January 3, 2001

slide shows

Rediff Shopping
Shop & gift from thousands of products!
  Books     Music    
  Apparel   Jewellery
  Flowers   More..     

Safe Shopping

 Search the Internet
E-Mail this report to a friend
Print this page

Part VI -- the World Championship

As this series has unfolded, we have been getting mail from readers. Some ask for more information. Others ask a more basic question -- is the world title that Anand now holds valid, given the absence of Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik from the FIDE tournament this year?

It is a question we will get down to analyzing at the end of this series. But as we move into Anand's various tries at the world championship, it might be apt at this point to take a little detour at this point, and trace the history of the World Championship itself.

Initially, the world championship was a rather haphazard affair, with a process of attrition and elimination finally throwing up the man who could legitimately claim to be the best chess player in the world. The first ever champion was Wilhelm Steinetz, who held the title from 1886-1894. Steinetz defended his crown against all comers, and a highlight of his reign was the championship fight of 1889 against Chigorin in Havana, where the first 16 games were all decisive, without a single draw.

Emanuel Lasker was the first to defeat Steinetz, in 1894, and went on to rule the chess world till 1921 (as it turns out, the longest reign ever by a world champion), when he was upstaged by the brilliant Jose Raoul Capablanca.

Capablanca's mauling of Lasker in 1921 gave him the title, which he held till 1927 when, in a world championship title bout in Buenos Aires, he was defeated by the far less flamboyant, but rock-solid, Alexander Alekhine. The most notable feature of Alekhine's play was that seemingly innocuous, defense-oriented moves on one part of the board would, a little later in the programme, provide the springboard for an explosive, withering attack on the other side.

For trivia buffs -- today, experts say that the player whose style Anand reminds them of is Capablanca. And Kasparov is on record as saying that it was Alekhine who inspired him with the vision to play champion chess.

Alekhine was in turn dethroned by Dr Max Euwe, in 1935. Alekhine, however, promptly won it back two years later and died in 1946, still in possession of his crown.

The death of the incumbent meant that the world title could no longer be resolved by a contest between the holder and the best of the challengers. A full fledged tournament was required to crown a new king of chess, and such a tournament was in fact conducted by the world chess body, leading to the coronation of Mikhail Botvinnik in 1948 -- and signalling the start of the Soviet domination of the game.

Botvinnik was defeated by Smyslov in 1957. but won the title back in 1958. Two years later, he lost to Mikhail Tal, then won the title back in 1961 in the return match. In 1963, however, Botvinnik lost the title for good when Tigran Petrosian took over the world crown after a convincing win over the reigning champion.

Petrosian in turn was defeated by Boris Spassky in 1969. Three years later, chess catapulted into the big time when mercurial genius Bobby Fischer challenged the champion. The American's flamboyance and undoubted brilliance combined to give chess a much higher profile, with prize money for the first time going above the $100,000 mark. Reykjavik saw the end (temporary, as it turned out) of Soviet domination, as Fischer inflicted a crushing defeat on his Soviet rival.

Fischer, however, defaulted the title the following year, refusing to play the return match after some of his outrageous demands were turned down. Anatoly Karpov took over the world title, and defended it against all comers till 1985, when Garry Kasparov became the youngest ever chess champion in recorded history, claiming the title at the age of 22.

Trivia alert: Kasparov was the 13th world champion. The number 13 is part of Kasparov's superstitions. He was born on 13th April 1963, and believes that the number is especially lucky for him. Famously, he referred to this superstition in course of his title fight against Vishy Anand -- the 13th game produced a devastating exhibition by the holder that knocked the stuffing out of his Indian challenger.

While on Anand and Kasparov, the theme of mother as tutor runs through both their lives. That Susheela Vishwanathan taught Anand his early chess lessons, and still presumes to ask her world champion son to explain some moves, is the stuff of legend. Similarly, it was Klara Shagenovna Kasparova who taught her young son the ABCs of the game. In fact, Klara Kasparova was an engineer, specializing in automatic weapons, before giving up a promising career when Kasparov was aged 9, in favour of being her son's mentor and grooming him to become world champion.

