December 30, 2000

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Part IV -- The Fallow Years

In 1987, Anand Vishwanathan won the World Junior championships.

Traditionally, that title marks out the holder as a potential world champion -- and yet, 13 long years were to elapse before Anand actualised that early promise.

How does this rate against the record of past world champions? Boris Spassky became World Junior Champion in 1955 -- and took the senior crown in 1969, 14 years later. Anatoly Karpov was World Junior Champion in 1969, and went on to win the world senior title in 1975 (it needs mentioning here that Karpov won by default, as reigning champion Bobby Fischer threw a few tantrums and refused to play). Garry Kasparov won the Junior title in 1980 -- and five years later, in 1985, took the senior title.

Anand's 13-year hibernation can be broken up into two distinct phases: 1988-1995, and 1995 to the coronation. The rationale is simple -- during the 1988-1995 phase, which if you are looking for a descriptive tagline you would have to label the Fallow Years, saw Anand win enough big-time tournaments to be consistently ranked among the best chess players in the world. Yet, during that phase, though his name kept cropping up as a potential world champion, he never really had a chance to make a push for the title.

It was in 1995, with a win over Gata Kamsky at Las Palmas, that Anand qualified for his first serious assault on the world title. So what was he doing during the seven-year interim, between winning the Juniors and qualifying for the world championship title bout?

In 1987, after winning the World Juniors, Anand earned two more GM norms in tournaments in India, and at age 18 became India's first Grandmaster.

The chronological chart gives the details of Anand's tournaments during this seven year period, so we will not repeat it here.

An important stage in Anand's development occured in 1989, when he purchased ChessBase -- the state of the art database he runs on his computer. ChessBase has been an enormous boon to top-flight players -- at last count, the database has close to 700,000 games, allowing you to search by opening, by variation, by various other parameters and, most importantly, by opponent. Thus, a leading player drawn to play a peer can, as part of his preparation, call up all the games his opponent has played at the highest levels, and study them to figure out what openings he is comfortable with and where his weaknesses could lie.

Anand's biggest asset from childhood on has been a phenomenal memory (the fact that Memory Plus picked him to endorse its product was no accident). He has the ability to remember, at will, any game he has played, as also games played by the leading exponents which he has studied. A comprehensive database was the perfect adjunct to his own incredible memory, and the purchase of the software proved an accelerator in the development of his playing skills.

What does need mentioning is that during this period, he had his first tilt at the world title. In 1991, he entered the quarterfinal stage of the FIDE World Championship cycle, but lost at that point to Anatoly Karpov.

Interestingly, when Anand faced off against Karpov, the congnoscenti did not consider him a really serious contender for the title -- at that point, Karpov was believed to be unbeatable by all save Garry Kasparov.

Anand changed that perception immediately after that quarterfinal defeat. In December of 1971, playing the Category-18 Super Grandmaster tournament at Reggio Emilia in Italy, Anand won the title against a field that included both Karpov and Kasparov.

The Reggio Emilia was considered the strongest ever chess tournament conducted till that point in time, and Anand's triumph meant that he was catapulted into the rarefied levels of chess. From then on, Anand was sure to be invited to any and every chess tournament worth its place on the international marquee -- and his fast, aggressive play and charming manners combined to make him the crowd favourite wherever he went.

During this same seven-year period, Anand also earned a rather dubious distinction -- in a game in Biel in 1988, Anand playing black lost to Zapata in a Petroff in just 6 moves, the shortest ever loss suffered by a Grandmaster. Here is how it happened:

Featured Game:

Zapata-Anand, Biel 1988, Petroff

1: e4 e5
2: Nf3 Nf6
3: Nxe5 d6
4: Nf3 Nxe4
5: Nc3 Bf5
6: Qe2 Black resigns

White is on the verge of winning material, whereas Black's development is hindered to a degree that makes defeat just a matter of time. Anand gave up, rather than wait for the inevitable.

