By winning the world chess title for the fifth time, Viswanathan Anand has firmed up his place among the greats of the game. In his own assessment, the victory over Boris Gelfand was the toughest of his world-title battles. Not many outside the chess world know that for over two decades, Gelfand, 43, has been admired for his versatile chess qualities. Only Gary Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik were ahead of him in Russia. In the event, it was hardly surprising that he stretched the 12-game series to the rapid tie-break games, something Anand had not faced in his two previous title-matches. Anand was prepared for the grind and, as he did in the 2010 match against Veselin Topalov, won the title after wiping out a one-point deficit. Anand admitted to spending a sleepless night after losing the seventh game since he knew well that it would be very difficult to bounce back against a rock-solid player like Gelfand. But the very next day, Anand levelled the score with a stunning 17-move victory. The high level of preparation from both camps was evident all through the 10 drawn games. Gelfand was enormously motivated to cash in on probably his last chance to win the title. He tested Anand with some new opening moves without compromising on his solid style of play. In terms of providing thrills, this series of contests may have fallen short but the high intensity of the battles made up for that.
The triumph in Moscow, where Anand has a matching number of admirers and critics, was also significant for another reason. For years, the Russian chess fraternity, in particular, has belittled Anand's achievements. Even in the days leading to the clash against the Belarus-born Gefland, there was criticism in the regional media which said that Anand lacked hunger and his game had weakened in the recent past. But the genial Indian's triumph in every format — knockout, round-robin, classical and now in a rapid tie-break finish — should silence the cynics. Surely, Anand's consistency has been second to none. He has stayed in the world's top 10 since 1991 and he is one among seven players ever to hold the topmost ranking in 40 years. Considering that every Anand manoeuvre over the board has been clinically analysed by the best chess brains, mostly from the erstwhile Soviet Union and Europe, for 25 years, it is truly commendable how he has managed to stay a step ahead. His longevity as a performing champion is the result of his uncompromising nature when it comes to discipline and training. His conduct remains spotless and his popularity keeps growing with every success; yet, his humility appears ever more pronounced. No wonder, Anand is an icon and an inspiration to a generation of sportspersons of all disciplines.