January 4, 2001

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Vishwanathan Anand - The King

Anand versus Kasparov: The big clash

This was the bout that elevated chess from a stodgy game followed only by those with nothing better to do than watch two players hold their chins in their cupped palms for hours on end, to a television spectacular.

And the venue had as much to do with this changed image as the profiles of the two participants. The match took place on the 107th floor of the World Trade Centre. Sitting within the glass-cased playing room -- dubbed the King Room -- 1300 feet above sea level, the players could see the Statue of Liberty and the Atlantic Ocean and, every so often, look into passing jetliners as they cruised by at window-level on the landing path to New York airport.

Giant screens, commentators, television coverage on ESPN and other channels, hype, hoopla -- this one had it all. Games were played on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, starting at 3 PM New York time and going on for a maximum of seven hours with no adjournments.

A prize money of $1.5 million dollars was on offer by Intel (an amount that worked out to around 2000 dollars per move) to be split in such a fashion that the first player to get to 10.5 points would get one million, while the loser put half that amount in his pocket.

At the opening ceremony, the two players were given models of the WTC. Inside each tower was a queen. Anand picked the white won, thus winning the toss and getting to play white in the first game.

Trivia alert: Given that this was a made-for-TV event, Mayor Giuliani made the first move on behalf of Anand. The Mayor, an amateur chess player, played c4. Once the cameras shut down after the ceremony, Anand quietly pulled that pawn back, and played 1. e4.

The games

Game 1, September 11, 1995: The first game was an exercise in the Sicilian that ended when, after 27 moves, Kasparov offered Anand a draw to which the latter agreed. The only noteworthy feature was a departure from the book by Anand on move 18, when he attempted an assault on the opposing king. Kasparov defended adroitly, and a draw seemed inevitable early in the middle game.

Garry Kasparov Game 2, September 12: Anand, with black, went in for a Nimzo-Indian, which Kasparov countered with his preferred Qc2 on move 4. Judging by how he played, Anand had apparently decided not to risk unnecessary complications when faced with Kasparov playing white. He thus opted for a series of swift exchanges, aimed at clearing the board. Kasparov set a little trap for Anand on move 16, but Anand saw it easily and avoided it. Kasparov offered the draw after 29 moves, and Anand agreed.

Game 3, September 14: If the first two games were tame, the third provided the spectators all the excitement they were looking for. Kasparov, with black, opted for his favourite Sicilian yet again. The first 11 moves mirrored those of game 1, but Anand on move 12 opted for an aggressive posture, and rapidly built up a deadly dangerous attack. Kasparov was struggling by move 17. And then came move 20 -- Anand had an opportunity to force a win with a complex line, opting instead for a more simplistic continuation. In post-match analysis, both players agreed that this was the turning point -- Kasparov, in fact, going on to admit that had Anand played 20. exf6, the champion had no viable defence. A draw was offered by Kasparov after Anand's 26th move, and accepted by the challenger.

Game 4, September 15: Kasparov prides himself on two things -- the thoroughness of his pre-game preparation which enables him to come up with unusual, interesting variations, and his ability to dominate an opponent early in a series. It was Game 4 (given below this article as today's featured game) that created a dent in that mindset, and put the champion under pressure. With white, Kasparov opted for the English Opening, forcing Anand to move away from the areas he would have focussed on during his own preparations. The ploy seemed to be working, with Kasparov enjoying the early advantage as he built up a good platform for an attack. Anand seemed in trouble, but on the 15th move, created a new variation in theory with a neat defensive pawn sacrifice. Kasparov accepted -- and immediately, found that he had been pushed into a position from which he just couldn't win. By move 21, Kasparov was ahead a pawn, thanks to Anand's sacrifice -- but that advantage was meaningless in view of Black's superb defensive position. Kasparov offered the draw. Anand accepted. The champion barely paused to touch Anand's hand in a parody of a handshake, then stormed out of the game room without waiting for the post-match briefing and analysis. Clearly, Kasparov was rattled -- in the previous game he had narrowly escaped defeat and here, what seemed to be a winning opportunity had been blunted by brilliant play by Anand.

Game 5, September 18: The second week started with Anand playing white, and Kasparov opting yet again for his pet Sicilian. Neither player attempted to force the issue, and a draw was agreed after 27 moves.

Game 6, September 19: Playing white, Kasparov yet again tried to break the deadlock, opting for a Ruy Lopez with a piece sacrifice on move 11. Anand slipped easily into an Open Defence, which is one of his favourites and, when the sacrifice was offered, refuted it. On move 14, Anand innovated on established theory with a queenside castling and, on the 20th, went in for an interesting exchange of rook for knight and pawn that stymied white's buildup. Kasparov offered the draw on move 28. Following which Anand, with characteristic humour, told the media: 'Neither of us had the slightest clue what was happening out there.'

Game 7, September 21: Another Sicilian, another attempt by Kasparov to break free, another demonstration of clinical defensive play by Anand, another draw, this time after 25 moves -- and again, it was Kasparov who offered the draw. It is interesting to note that the last time he played for the world title, in 1993 in London, Kasparov was two games up after the first seven against Nigel Short.

Game 8, September 22: Week two ended as week one had -- with both players remaining deadlocked. The draw in game 8 also earned the two players the dubious distinction of having played the longest sequence of draws at the start of a world championship. However, the crowd which had booed the draw in the 7th game applauded spontaneously at various stages of this one. Kasparov played the white side of a Scotch, and on move 9, Anand came up with a stunning innovation that completely ruined all of Kasparov's planning and pre-match preparation, and threw the game wide open. Kasparov spent a long time pondering before playing his next move. Came move 15 and Anand was at it again, with an unexpected queenside castling that was truly inspirational. When Anand castled, the ageing GM Miguel Najdorf, himself responsible for many variations and additions to chess theory, was watching from ringside -- and couldn't stop the spontaneous 'Wonderful!' that burst from his lips. Kasparov, for his part, acted like a man with a severe toothache, grimacing and contorting his face as he pondered the board. A draw was agreed after the 22nd move, but the force was clearly with Anand.

After two weeks, both players were deadlocked on four points apiece. Prior to the start of the tournament, it was universally believed that Kasparov would blow Anand away. However, at the halfway stage, Anand had not only maintained parity, but embarassed the world champion on at least two different occasions, and caused Kasparov to betray his emotions and reveal the pressure he was under.

It seemed at this stage that Anand and his seconds (Artur Yusupov, Patric Wolff and Jonathan Speelman) had hit upon a superb strategy. Time and again, Kasparov would try Anand out with one of his pet theoretical variations, hoping to force a complex middlegame which would give scope for Kasparov's strategic brilliance to exploit. Anand, as often, blew the position apart with some innovative variation, aimed at simplifying things and preventing Kasparov from breaking free.

It was a battle of attrition and, at the halfway stage, expert opinion was that Anand had, against the odds, shown the world champion a thing or three. We will review the dramatic second half of the contest tomorrow -- meanwhile, to sign off, a funny incident from this stage of the contest.

Immediately after the ongoing title fight, both Anand and Kasparov were scheduled to play in the Credit Suisse tournament in Switzerland, leading an elite field. During the second week of his bout with Kasparov, Anand got a letter from the organisers of the Credit Suisse, confirming the dates. Attached, was a press release that was to be sent to the media. The relevant line read: "After losing to Kasparov in the recent world championship final in New York, Anand will be looking for revenge...."???!!!

The Full Series, on the life, times and triumphs of Anand Vishwanathan

Featured Game:

Game 4, September 15
White -- Kasparov; Black -- Anand
English Opening

The javascript playthrough

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