In news that went under the radar, former world champion and India’s greatest chess player of all time Viswanathan Anand beat reigning world champion and bogeyman Magnus Carlsen of Denmark in the ninth round of World Rapid Championship (WRC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on December 27, 2017. Anand won in 34 moves.
The affable chess legend from Chennai belongs to the pantheon of Indian sporting legends, who have also conquered the world on multiple occasions in their respective disciplines. Conventional, polite and understated off the chessboard, while flamboyant, quick, attacking and creative on it, Anand is the quintessential Indian sporting hero who has developed into a universal player comfortable across all positions on the board and is universally admired by Indians.
His journey on the international arena, where he came up against peers with far superior training, mentorship and insight about the game, especially those from the former Soviet Union, has been nothing short of remarkable. He was a recipient of the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, before he turned 19. Here are five instances of the Chennai chess legend enthralling us with his genius on the chess board in no particular order of importance.
1) World Junior Chess Championships, 1987
Any player who has gone on to become World Champion usually starts out by winning this tournament. The tournament is the ultimate test of skill and temperament against the best young talent in the world, and potential opponents in the senior circuit.
In Baguio City, Philippines, the 17-year-old Anand overcame pre-tournament favourite Simon Agdestein of Norway, who was already a Grandmaster, Sweden’s International Master Ferdinand Heller, and a young Vassily Ivanchuk, to win the crown. This was the Chennai legend’s first major tournament victory on the global stage.
2) Defeating both Kasparov and Karpov, making his mark on the world stage
The elite Interpolis tournament at Tilburg in the Netherlands (1991) is where a 21-year-old Viswanathan Anand grabbed the attention of the international chess establishment by beating both the legendary Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.
Both these Soviet grandmasters had dominated the game, facing each other in five world championship matches between 1984 and 1990.
Anand displayed tremendous speed, tactical flexibility and natural ability to topple both champions in the same tournament. No one forgot his name after this tournament.
3) First FIDE World Chess Championship, 2000
Anand shrugged the proverbial monkey off his back when he won his first FIDE (World Chess Federation) World Chess Championship in Tehran after several near misses.
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Although the tournament was boycotted by some of the modern-day greats like Gary Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and Anatoly Karpov over a dispute with the FIDE, Anand managed to beat the rest of the pack comfortably. As the No. 1 seed, all the pressure was on the Chennai man to win.
On the road to victory he defeated defending FIDE world champion Alexander Khalifman in the quarterfinals (3.5-0.5), and Michael Adams of England in the semi-finals (2.5-1.5). In the final match, he came up against the Alexei Shirov of Latvia, who had two years prior defeated the legendary Gary Kasparov. Anand won the final against Shirov comfortably with the scoreline reading 3.5-0.5.
4) Unified World Championship, 2007
Despite all the success that came his way, Anand was not regarded as a player in the same league with Russian greats Gary Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik. In the world of chess, Russians have long set the benchmark, backed by strong institutional support from the state.
In the first reunified World Chess Championship, since Gary Kasparov broke away in 1993 to form the rival Professional Chess Association Championship, the world’s eight best chess players duked it out against each other in the sweltering heat of Mexico City in September 2007.
Played in the double round-robin format, Anand acquired 9 out of a total 14 points, finishing a point above joint second-place players Kramnik and Boris Gelfand. In winning this tournament, Anand became the undisputed world champion. “Anand dented the Soviet belief in the superiority of their players with his performance. He proved that he was a force to reckon with,” said fellow Indian Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay. Following his win in 2007, Anand defended his crown in 2008, 2010 and 2012, and thus cementing his place among the all-time greats of the game.
5) Beating Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, defending his crown
Despite Anand’s fantastic performance in the 2007 edition of the World Chess Championship, there were still those who were second-guessing the Indian chess legend’s championship pedigree.
Critics believe that Anand didn’t become a champion in the traditional manner, defeating the defending champion in a head to head contest, but won the tournament on the basis of points. In the following year, Anand faced off with Kramnik at the State Art Gallery in Bonn. It was a best of 12 games, and Anand won the contest 6.5–4.5 after securing a draw in the 11th game.
This convincing win over Kramnik forced the Russian chess establishment to acknowledge Anand’s championship pedigree.
Legendary Russian grandmaster Gary Kasparov heaped praise on the star. “A great result for Anand and chess. Vishy deserved the win in every way, and I’m very happy for him. It will not be easy for the younger generation to push him aside. Anand out-prepared Kramnik completely,” Kasparov said.
Although the chess legend hasn’t won a world title since 2012, suffering two successive defeats at the hands of his current nemesis Magnus Carlsen, at the age of 48, he continues to excel and shows little signs of slowing down.