In life, recent failures are seldom taken as pointers to potential success in the near future. It is often assumed that longer the period without success, more the chances of continued failure.
Even the much-believed ‘law of averages’ does not provide the solace or inspiration to a down-but-not-out warrior. It certainly was different this time for one such performer.
In case of five-time champion Viswanathan Anand, the success in the World Candidates championship was best timed. The loss of world title to Magnus Carlsen last November was followed by some below par showings in London and Zurich. Some uncharitable elements believed it was time for Anand to retire. The thought gained momentum in the chess world even though he had done nothing to deserve this dismissive response.
After retaining the World title in 2008, 2010 and 2012, Anand finally handed over the reigns to the strongest player in the world. His form, in tournaments that he chose to play, was nowhere close to the one seen before he regained the world crown in 2007.
Between 2007 and 2012, Anand consciously had reduced his tournament appearances, concentrating hard on the world title-matches. He remained the world champion. It was only in 2013 that Anand chose to play more tournaments, did well in January in the Tata Steel championship, earned the Novelty of the Year Award for his victory over world No. 2 Levon Aronian. Next month, he beat a six-player field to win the Grenke Chess Classic in the German city of Baden Baden to end his title-drought.
Admittedly, Anand’s victories over players from the world’s top 10 bracket were rare. The number of draws increased and he was seen defending more. In three years, beginning March 1, 2011, Anand’s rating slipped from 2817 to 2770 and his world ranking from No. 1 to No. 8.
Pleasantly, in the past three weeks, Anand reproduced the form and magic of gold. Once the first-round victory over Aronian put him in the lead, he never trailed through the 14-round event and won it with a round to spare.
Victories over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Topalov showed Anand was not missing opportunities to press home the advantage. He could have won against Dmitry Andreikin, too, but chose to play it safe without hampering his qualifying prospects. The defeat of second-placed Aronian in the penultimate round left him needing just a draw to claim the title with a round to spare.
Anand’s return to form also coincided with the inconsistent run of the other aspirants. But credit to Anand for getting hold of his game when it mattered. With the rise in confidence, the ‘infectious’ smile was back. He missed very little over the board and restored the belief of his fans.
By gaining the right to challenge Carlsen, Anand has regained the respect of the newly-converted doubters and reinforced the faith of those waiting for him to strike back. The unbeaten performance brought with it immense pride.
For now, the discussion on how Anand needs to go about his preparations against Carlsen, can wait. It is time to hail a tenacious champion.