The lightning kid who learnt to win match-play battles

Archiman Bhaduri, TNN | Oct 31, 2013, 02.46 AM IST

It was the autumn of 1986 and Praveen Thipsaywas the biggest thing in Indian chess. He was aspiring to be the first Grandmaster from India and there was a lot of anticipation around the Nationals that year.

There was a rider though. Fide (the regulating body) had changed the rule and a player had to complete 40 moves in two hours instead of 210 minutes, and most was finding it tough to cope. But a 16-year-old from Chennai was doing it easy — what the others couldn’t finish in 120 minutes,V Anand was doing in 20.

The fidgety teenager, biting his nails, had enough time to spare, to walk around the arena and survey the others’ boards, while his rivals buckled under time pressure. Anand, obviously, went on to win the title.

By 1987, he was the world junior champion, and by the time Sachin Tendulkar made his international debut in 1989 against Pakistan, the lightning kid had become India’s first GM.

The careers of these two Indian superstars panned out in similar fashion over the next two decades -there’s a remarkable coincidence that both Tendulkar and Anand will be playing two of the most crucial series of their lives simultaneously in November.

If Anand wins the World Chess Championship beating the World No. 1 who is 20 years his junior, the chess fraternity will hail him as the greatest champion ever along side Garry Kasparov.

Winning his sixth title, he would then establish his writ over the game for a duration that would nearly rival the period when Kasparov was the undisputed numero uno. But if Anand loses, it may become difficult for him to make a comeback and stake a claim to the world title.

Anand, just like Carlsen today, was a brilliant tournament player in the beginning of his career, when he used to beat the likes of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in one-off games. But camethe Matchplay format, where a player had to take on the same opponent through a series of games over a long period of time, Anand was found wanting.

For instance, in 1991, he had no clue how to counter Karpov in the quarterfinal while in the 1995 final, despite initial resistance against Kasparov, he was eventually thrashed by the Russian super GM.

In fact, he did not win a title in the Matchplay format till 2008. All his major victories came either in tournament or round robin format. It was around this time that Anand understood that if he had to earn the real respect of the chess world, he had to beat his rivals in Matchplay.

Anand, too, began curbing his natural all-out attacking instinct. “He used to frustrate his opponents with his speed in the initial years. But slowly he changed,” GM Dibyendu Barua, Anand’s contemporary, said.

Anand also understood the need to have a closed group of seconds who would work with him. Thus came the likes of Pieter Nielsen, Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Radoslaw Wojtaszek on board as Anand prepared for the 2008 face-off against Garry Kasparov-slayer Kramnik, who was the favourite.


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