Kasparov was -- is -- brilliant. Experts rate him as the best chess player the world has ever seen. From 1985, 'Gazza' ruled virtually unchallenged, crushing all opposition in decisive fashion. And perhaps this very invincibility led him to look for fresh opponents -- having beaten the available players, he then decided to take on the administration in the person of FIDE and its boss, Florencio Campomanes. He probably figured, too, that since his name was the top draw for tournament organizers and sponsors alike, he was entitled to a greater share of the loot.

Thus, in 1993, Kasparov and Nigel Short broke away from FIDE and founded the Professional Chess Association. Under the aegis of this new body, and with The Times as chief sponsors, Kasparov and Short played a 'world championship' in London in 1993.

Trivia alert: The prize money on offer for the Kasparov-Short matchup was $2.5 million dollars -- the biggest purse ever awarded, till date, for a single-venue, two-player face-off.

FIDE refused to recognize the body -- claiming with some justification that an 'association' needed more than two players. And returned the crown to Anatoly Karpov, matching him against Jan Timman to decide the FIDE world championship.

Thus was born two different world titles. In one -- the PCA version -- Kasparov has pretty much picked who his opponent should be. In the other, the FIDE version, a regular qualifying tournament, with participation being mandatory, throws up two semifinalists. The winner of that round faces off against the holder for the world title.

This meant that Karpov, as defending champion, did not have to go through the gruelling rounds, but could wait till the challenger got to him. Anand, among others, blasted this practise in media interviews at the time. Anand, in fact, went on record as saying that Karpov was very lucky -- he would not have qualified for the final had he played the tournament proper, the Indian grandmaster pointed out, arguing that by installing Karpov as world champion, FIDE had lost some of its credibility.

Following such criticism, FIDE changed the format. There is now no title round -- all players have to go through the qualifying round, knocking each other out until only one remains.

We'll get to that bit later. For now, we will end this part by tracing Anand's progress through the qualifiers -- both PCA, and FIDE. The PCA process began in mid-1994, when Anand defeated Oleg Romanishin 5-2, with wins in the second, third and seventh games, to earn a semifinal meeting with the brilliant, but lazy, British grandmaster Michael Adams in November of that year. The Linares match-up saw another rout -- Anand defeated Adams in games 1, 2, 3 and 5, taking the bout by 5.5-1.5 points.

That in turn led to the final qualifying round -- versus the temperamental Gata Kamsky, at Las Palmas in March 1995. Kamsky, in his own semifinal, had soundly defeated Nigel Short, Kasparov's ally in rebellion.

This was Anand's closest match during the qualifying rounds -- Kamsky defeated Anand in the first game, before Anand restored parity in the third. The next four games saw both players splitting points, before Anand produced a flowing win in the 9th game in a Ruy Lopez that saw the Indian at his attacking best. Another win, in the 11th game, saw Anand take the bout 6.5-4.5 -- and earn the right to challenge Kasparov for the PCA title.

At the same time, Anand was also participating in the FIDE cycle, in the first round of which he easily defeated Artur Yusupov. Meanwhile, Gata Kamsky had defeated Vladimir Kramnik, earning the right to face Anand on the latter's home territory.

Anand was the overwhelming favourite, both in the experts' and the popular mind. In a bout characterized by attacking chess from both players, Anand took an early lead, and then seemed to relax. Kamsky came back brilliantly, to upstage the popular favourite.

Anand, thus, had taken part in two championship cycles -- and been stopped in one, while earning, through the PCA cycle, the right to take on Kasparov. Interestingly, it was after the defeat in Sanghi Nagar that Anand met Kamsky in the PCA cycle in Las Palmas -- and avenged that defeat with a clinical win over his temperamental opponent.

There is one further aspect to the Anand-Kamsky match-ups that need mentioning. After Sanghi Nagar, Anand said in an interview, when analyzing his performance, that he felt that he hadn't done too much wrong in terms of actual play. 'I think it is off the board that I lost it, I tended to relax at the wrong moment,' the Indian ace said.

And then came Las Palmas -- and an opportunity for the chess world to find out whether Anand had in fact learnt the lessons of Sanghi Nagar.

The tournament got off to an unexpected, almost shocking, start. Anand played the white side of a Spanish Defence, while Kamsky opted for the Ruy Lopez. Getting into the latter part of the middle game, Anand was actually on course to win -- but incredibly, the fastest player in the world lost the bout, on time, in the 32nd move.

