An intriguing World Championship clash is all set to unfold
BONN: They are two of a kind. In the world of chess, they have done enough to be counted among the greats.
Viswanathan Anand, the strongest non-Soviet player after Bobby Fischer up against Vladimir Kramnik, the man who dethroned Garry Kasparov, arguably the strongest player the game has seen. This is the battle the chess world has been awaiting, for a long, long time.
From Tuesday, the two will cross swords at the Arts and Exhibition Hall here over 12 games, and if needed, four rapid tiebreak games, in what promises to go down in the glorious history of world chess as one of the most intriguing World Championship clashes ever.
The prize-fund of €1.5 million is certainly not what the players have on their minds. If Anand has to prove that he is as good in match-play as he is in tournaments, this is the time.
He is clearly the most versatile player in the post-Fischer era that commenced in 1975. He has proved his worth in almost every variant of the game — classical, rapid, blitz, advanced and blindfold.
Chance to break jinx
Over the next three weeks, Anand has an opportunity to silence all those who have doubted his abilities in match-play situations. Indeed, he has twice lost to Anatoly Karpov (1992 and 1998), and once each to Gata Kamsky (1994) and Kasparov (1995). Now Anand has a chance to break the ‘K’ jinx when he plays Kramnik.
Since the discontinuation of the Candidates matches over a decade ago, Anand has established himself as one of the most consistent players in chess history. The time has come for Anand to silence Kramnik’s repeated assertions that the Indian only won two tournaments (in 2000 and 2007) that were called the World Championships.
Kramnik, with World championship match-victories over Kasparov (2000), Peter Leko (2004) and Veselin Topalov (2006) has indeed claimed the right to be called the strongest match-player after Kasparov. Now he is making use of this one-time right to challenge the World champion after losing the crown to Anand last year.
It promises to be a very curious match. Perhaps, for the first time in history, two players ranked as low as five and six in the world are involved in a title match. But then, rankings do not matter when at stake is the title of the World Champion.
Too much should not be read into Anand’s results in the Grand Slam Chess Finals at Bilbao that hosted the strongest ever tournament last month. One recalls how Nigel Short finished last in Linares in 1992 ahead of his 1993 World title match against Garry Kasparov.
It was partly clear that Anand was keeping some opening secrets at Bilbao and did not go flat out. Lack of motivation could also be a reason. He had indicated that he wanted to get the feel of some serious play before facing Kramnik here.
It was not difficult to understand Anand’s predicament at Bilbao. He had been preparing for Kramnik for the past few months and Bilbao proved an interference, that took away valuable time without any gain.
Sub-consciously, though, Anand has doused expectations and taken the pressure off himself. As things stand, he is not carrying any unnecessary baggage of mounting hopes at home and among his fans around the world.
No chess player wants to do badly. But Anand will not be too disappointed from his rare last-finish at Bilbao. He knows how to handle disappointments and come back strongly after every poor result.
For instance, after a dismal show as the reigning World Champion at Dortmund in 2001, Anand said, “What do you do with corrupt files (in your laptop)? Get rid of them. Right? For me, Dortmund was like a corrupt file. Unless I get rid of it, I cannot proceed.” He did the same with Bilbao.
Kramnik, on the other hand, is known to be very choosy about his tournaments. He loves match-play and has lost only to good friend Boris Gelfand and Alexie Shirov. He is more of a safety-first player — with seatbelts fastened and airbags ready to come to his rescue. His risk free game can be very dull at times but he is capable of playing in an interesting way.
Preparations will obviously hold the key to the outcome. They are both going to have a very high level of preparations. Their team of seconds is going to assume importance once the action hots up.
In the initial stages, both sides are going to test each other without compromising on the element of surprises in the opening phase.
Compared to Kramnik, Anand is a naturally gifted player and possesses incredibly quick vision. He has become tough over the years. He is not known to be ruthless over the board. He has this uncanny knack of killing his rivals softly.
Now the knives are out and the battle is about to start. Soon, there will be only one man standing.