December 29, 2000

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Vishwanathan Anand - The King

Part III - Vishy Anand, world junior champion

His first assault on the world junior crown had been stymied -- ironically, by fellow Indian Dibyendu Barua. Anand, however, was not prepared to accept failure quite so easily.

There is a tremendous amount at stake in the World Junior title -- every player who went on to become the world senior champion has started out by winning the Juniors. More to the point, it is a budding player's first real test of skill and temperament, since the World Juniors brings together his peers, the very same players who are going to grow up and face him on the senior circuit.

For Anand, 1987 (a year that was to see him become India's first Grandmaster, and the first Indian to achieve a 2500+ ELO rating) began with a triumph in the Arab-Asian International. Next up on the agenda, was the World Juniors -- involving, for Anand, a return to the Philippines, the country that saw the start of his journey across the world chess map.

The World Juniors of 1987 was held in Baguio, which had earlier hosted the Anatoly Karpov-Viktor Korchnoi showdown of 1978 -- a clash between the established Soviet chess hierarchy and the rebel who dared to break away, no less. Unlike in 1986, Baguio was the arena for a very strong field headed by pre-tournament favorite Simon Agdestein of Norway, already a Grandmaster, and Sweden's International Master Ferdinand Hellers. And yes, there was in the field one other name that was to resonate through the chess world in subsequent years -- Vassily Ivanchuk.

Anand arrived in Baguio in prime form -- but had a surprisingly lackluster start to the tournament. The first four rounds, thus, saw him log a mere 2.5 points, well below par for a potential titlist.

If, however, there is one facet of Anand's game that sets him apart from his peers, it is that he has the ability to raise his game at will. Follow international chess closely, and you will find that the leading players have something that, for want of a better phrase, we will call tournament form. Thus, a leading grandmaster comes into a strong tournament and almost from the opening round, we can predict how he will fare. If he plays high quality chess in the first two, three games, you can be sure he will go the distance. Similarly, if he is less than dominant in the opening rounds, you can be equally sure that he will go on to have a lackluster tournament.

Anand differs. There have, certainly, been tournaments in his career when he has played well below his best. However, there have been as many occasions when he comes in at less than par in the opening rounds, realizes that he needs to up his game, and just does it, seemingly at will. This ability to play his own game, irrespective of the opposition, is an Anand trademark today -- as it has been a trademark of champions in any sport, and its seeds were sown during his teenage years.

After four rounds, Anand needed to move up a gear or three. So, he just up and did it. Two fine wins in rounds five and six took him to 4.5 points, and then he ran up against pre-tournament favorite Agdestein. This was going to be the key -- whichever of the two remained standing after that round was likely to mount a serious challenge for the title.

Anand played white in a Spanish Defence, and within the first six moves, the outcome was clear. This is how the opening went:

1. e4 Nc6
2. Nf3 e5
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 b5
5. Bb3 Na5
6. 0-0 d6

By this point, Agdestein has fallen behind in terms of piece development. Anand controls the center of the board -- and never lets up, forcing his opponent to resign on the 38th move, down a rook at that point and falling behind on time as well.

5.5 points in seven rounds, and 6.5 in eight as Anand, by then in high gear, rolls over Josef Klinger of Austria.

Round nine is, for the aficionados gathered at Baguio, the marquee round, highlighted by the clash between Anand and a player rated as one of the likely leaders in world chess in the coming years. Anand, playing white, squares off in a Spanish Defence against none other than Vassily Ivanchuk who, even as a junior, was renowned for his exhaustive knowledge of chess theory.

The game, presented below this article as the Featured Game of the day, is a little classic. Anand opts for steady play in the opening, eschewing flash, and gradually builds up a strong defensive position. Throughout the early stage of the middle game, both players feel each other out, like boxers sparring for an opening to land the kayo punch. It is only in the 41st move that Anand unmasks his batteries, with a check that forces Ivanchuk to lose material while defending his king. Ivanchuk fights on for ten more moves, but he is clearly fighting a lost battle, and resigns on the 51st move.

Anand has, at that point, 7.5 points out of nine rounds, and has won his last five games straight. The force is with him, and he goes on to defeat Blatny in a complicated battle in the Modern Defense (8.5 points in ten rounds).

Even before he sits down for the 11th and final round, it is clear that Anand is the new World Junior Champion -- unless he suffers a defeat. His opponent is Israel's Gad Richelis. In the early stages, it appears as though the tremendous mental effort involved in winning six straight games against the best junior talents in the world has taken the sting out of Anand -- his opening play is strangely passive, his build-up less than impressive.

Anand in fact seems to be sleepwalking through this game. And suddenly, a threat emerges -- if Ivanchuk can win his final round game and Anand simultaneously loses to Richelis, then Ivanchuk will sneak the title from under the Indian teenager's nose.

Anand needed a wake up call, and the awareness of the Ivanchuk threat in the background was it. In mid stride, Anand woke up to turn the game around -- having sleepwalked himself into a difficult position in the middle game, Anand woke up to produce a brilliant exhibitionn of defensive chess to pull off the draw he needed.

On that day, and in that fashion, the world of chess crowned a new Junior champion.

(In part IV of the series, we look at the 'middle game' -- Anand's progression from the Junior Champion stage to that of serious contender for the world crown)

Featured Game

World Junior Championships, Baguio 1987
Vishwanathan Anand - Vassily Ivanchuk
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Kf6
5. d3 d6
6. 0-0 Bd7
7. c3 g6
8. Nbd2 Bg7
9. d4 0-0
10. h3 Nh5
11. dxe5 dxe5
12. Re1 Qc8
13. Nf1 Rd8
14. Qe2 h6
15. N1h2 b5
16. Bc2 Be6
17. Bb3 Nf4
18. Bxf4 exf4
19. Rad1 Rxd1
20. Qxd1 Na5
21. Nd4 Bxb3
22. Nxb3 Nc4
23. Qc2 Nc4
24. Nd4 c5
25. Ndf3 Nc6
26. Qd2 Qc7
27. e5 Re8
28. Ng4 g5
29. Qd5 Rd8
30. Qe4 Re6
31. Rd1 Rd6
32. h4! h5
33. Ngh2 g4
34. Ng5 Rh6
35. e6! fxe6
36. Nxe6 Qe7
37. Re1 Be5
38. Ng5 Kg7
39. Nf1 Bd6
40. Ne6+ Kf7
41. Qf5+ Kg8
42. Qd5 Ne5
43. Nxf4+ Qf7
44. Rxe5 Qxd5
45. Rxd5 Bxf4
46. Rxc5 Re6
47. c4 b4
48. g3 Be5
49. b3 Kf7
50. Rd5 Kf6
51. Kg2 - Ivanchuk resigns

Vishwanathan Anand - The Complete Series

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