The chess world figured that Anand, traumatized by his defeat at Sanghi Nagar, had lost it. Even his famed speed of thought had deserted him, together with his analytical ability. It has happened before, to those who have come to the threshold of glory and been vanquished -- the names of Jonathan Speelman and Nigel Short (more lately, Gata Kamsky's name has entered this list) immediately come to mind. At various times, Speelman and Short were rated the logical contenders for the world crown. Both had their shots at the title. Both lost. Neither showed the strength of character to bounce back.

The same, it was thought, had happened to Anand. Those following the tournament at Las Palmas, thus, heaved a huge sigh of foreboding when, in the third game with Anand playing white again, Kamsky opted for the Arkhangelsk Variation of the Spanish. The Arkhangelsk was not only Kamsky's favourite variation and one in which he was a master, it was also the one that Anand had, in Sanghi Nagar, found impossible to upstage. Thus, it appeared that Kamsky, with a full point on his opponent, was defining the battleground to suit himself -- and in the process, going for the coup de grace against the Indian.

Anand took on Kamsky's Archangelsk, and won.

That win was the beginning of the turnaround -- not just in this bout, but in Anand's career. Kamsky, easily one of the most electric players on the circuit, found reason to fear the Indian's analytic skills, and from there on, was forced into a more cautious, defensive, frame of mind.

Nowhere was this exemplified as well as in the 9th match of the series (remember, in passing, that this was a ten-game affair). Facing Anand with the black pieces, Kamsky is so underconfident of taking the Indian on in his pet Archangelsk (Anand had by then followed up that first win with another one), Kamsky opts for the Sicilian Defence, Najdorf Version.

An incredible choice, as Anand is accounted a master of the Sicilian. The Indian finishes things off in style, with a scintillating offer of sacrifice in the 20th move that completely paralyses black. Kamsky fought on -- but the result was never in doubt, with the American giving it up in the 50th to give Anand the right to move to New York, where Kasparov was waiting.

In Part VII, tomorrow, we will review the Anand-Kasparov world title bout in New York. Meanwhile, today we feature Game Three of the Las Palmas bout as our featured game. This is the first time, after Sanghi Nagar, that Anand is going up against Kamsky's favourite Archangelsk. In Sanghi Nagar, Anand preferred to defend, and not take Kamsky on in the latter's favourite variation. Here, he reverses track and clashes head on with the American.

Anand - Kamsky
Las Palmas Ct (3) 1995
Spanish, Arkhangelsk
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. 0-0 b5
6. Bb3 Bb7
7. Re1 Bc5
8. c3 d6
9. d4 Bb6
10. Be3 0-0
11. Nbd2 h6
12. h3 Qb8
13. d5 Ne7
14. Bxb6 cxb6
15. Nc2 Nd7
16. Nh4 Qd8
17. Nf1 g5
18. Nf3 f5
19. exf5 Nxf5
20. N3h2 Qf6
21. Ng4 Qg7
22. Nge3 Nxe3
23. Nxe3 Rf4
24. a4 Raf8
25. axb5 a5
26. Rf1 Bc8
27. g3 R4f7
28. b4 e4
29. Bxe4 Ne5
30. Bg2 axb4
31. cxb4 Nf3+
32. Bxf3 Rxf3
33. Ra8 Bxh3
34. Qxf3 Rax8
35. Rc1 Rf8
36. Qe2 Bd7
37. Rc7 Rf7
38. Rb7 Qa1+
39. Nf1 Kg7
40. Rxb6 Qd4
41. Rb8 Qxb4
42. Ne3 h5
43. b6 h4
44. g4 Bb5
45. Qd1 Qb2
46. Nf5+ Rxf5
47. gxf5 Be2
48. Qa4 Nf3
49. Qd7+ Kh6
50. Qe6+ Kh5
51. Qe8+ Bxd5
52. Qe1 Bxd5
53. Re8 Bf3
54. f6 Kh5
55. f7 Qd4
56. Re4 Qf6
57. b7 Bxe4
58. Qxe4 Black resigns

Vishwanathan Anand - The home page

Mail your comments