The year 2007 should rank among the more significant ones in Viswanathan Anand’s illustrious career. He remained World No. 1 for nine months, crossed the 2800-rating barrier for the second time and regained the World title, now unified.
Unlike the knockout format that saw Anand triumph in 2000, the World championship in Mexico City was a double round-robin affair involving eight elite players ranked within the first 14 of world rankings.
It was expected to be a race between Anand and title-holder Vladimir Kramnik, the Russian who toppled the 2005 winner Veselin Topalov in their controversial championship match in 2006.
In fact, Kramnik joined the fray only after FIDE granted his wish for a one-time right to challenge the winner. It was already agreed that should Kramnik win in Mexico, Topalov would earn a rematch.
Among the other six players — Russia’s Peter Svidler, Alexander Morozevich and Alexander Grischuk, Israel’s Boris Gelfand, Hungary’s Peter Leko and Armenia’s Levon Aronian — a surprise winner could not be ruled out.
As it turned out, Anand never trailed in this 14-round battle. Victories over Aronian in the second round, Svidler in the fifth and Grischuk in the seventh reflected his form. Anand was upbeat at the halfway stage, and the victory over Morozevich in the 11th round only reinforced his claim to the title.
Kramnik and Gelfand chased Anand but had some catching up to do. Leading by 1.5 points when Kramnik played Gelfand in the penultimate round, Anand faced his first severe test against Grischuk.
The tailender raised visions of bringing down Anand and doing Gelfand and Kramnik a favour.
But Anand’s defensive skills came to the fore, and Grischuk missed a trick in the resultant drawn game. The next day, Anand drew quickly with Leko to regain the crown.
“Yes, it was scary,” said Anand, recalling the escape against Grischuk. “In 2000, I got a scare in the match against Alexander Khalifman, and I was virtually eliminated. In 2007, it happened against Grischuk.
“If I had lost, it would have been very painful. To save that was very important. So close to the title, you have an accident and lose the game. Suddenly, all the certainties of the tournament are over and you have to start all over again with a half-point lead.”
Did Kramnik and Gelfand’s progress worry Anand? “I tried not to look back, but still I noticed my lead was slightly narrowed. Okay, only up to a point. That’s why it was so important against Grischuk. By drawing (with Grischuk), it was all in my hands.
“All I had to do was draw (against Leko) and I didn’t have to depend on other players’ results. Had I lost to Grischuk, it could have become very complicated — which tie-breaker, who does what, I don’t know. So I was very glad to avoid that.”
Did he plan anything different for Leko in the final round? “I remembered (Mikhail) Tal’s saying: ‘When your hand plays one way and your heart plays the other, it never goes well.’ So I decided to play very solid for a draw.”
Asked of his favourite, if any, among the four victories, Anand said: “All were very difficult, very interesting games. The one with Svidler required a lot of energy, same with Grischuk and Aronian. Of course, the one with Morozevich went on for ever. He just kept fighting. So it is very difficult to make a choice.”
Having won the World title in two different formats, Anand chose not to compare his triumphs.
“It is difficult to say which one is more fulfilling than the other. It is like asking me which hand I prefer. Every format and every player has a difficult challenge,” he said.
“To finish such a tournament undefeated, I am certainly proud of the result. I remember how happy I was after Tehran. I don’t think I’m much happier now.”