying Vishy Anand

Magnus Carlsen became World Champion by defeating Vishy Anand in 2013

He defended his world title in 2014 against Anand. Clearly his knowledge of the legend's life and career is quite extensive.

Hikaru Nakamura is a modern day player and relies heavily on computers and engines

He admitted even before the quiz began that he didn't know Vishy's games very well. But that didn't stop him from being a good sport.

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. 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 and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.