Viswanathan Anand's long journey to four world chess titles began with a small step. It started in January 1991 at Chennai and the man who stood between Anand and a place in the quarterfinals was Russian Alexey Dreev.
Anand's resounding victory in the best-of-eight game match is still remembered for the mature way in which the debutant Indian handled the pressures of a match, that too, while playing at home. Even when the two met again at Moscow, in the 2001 World championship pre-quarterfinals, Anand came out superior.
After Anand stopped Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov to retain the title on Monday, Dreev was least surprised at the verdict. At Ghaziabad, as the top seed of the on-going Commonwealth championship, Dreev said, “I always expected Anand to win because he is a tricky player. Anand has the match experience and the way he beat Vladimir Kramnik in the last world title match (in 2008), he was my obvious favourite. When we played in 1991, I knew he was very talented and destined to go far. Since then, Anand has become a very strong player. MEven from our junior days, I've admired his understanding of the game.”
Incidentally, the day Anand tamed Dreev, Dibyendu Barua became the country's second Grandmaster. Barua, the country's first child prodigy who promised what Anand eventually went on to achieve, was equally elated to watch old friend toppling Topalov.
“I think, the experience and temperament of Anand made the difference. Considering Topalov's attacking style, Anand's approach was just right. Anand bounced back from the defeat in the opening game and then took the lead. He also defended well in the second half. In the final game, Anand's choice of opening gave him the psychological edge. And when it mattered, Anand held his nerves.”
Barua's close friend and country's third Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay, described Anand's preparation, both strategically and psychologically, as crucial. “I've always maintained that Topalov is a fundamentally unsound player. That is one of the reasons why he lost his nerve in the final game. Topalov's decision to accept the pawn-offer was a wild one. On the other hand, the longer the game went, Anand looked more vulnerable. He seemed to lack stamina. That's why he erred in the eighth game and could not convert his advantage into a victory in the ninth game. In fact, I expected Anand to win well before the final game.”
Among the new generation GMs, Parimarjan Negi felt, “Topalov's strategy of tiring out Anand did not work. At some stage, Topalov did overestimate his chances. It was a tense battle and that reflected in the number of mistakes seen in the 12 games. It was very thrilling and Anand kept his cool in the crunch situation.”
Abhijeet Gupta, one of the performing Indian youngsters in recent years, said, “Anand not only showed better nerves but also made fewer mistakes. It was particularly heartening to see Anand fighting back after losing the opener and again in several games where Topalov seemed to hold the upper hand.”
Abhijit Kunte made an interesting point when he said,” Anand unleashed the ‘novelties' early in the match and that unsettled Topalov in the first half. With this, perhaps, Anand has shown a new way to prepare, a clear departure from what the players did in the past.”
Tejas Bakre described the victory as a “fabulous one” and said, “Anand's preparation made the huge difference. He was ready to the challenges Topalov hurled at him. In the end, the better player clearly won.”