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June 15, 1999


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Anand proves too good

A newspaper in León, on Sunday, ran the headline "Anand masacró sin piedad" - Anand massacre without mercy. Yes, it was just that as Indian Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand humbled Anatoly Karpov 6-1 in the Advanced Chess contest in Leon, Spain.

 Anatoly Karpov and Vishwanathan Anand
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Advanced Chess was a match in which both players were allowed to use computer assistance during the game. They were allowed to use Fritz or ChessBase running on 400 MHz Compaq machines, and had the choice of four different chess engines: Fritz 5.32, Junior 5, Nimzo 99 or the brand-new Hiarcs 7.32. Of the six games contested, four games were played only using the analytical power of the engines, while in the other two, the players were in addition allowed to consult the million game database in ChessBase 7.

 Karpov and Anand at Leon 99
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Anand got off to a great start, winning the first game in fine style. The world's number two ranked player worked fast and efficiently with the computer, coming out of the opening with a distinct advantage. One could see the dissatisfaction on Karpov's face as he spent more and more time fretting over his moves. Anand used this time to analyse a very large number of continuations, building a giant tree of variations. Karpov ran his clock down to a few seconds and tried blitzing Anand without computer assistance. But Anand had everything under control and Karpov resigned just as his digital clock ran down to zero seconds.

In the second game, Karpov, this time with black, took more time checking lines and working with the computer. Once again he got into fairly severe time pressure, but at some stage Anand, after careful analysis with ChessBase, decided that there was no way he could force a win. So, instead of playing solely on Karpov's time, he offered a gentleman's draw.

The third game saw Anand turn on the pressure with the black pieces early on and never let up till the end. In this game both players were allowed to use databases. On the fast Compaq machines they had super-fast access to 1.3 million games, historical and contemporary. The programme both players were using was ChessBase 7.0. Karpov learnt some of the more advanced features just hours before the game, while Anand had been familiar with ChessBase since 1987, when it was still running on an Atari ST home computer.

 Karpov and Anand at Leon 99
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The theatre of the Junta de Castillay León was completely packed, with people standing in the isles. The computer screens of both players were projected on giant screens, and it was sheer joy to watch Anand handle the programme, extract all relevant games, create a new database and store them there, sort them and then study the most important lines on a separate board.

The Indian chess genius even found time to configure the screen, setting the board colours and size to the way he likes best. In the end both players ended up with the game Agdestein vs Karpov, Gjovik 1991 on the screen, with the difference that Anand had spent just a few minutes, while Karpov had used up more than half his time on the clock. After that he was (again) in severe time trouble, while Anand sat there, coolly working out all the attacking lines in advance with the computer, checking everything carefully with one of the world's most powerful analytic engines, Hiarcs (written by Mark Uniacke from England). The audience knew exactly what was coming - many moves before the end, while Karpov had to react almost instantaneously. He had no time to consult Hiarcs, although he turned to the screen briefly after each move, wondering whether he could enter the moves and thus obtain some computer assistance in his desperate defence.

So, after three games, it was 2.5 to 0.5 for Anand, with three games to go. Many believed that Karpov may have underestimated the awesome power of the duo, Anand plus Hiarcs, and was paying a heavy price for not being as adept with the computer.

The excitement of this encounter in the northern Spanish province capital reached a dramatic climax for the next two rounds. The theatre, where the event was being held, was completely packed on Saturday for rounds three and four. Once again, Anand won his first game with black in round three. Karpov, who had learned the main database functions of ChessBase just a few hours earlier, was in panic and it was certain it would turn into a deeply humiliating defeat for the FIDE World champion.

In the fourth round, Anand started to play the moves he had planned for his opponent. When the lines got thicker, he extracted all relevant games from the 1.3-million-game database provided by ChessBase and stored them in a new database, which he created on the spot, quickly defining it as his new "Reference database". In this way all future queries were directed at this subset of a few hundred games, and the answers came instantaneously. The result was that Karpov ran into terrible time trouble, while Anand could reserve 20 to 40 minutes of the one-hour total for the critical phase of the game. He reached a potentially disastrous position (with a pawn less in a rook ending), and was also in time trouble and had to abandon the help of Hiarcs. He sat at the board thinking in the traditional way, and came up with "a very nice solution", as Anand later said. The game ended in a draw.

 Worried Karpov at Leon 99
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Round five saw Anand playing a defence that Karpov had used against him in round two. Once again it was the Indian player who, for the third time, went on the attack with the black pieces, and Karpov had to spend all his time worrying about potential threats. Using his computer much less than his opponent, the FIDE champion looked like he had everything under control, and most chess experts in the audience predicted an eminent draw. But Anand had a lot more time on his clock, over twenty minutes more than his opponent. He used the Fritz engine Hiarcs to carefully work out uncomfortable attacking lines. Karpov was soon down to less than a minute and unable to consult the computer. Anand slowly wove a mating net and Fritz was announcing a mate in eight when Karpov resigned. The match was over, with Anand leading by four points to one.

Round six saw Karpov again running out of time as Anand proceded to win Advanced Chess 6-1.

The victory will surely boost the confidence of the Indian Grandmaster, who plays Garry Kasparov in the privately sponsored 'Ultimate World Chess Championship' (UWCC) match. The players will play a total of 16 games, sometime in October. The venue is likely to be Prague, with a total purse of US $3million for the match.

Photographs courtsey:

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