But that blip aside, the most notable incident during this period was easily the Reggio Emilia tournament -- and within it, the Kasparov-Anand showdown. Less than three months previously, Anand had recorded a fluent win over the world champion. 'Gazza', as Kasparov is known among his peers, hates losing -- and in a tournament as elite as this one, would be out for revenge.

The game between Kasparov and Anand developed into a tactical classic in the French.

Kasparov playing white opened quietly, concentrating on development in the initial moves before adopting an aggressive posture with a queenside castling on the 13th move. Anand found the right defence, then turned the tables on his opponent with a pawn capture on the 17th move that propelled things towards a complicated, and risk-laden, middle game. Two pawns down by the 22nd move, Kasparov threw all he had into attack. Anand defended brilliantly, like a boxer leaning against the ropes to take the sting out of his opponent's punches. Gradually, he fought off off Kasparov, sacrificing one of the two pawns he had gained earlier, restored equilibrium in the middle, and finally launched his own attack around the 41st move. Kasparov resigned soon after. Here is how it all happened:

Featured Game:

Kasparov - Anand
Reggio Emilia 1991/92
1. e4 e6
2. d4 d5
3. Nd2 c5
4. exd5 Qxd5
5. dxc5 Bxc5
6. Ngf3 Nf6
7. Bd3 0-0
8. Qe2 Nbd7
9. Ne4 b6!

9...Ne4 10.Bxe4 Qh5 11.O-O Nf6 leaves White with a slight advantage.

10. Nxc5 Qxc5
11. Be3 Qc7
12. Bd4 Qxc5
13. 0-0-0 Nc5

Kasparov's queenside castling looks both aggressive and risky at the same time. But had he castled kingside, Anand obviously had planned 13...Ng4 14.Bxh7+ Kh8!, with Bxf3 as Anand's 15th move

14. Be5 Nxd3+
15. Rxd3 Qc4

Here, if 15.Qxd3, then 15...Qxc6.

16. Nd4 Be4
17. Re3 Qxa2
18. Bxf6 Bg6
19. Ra3 Qd5
20. h4 gxf6
21. h5 Qxd4
22. hxg6 hxg6
23. Rah3 f5

Brilliant play here -- Kasparov threatens mate in two, Anand has to find a defence. He does so with this move, and at the same time, opens up the diagonal to permit his queen to join in the defence.

24. Rh4 f4
25. Qf3 Rac8

Was Kasparov slipping a touch? He could have played 25.g3 Rac8 26.gxf4, giving him equality in position. The way the game was actually played, Anand gets a slight advantage with the black pieces.

26. Rxf4 Qc5
27. c3 Kg7

An interesting pawn sacrifice by Anand -- by this one move, he finally repulses the Kasparov thrust, and moves into an endgame with a pawn advantage

28. Rh4 Qe5
29. g3 Qe1+
30. Kc2 Rcd8
31. Rd4 Qe5
32. Rhf4 Qc7
33. Qe3 e5
34. Rxd8 Rxd8
35. Re4 Rd5
36. g4 b5
37. g5 Qd6
38. f3 a5
39. Qe2 Qe6
40. Qh2 Qh5
41. Qg3 Qg7
42. Qe1 b4!

Anand is now ready to turn it on, and the White king comes under pressure here as Anand finds the best way to break through Kasparov's defence.

43. cxb4 Qa4+

It's already evident that Kasparov's is a lost cause. If 43.Rxe5, then 43...Qa4+ 44.Kc1 bxc3 wins. The best move for Kasparov is 43.b3, but even then, he leaves Black with a huge advantage.

44. b3 Qa2+
45. Kc3 a4
46. bxa4 Qa3+
47. Kc2 Qxa4+
48. Kc3 Qa3+
49. Kc2 Rd3

Black threatens 50...Qb3# and 50.Qb1 is met with 50...Qc3#.

Kasparov resigned

(In Part V of the series, on January 1, we look at Anand's first serious attempt at the world title. Ed/-)

The Full Series

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