Tuesday, March 25, 2014
It's Anand's tournament to win or lose
by Ashish Magotra
Mar 24, 2014
The Candidates 2014 has seen a rebirth of Viswanathan Anand. In the eyes of many, the Indian Grandmaster was a lost force after his losing his world title in the match against Magnus Carlsen.
In that match, Vishy was simply unable to force the pace against the Norwegian wizard who almost played with a computer-like precision through the game. The opening preparation was supposed to be Anand's strong point but throughout the match-up, Carlsen kept ensuring that he emerged with playable positions.
From that point on, he initially ground out draws and that Vishy starting making errors; costly errors that cost him the games and the title. In the press conferences that followed the matches, Vishy seemed a little lost perhaps even pissed. It seemed to rob him of his enthusiasm for the sport itself.
A break followed -- not a very long one -- before he turned up in London to play the Classic. But the results weren't very kind to him; he seemed beatable. He bowed out in the quarters at London and finished dead last in the Zurich Challenge (Classic) and in third place in the Blitz section of the Zurich Challenge.
So as the draw from the Candidates 2014 -- a tournament that decides the next challenger to Carlsen's crown -- was announced, Anand was given no chance. He was thought to be vulnerable and many experts reckoned that he would be targeted by the others.
However, Anand has been stunning from the get-go. He has played with the kind of freedom that brought back memories of his best form.
He started off with a win against favourite Levon Aronian. Aronian then said that he often doesn't start very well in tournaments, so it was dismissed as an aberration. But the 44-year-old India, the oldest competitor, hasn't put a foot wrong since.
Wins over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (while playing black) and Veselin Topalov have ensured that he leads by a full point over his closest competitor Levon Aronian, who has five points.
The performance has also led former chess world champion Garry Kasparov to come out and praise Anand.
"As an retiree, always good to see the oldest player in the field doing well! Those who said Anand should retire should be embarrassed," said Kasparov on Twitter.
Vishy's play has been solid but the most noticeable change from his match against Carlsen is how he is managing to control the openings again. In nine consecutive games, he has managed to emerge from the openings with very playable positions. And when he does have the edge, he has been very precise. It's almost like he has taken the lessons learned during the Carlsen defeat to heart and emerged an even better player.
Also at times, he seems to have used the preparation he made for the Carlsen match against his opponents. While Carlsen would often break it down in the early going, this time round the others have struggled. It may have something to do with the difference between tournament and match play too. Here they have prepare for many GMs as compared to a match where you focus on one opponent.
"How could anyone count out a 5-time World Champion before Candidates Tournament started, or say he had no chance to qualify?" wondered GM Susan Polgar on twitter after he beat Topalov.
And that's certainly something everyone is thinking about. It's still not over but with five rounds to go, Anand is in the driver's seat. It's his tournament to win or... to lose. Any which way, Carlsen will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings.