“When I won the title in Mexico, one guy in the press room asked me, ‘Are you ready for your match with (Vladimir) Kramnik?’ I said, ‘I’ve just won the world title, can you give me five minutes?’
“I found it very irritating. It is almost like they are saying, ‘Yes, now that you’ve won, let’s talk about the serious thing.’ But, it helped me motivate myself more. I wanted to retain my title. I was sick of giving it up after a year.”
Relaxing in Suite 344 of Hotel Hilton in Bonn, the morning after defeating challenger Kramnik in October 2008, Viswanathan Anand was letting out his pent-up frustration and slamming his detractors for doubting his credentials as the true World champion even after his triumphs in 2000 and 2007.
Winner in the knockout and round-robin formats, Anand knew he had something to prove in the time-honoured match-play format. Match-play involves an agreed number of games with the contestants playing equal number with both colours.
In match-play, Kramnik ended Garry Kasparov’s reign in 2000, defeated Peter Leko (2004) and Veselin Topalov (2006), while Anand lost to Anatoly Karpov (1991 and 1998), Gata Kamsky (1994) and Garry Kasparov (1995).
Although Anand won the 2007 title ahead of Kramnik, the chess fraternity eagerly waited for the two to face off in their 12-game match in what is now remembered as the ‘Battle of Bonn.’
As the tension-filled drama unfolded at the Art and Exhibition Hall, it soon became clear that Anand’s pre-match preparations had caught Kramnik by surprise. The Indian was more precise in his judgement and confident of finding the right continuation while the Russian groped in unfamiliar territory.
Anand’s victories with black in the third and fifth games stunned Kramnik and his followers. The listless surrender in the sixth virtually pushed Kramnik to the point of no return.
In the second half, Anand survived a close call in the ninth, but salvaged a draw to move within half-a-point of keeping the title. He lost the 10th, spent a restless rest day and earned the much-needed draw in the 11th. Anand retained the crown — the score reading 6.5-4.5 — with a game to spare!
Anand shared his thoughts once the mission was accomplished.
“I am very proud that I could win by such a margin here. It (the margin) could have been even three points. That would have been incredible against someone who doesn’t lose three games in a year!”
Anand agreed his superior preparations had dictated the course of the match. “I am sure his preparations were excellent but we managed to show what we had. But the thing is to get what you want to do correctly. Before the match, I thought it was a nice excuse to open with the queen pawn (with white). It has been on my ‘To Do’ list for a while. So, I thought the match was a good excuse to start. That paid off as well.”
Quality of the games
Reflecting on the quality of the games, Anand noted, “As high as many other matches. Matches are generally dominated by tension. These are not contests about who is the best player. It’s just an ambush. You try and guess what the other person will do. You prepare unpleasant surprises here and there. You take into account weaknesses. It is not a pure chess contest or a contest for the truth. In that sense, I think the quality was pretty good. Certainly there were mistakes. But there always will be mistakes otherwise you won’t have a decision.”
Finally, did the first World champion in three different formats have any favourite among them?
Anand played it safe. “You know, the first at Tehran was obviously special. Mexico was beautiful because you win the unified title for the first time, and here (in Bonn) you hold it. Both are very nice. You really can’t choose between memories.”