January 5, 2001

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Vishwanathan Anand - The King

Part VIII -- Enter the Dragon, exit Anand

Yesterday, we brought you a review of the first eight games of the Anand-Kasparov duel in New York. We resume, with details of the dramatic second half of the tournament.

Game 9: September 25, 1995:

Kasparov, playing black at the start of the third week, opted yet again for his pet Sicilian -- the fifth time in nine games that this defence was being resorted to. For 12 moves, the game paralleled the 1985 (Moscow) game between Kasparov and Karpov -- the win in which made Kasparov the youngest ever world champion. For his part, Game 9Anand focussed on a steady consolidation of his centre, and then began innovating as early as his 19th move. And then, on the 25th, came the sacrifice of rook for knight that Kasparov accepted after eight minutes of thought, and which led to the complete collapse of the black position. Kasparov resigned on move 35 -- and Anand moved into the lead, 5-4. For trivia buffs, September 25 was also the day long queues formed outside Ganpathi temples across the country, once word spread that the idols were 'drinking' milk.

Game 10: September 26: Based on his past performance, experts felt that at this stage in Anand's career, he was brilliant in tournament play of the round-robin variety. But when he found himself in a situation where he had to play the same opponent many times, as here, he tended to falter in the latter stages. A problem with preparation? Or boredom? The famous 'killer instinct' or lack thereof? God knows. In this particular tournament, Anand had played superbly through the first half to frustrate Kasparov -- and finally, to go into the lead. This game was the beginning of the turnaround. It was also the best possible example, from Kasparov's career, of his biggest strength -- an ability to prepare so thoroughly that he could surprise his opponent with an unlooked-for variation from the standard text. It needs mentioning, here, that for this tournament, Kasparov was backed by his three seconds, Dokhoian, Pigusov and, most importantly, the rising star Vladimir Kramnik (who, in fact, went on to defeat him for the world title in 2000). And it was felt, at the time, that the innovation Kasparov came up with in Game 10 was Kramnik's contribution to the team effort.

Whatever. The game kicked off as a standard Sicilian until move 14, when Kasparov offered a pawn sacrifice which Anand duly accepted. And then came the stunner -- on move 15, Kasparov thumped down his knight on the b3 square, sacrificing his rook -- a move that left Anand so stunned, he took 45 minutes to think up his response (a fact that needs to be seen in context of the 120 minutes each player gets to complete his first 40 moves). Anand thought a lot -- but there really was no way he could come up with an adequate counter to Kasparov's pre-game preparation and powerful, imaginative attacking play. An excited Kasparov, from than point on, played not only to win, but to demoralise his opponent, slamming down his pieces on the board in a display of aggression that brought the crowd to its feet. Swamped by a crushing march of white pawns, and facing imminent mate, Anand resigned on the 38th move. Parity had been restored.

Game 11: September 28: Kasparov is famed for his pre-game preparation. Was it, then, a mistake for Anand to let himself be lured into the same opening over and over again? Post-tournament analysis certainly held that opinion, with experts suggesting that by playing Kasparov's game, Anand was joining battle on the enemy's turf, rather than forcing Kasparov to fight on his own. Whatever -- in game 11, playing White, Anand let himself be lured, once again, into the Sicilian.

On move 5, Kasparov swung into the super-aggressive Dragon version, a departure from his previous play with black. The move must have come as a suprise to Anand, since Kasparov had never, previously, used it in tournament play at any level. Anand opted to follow the text -- another mistake, in hindsight. Given Kasparov's immense familiarity with the textual theory of all forms of the Sicilian, it was to be expected that the world champion would have prepared variations to the textbook line. And the expected happened on the 16th move, when Kasparov with Qa5 opted for a line that has never been seen in top-level chess. Anand was struggling. Surprisingly, however, Kasparov offered a draw after his 19th move, from a seemingly equal position. Anand declined, for the first time.

Anand was certainly not in a clearly advantageous position at that point, so why did he decline the offer to split points? No one knows. The game continued -- and on move 26 and 27, Kasparov set a brilliant trap that Anand walked into, amidst the consternation of the commentators, the grandmasters viewing from ringside, and the paying spectators. After that blunder, there was no hope for white, and Anand resigned on the 31st move -- in the process, helping Kasparov set a record for the second shortest black win in a world title bout (Fischer, at Reykjavik in 1972, defeated Spassky in just 27 moves in game five). Kasparov had surged into the lead.

Game 12: September 1995: Kasparov, playing the white side of a Ruy Lopez, returned to the line that brought him a win in game 10. Anand avoided the trap, coming up with a rare variation to stabilise his position. There was a short, sharp skirmish, with Kasparov coming up with some brilliant offensive play which Anand refuted with scintillating defence. At one point in the game, Kasparov over-extended himself in an attempt to smash his challenger, and astute play by Anand suddenly saw the champion himself come under pressure. Kasparov fought his way clear, and the game ended in a draw after 43 moves.

