It is always a pleasure to interview Viswanathan Anand. The Grandmaster was nursing a sprained back when Special Contributing Correspondent Shobha Warrier met him. After an extremely hectic fortnight in India he was preparing to leave for Spain the next morning. Despite the pain, despite having given umpteen interviews, he was relaxed and patient, and spoke for nearly an hour.
2003 has been an amazing year for you. Mainz Classic, World Rapid, Corsica Rapid... the list of titles you collected is quite long. Do you consider it the best year of your career?
It is a very difficult choice. Generally I don't compare. I don't say this is the best and this is the worst.
You are forced to compare when people like us ask you questions...
Yes, okay, 2003 has been a very important year. If I look back, I would say '97, '98, 2000, 2002 and 2003 have all been very good years. During 2002, at least the first half or the first three months of it, were not good. But the remaining nine months were excellent. Same was the case with 2000. But 2003 was more or less good throughout.
So, yes, 2003 has been quite good. I have a feeling that this is a year I should remember very fondly.
You are now described as the 'King of Rapid chess.' Was it a conscious decision on your part to play more rapid chess?
You don't prepare for one or the other [types of play]. Most of the time, my preparation is simply chess preparation, which can then be used either in a rapid tournament or in a classical one. What happens though is in rapid tournaments you can take more risks, speculate a little bit more, as there is less time [for both players]. But I don't actually make a conscious decision only to play rapid tournaments or something like that. I would be happy to play classic tournaments also.
Sure, I like the rapid format. It is over in an hour. Nowadays, the chess world is evolving that way. If you look at the number of new tournaments in classical chess, there are hardly any; maybe two new tournaments. I can say Linares and Dortmund are the mainstay of classical chess. But if you look at rapid chess, many new ones have come up.
Corsica started six years ago and is now well established; Mainz is one of the leading events; there are a couple of tournaments in Iceland. The number of new rapid tournaments is increasing very fast.
Is it because it is more spectator friendly?
Yes. I think it is more spectator friendly; and with computers, people are able to prepare so much more. And they want more games played in the same amount of time. Then, rapid chess becomes a big advantage. It is a sign of the times. Everybody is so rushed nowadays.
Can we compare it to cricket where spectators prefer one-day tournaments to Test matches?
Exactly. I don't remember ever watching a Test match. It is just too long. Normally, one watches only one-day matches. Yes, it [chess] is very similar in that sense. Like the tie-break made a difference in tennis when it was introduced.
I think you need to keep experimenting with formats. People don't like monotony.
You said you don't make any special preparation for rapid chess as such. You also said you take more risks and speculate more in rapid chess. Does that mean mental preparation is different in the case of rapid chess?
Not too much. In classical chess, you have so much more time. What happens is switching from one to the other is difficult. It is easier to switch from classical to rapid, but not the other way round, because from classical to rapid you have to go a little bit faster, which I find easy. The other way is tough because your hand is itching to move and you have to keep telling yourself, no, no.
The second thing is: in classical chess, in the last half an hour or one hour, you have to be absolutely sure what you are doing is correct or very close to that. It is very difficult to bluff. Having said that, they [the two forms of play] are so different in another sense that in classical chess most of the games are decided in the time scramble, from move 30 to move 40, when they [the players] are running out of time; they make some mistakes.
That's where the decision happens. Or, in move 60, that's where the decision happens. So, even those who say classical chess is the best, must admit that all the mistakes come in the time scramble.
But there's no alternative. People want decisions; they don't want perfect games. They want excitement; it is a sport.
So it is much more difficult for me to slow down than go faster! So I prefer this switch. It has worked well for me too, because normally the year starts with Wijk Aan Zee (Corus tournament -- January 9 to 25), then comes Monaco (March 19 to April 2) and then there is a break. I play some rapid tournaments after that, and then comes Dortmund, and then Mainz, where I have to go faster.
This year's Mainz Chess Classic, where you had a see-saw battle with Judit Polgar, was one of the most exciting tournaments from the spectators' point of view. Do you also consider Mainz as one of the most interesting tournaments of this year? Or was the World Rapid Championship more exciting?
