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Anand wins return crack at Carlsen
When he lost his world title last November in an indifferent display against Norwegian star Magnus Carlsen, the chess world was ready to write off 44-year-old Vishwanathan Anand as an ageing phenomenon whose glory days were all but over.
After all, the Indian giant had already made his claim to chess immortality by a five-time conquest of the world championship, a 19-year feat that may well remain unblemished in the history books. Also, his humiliation at the hands of the young Norwegian was so complete that it seemed to mark a point of his decline.
But to the amazement, if not the delight, of chess lovers across the globe, the Tiger from Chennai has now demonstrated that the royal game also has its glorious uncertainties.
Anand, who had failed to win a game in his clash with Carlsen, played unbeaten in the recent Candidates tournament earning a handsome victory against seven of the world’s best and a rematch against the brilliant youngster who had dethroned him.
The Indian icon won three games and drew eleven in the double round-robin elimination contest in Khanty Mansiyisk. He finished on eight and a half points, a full point ahead of second-placed Segey Karjakin. His marathon 91-move draw against the Russian in the penultimate round assured him of an unassailable lead after top seed Levon Aronian suffered a painful upset against world No. 43 Dimitry Andrekin.
Anand opened his re-match campaign with a spectacular win over pre-tournament favourite Aronian, skillfully trapping his opponent’s knight at the edge of the board.
In the third round, the ex-champion crushed Mamedyarov with a tactical onslaught, a clear indication that he was back in top form. Round nine produced the turning point as Kramnik and Aronian, both hot on his heels, went under while Anand dispatched his old rival Vaselin Topalov.
Clearly working in Anand’s favour also was the quality of the Candidates where every combatant was capable of bringing down a fancied opponent. And so the story went. The final table made for strange reading, with one player undefeated and every one else losing at least twice.
The Times of India observed: “It is clear that despite losing his ability to churn out masterpieces, Anand’s solidity and risk free chess proved to be a big factor in the Candidates.”
Some commentators have hailed the 44-year-old Indian’s victory as “one of the greatest comebacks in chess history.”
So far, of course, Anand’s performance is certainly impressive, but others feel that his “comeback” would not really be complete if he fails to regain the world title from the young Norwegian who relieved him of it last November.
Whatever the case, the amiable Indian genius has now become the second oldest player in FIDE world chess championship history to win a rematch. Only Vicktor Korchnoi was older (50) when he earned a rematch with Karpov in 1981. Mikhail Botvinnik also dethroned Mikhail Tal in 1961 at the age of 50 but he benefited from the policy of a direct rematch.
Now what do the commentators say about Anand’s chances of achieving an unbelievable sixth reign as world chess champion?
“It’s hard to say if Anand is playing any better than he played against me,” says Carlsen. “But then Chennai was a different kind of game. He is more pragmatic in his approach, maybe too pragmatic at times.”
The legendary Kasparov tweets: “Anand will be the underdog to Carlsen, clearly. But chess history has shown rematches have their own dynamics. Rarely a repeat of the first.”
English GM Nigel Short prophesied that Anand would not succeed in recapturing the world title because “top class chess is a young man’s game.”
One commentator sent this message to Carlsen: “This is not the same Vishy you faced last year. Vishy is coming back for his throne.”
DR’s guess: We’ll just have to wait and see.