Game 13: October 2: If game 10 was the beginning of the end, then game 13 was the end. Kasparov, yet again, swung his black pieces into the Dragon -- a variation of the Sicilian that gets its name from a vague resemblance the black kingside has to the beast in question. Anand could have anticipated this and planned for it in his pre-game preparation -- but apparently, didn't. The lack of pre-game preparation on Anand's part was seen most clearly when he blundered on move 19 and, on move 21, completely overlooked a devastating combination that could have turned the tables on the champion and forced a win. Anand resigned on move 25 -- the second shortest defeat, playing white, in a world championship game (the record being a 24 move win by Chigorin in 1892, against Steinetz).

Game 14: October 3: The first eight games of the bout had contributed nothing new to chess theory. The next five showcased some brilliant attacking chess first from Anand, then from the champion -- and a resurrection of the little used Dragon into the realm of tournament play. And then came Game 14, a superb tactical exercise that saw fortunes swing from side to side. Kasparov played white, with Anand opting for the Centre Counter. Anand in fact played the opening so well that by move 15-16, Kasparov realised that he was, if anything, at a slight disadvantage. Again, he offered the draw. Again, Anand declined. And then the board went up in flames. On move 27, Anand played a brilliant strategic knight push (e5) that gave him the theoreticl edge and forced the champion into a hugely complicated middle game. Kasparov responded with equal ingenuity, with an offered sacrifice on move 27 which Anand declined. And then, Kasparov demonstrated his mastery with a brilliant move on the 28th, that launched a wave of threats across the board against the black king. Anand fought back. By now, the game was beginning to look like something out of Rocky -- Stallone and his opponent toe to toe in the middle of the ring, smashing away at each other. The crowd at the WTC lapped it up, bursting into prolonged, and defeaning, cheers as first the champion, then the challenger, landed telling blows. In such a situation, only one would survive -- and in this case, it was Kasparov, finally bludgeoning Anand into submission on move 38. One question remained -- why did Anand, yet again, refuse a draw and end up on the losing side? The only possible answer is that after game 10, Anand was playing for a win irrespective of whether he held the black pieces or the white, and thus over-extended himself twice on the run.

Game 15: October 5: By this point, the bout was over as a contest. Anand was clearly exhausted by the effort, and in no position to turn things around. On the other hand, Kasparov -- who, it must be mentioned, had by that point played over 160 games for the world title alone, either to win it or defend it, was now on a roll and doing what he does best. Game 15 with Anand holding white, was a standard Sicilian with both players agreeing to a draw after just 16 moves.

Game 16: October 6: Another Sicilian, another draw, this time after 20 moves. The only notable feature being that when faced with the Dragon, Anand opted this time for a different line on move 5, forcing the champion to think long and hard.

Game 17: October 9: As above. The Dragon makes a reappearance. The only notable feature about this game was that it was the longest of the tournament, lasting 63 moves played over a few minutes under five hours. Anand, by now punch-drunk, drew on all his reserves in what was clearly a lost cause (Kasparov needed only a draw in either this game, or the next, to retain the title). But the battering he had taken in the earlier games had clearly taken a toll -- on move 37, the Indian ace missed a winning move and, after a complicated endgame in which both players fought to a standstill, a draw was agreed upon. Kasparov had retained the world crown, which he first won in 1985.

Game 18: October 10: Kasparov played white, Anand opted for the Sicilian, and a draw was agreed to after just 12 moves. Kasparov had no reason to play for a win and by then, with the title decided, neither had Anand. The world title bout, thus, was over -- Kasparov with 10.5 points, had won over Anand with 7.5.

What went wrong for Anand, after a fine start to the tournament? Experts have analysed the series to death, in a bid to answer that question. But perhaps the most perceptive analysis came from the person who was in the best position to know.

"Anand's seconds," Kasparov was to say in his post-tournament analysis, "have made the mistake of over-preparing him for this contest. They have prepared him to play me, rather than preparing him to play the style of chess that best suits him, and letting him play to his strengths. Anand is a natural, intuitive, player, but the way he has been prepared, his natural brilliance and marvellous talent have been pushed into the background and the emphasis has been on overly rigorous theoretical preparation. Anand is at his best when allowing his creativity free flow."

In course of his exhaustive post-tournament analysis, Kasparov also made one other valid point. Anand, he argued, hadn't (at that point in time) learnt the value of reining in his emotions. "He was hugely delighted by his win in the 9th -- and so his defeat in the very next game dampened him just as enormously, and crushed his spirit."

Kasparov, not known to go out of his way to applaud an opponent, also paid a final tribute to the challenger he had so decisively crushed: "Anand on this form would have crushed every other player in the world today. My win does not reflect how very difficult and psychologically draining the match has been for me."

There was, finally, only one question left. In the recent past, other aspirants for the world title had, following a defeat, faded away. Would the same fate befall Anand? Or would he be able to absorb the trauma, and rise again? In the concluding part of this series, on Monday, we will trace in broad brush-strokes Anand's career between 1995 and 2000, in an attempt to answer these questions.

Meanwhile, we leave you with the featured game of the day. The temptation was to highlight game 14, which combined the best aspects of tactical chess at the most rarefied of mental levels, and a no-holds-barred slugfest between two opponents hell bent on smashing the other to pulp. What is, however, featured here is game 10 -- the one that, to our mind, best showcases the incredible pre-match preparation and sheer talent that Garry Kasparov brings to the chessboard.

The Full Series

Featured Game:

Game 14: G. Kasparov vs. V. Anand

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