Viswanathan Anand’s journey to the 2010 World championship triumph was an unusual one, perhaps the most interesting of his career, considering the factors and actors involved.
The champion was to face home favourite Veselin Topalov at Sofia, where a couple of months earlier the Bulgarian had beaten Gata Kamsky to become the challenger. Anand reached Frankfurt from Madrid on April 15 as part of his plan to reach Sofia a week ahead of the scheduled start to the 12-game match.
However, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, and the resultant ash cloud forced closure of most of Europe’s airspace. With millions of travellers stranded all over Europe and alternative travel options heavily booked, Team Anand finally opted for an arduous road trip, spread over 40 hours travelling across Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
Finally, when their black Mercedes Sprinter reached Sofia on April 20, it was 4 a.m.! Later, the organisers agreed to defer the start of the match by a day, against Anand’s request for three. As though things were not bad enough for Anand, he lost the opening game in 30 moves, and admitted to having forgotten his preparation on the 23rd turn.
“It was one of those ridiculous moments that you are not supposed to have, but it happens. The only thing I told myself was if it had to happen, it is best (for it) to happen in the first round. You still have time to recover,” Anand said.
“But it was the worst possible start to the match.”
Anand’s spirited comeback in the second game, a 43-move victory, restored the balance. The champion settled down with a draw in the third game, and struck again with white pieces in the fourth.
“In Game two, Topalov was doing fine out of the opening, but made a mistake. I pounced and made some very accurate moves. I mean, technically, it was still difficult, but I managed to wrap it up in some six or seven moves from that point.
“I thought it was efficient. Game four was nice. It was just a beautiful game… some lovely tactics there,” recalled Anand.
With the Indian still ahead by a point at the halfway stage, Topalov stepped it up and won the eighth game.
In Anand’s words: “The second half was difficult for me, from Game seven to 10. He started taking the initiative during this phase. In Game eight, he did press me; he had a good idea, but having escaped that only to blunder and lose, was bad.
“And in Game 10, when I was losing, I thought after the last three games, if I were to lose and fall behind, it will be very difficult (to bounce back).
“Once I had saved Games 10 and 11 by hanging in there, I was okay.”
Before the final game, speculation was rife that Topalov would go flat out with white pieces to avoid the rapid tie-break games. Two factors fuelled this thinking — Anand’s intimidating record in shorter time-formats and Topalov’s loss to Vladimir Kramnik in the rapid phase of their 2006 championship match.
As it turned out, Topalov took a gamble, and stretched it too far. Anand punished him in 56 moves to keep the title.
“It was nice to clinch it with a win, and that too, with black. You know, in the last eight decisive games that we played, Topalov won four times with white, and I won three. So, after many years of matches between us, this was the first victory for black. It felt nice,” Anand said.
In the days that followed, Anand admitted that his team of seconds was a bit worried on learning that Topalov was using a 112 core “computer cluster” that worked at mind-boggling speed.
Anand then stunned the chess world by revealing his “human cluster” that included Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik.
Candidly, Anand acknowledged their contributions were priceless in what he considered his toughest test!