Mainz was very interesting. The World Rapid also was interesting. True, there were more draws, but there were a lot of very interesting and exciting games. I have seen what excites spectators is when moves come out fast and the advantage keeps swinging back and forth.
Yes, Mainz was exceptional, because neither of us could control anything. We had no control over the results. We would play and suddenly one person would win. Three days in a row, I had to win the second session. I was lucky I managed to shut her [Polgar] out.
You lost the first game but finally managed to defeat her 5-3. Was that one of the toughest tournaments?
Yes. I didn't expect to have such a tough battle. Already, the number of decisive games is going up. If I remember correctly, I didn't win a single game with black in 2001 and 2002. I always won with white. But this year it has been nice and mixed. In Wijk Aan Zee, I had two wins with black; in Monaco, I had several; in Denmark, I had several. In Dortmnund, I won two with black and only one game with white. In Mainz, again, quite mixed. In general, I started to win more black games, against [Ruslan] Ponomariov, [Anatoly] Karpov, [Peter] Leko, so on...
This year I am playing more aggressively, losing a few more games but winning many more. My style is becoming a bit sharper. Still, I didn't expect eight decisive games at Mainz Classic.
Finally, when you won, was it a big relief, or you were just satisfied?
Well, 4-3 was a big relief for me. When I won 4-3, I felt things are under control. I was quite sure that if I didn't provoke her or try to make the position unnaturally sharp, I would win. I wouldn't say I was completely in control; I felt confident. The first game worried me.
Was it unexpected of Polgar to play that well?
I think this year she has impressed. What happened against [Boris] Gelfand was she kept pushing too much and lost 6-2. She thought she was the favourite and overdid it. And Gelfand, in fact, can be very dangerous. But at Mainz, she was more cautious and not under pressure. We were playing in Germany whereas she played against Gelfand in Hungary (Polgar is Hungarian). So, she might have felt the pressure.
Gelfand was very alert tactically, and whenever he got a chance he pounced on it. I was not able to do that in Mainz. Many days I was winning and then I slipped away and lost. I tried to somehow imitate Gelfand's play. I was trying to follow a strategy to play sharp openings in both colours, but it didn't work for me.
Then, in the final round, I tried some flexible positions and it worked. If you play the sharp openings, you have a responsibility to play them very accurately. Gelfand has that accuracy. In other tournaments I had that accuracy, but in Mainz it just wasn't there! It happens sometimes.
Was beating Vladimir Kramnik at the World Rapid, Cap d'Agde, in the final sweet for you? He's ranked No. 2 and you are No. 3
Yes, it was. Vladimir and I get along very well. We are quite good friends. So it's not like I feel some sort of unhealthy rivalry; it's quite healthy.
It's not like the kind of rivalry you have with Kasparov...
Exactly. With Kasparov it is different. You really want to defeat him, but with Kramnik, both of us like to do well. I would be lying if I said I don't want to finish ahead of him. We fight quite hard also, but if I beat Kasparov, I would savour it even more. With Kramnik, it's more easy going. That's because we are good friends.
There's nothing personal in beating Vladimir. Nonetheless, he's a very good player and I won the game in very good style also. All along it was a beautiful day! That day I had not prepared very well for the match. I had prepared for black, not for white. Suddenly I had to do something with white. I just decided to play something spontaneously and it worked out brilliantly. It was one of those days when you feel you had done a good day's job!
It just happens?
Yes, it just happens! You feel somehow the creative juices are flowing and you play a good game; afterwards you think, that's nice!
Your rook sacrifice against [Viorel] Bologan at Dortmund is described as the novelty of the year. Was it a spontaneous move or, did you plan it in advance?
The position we had was what I had against Ponomoriov, but with the opposite colours, the previous year. I think it was move 12. I had to add more spice to this. Ponomoriov's second was Bologan. Now I was in the place of Ponomoriov and Bologan where I was. We had the same position again. And I remember the move that I most feared when I was playing black, and used it as white, and then he understood that he was completely busted. The funny thing is, during my game with Ponomoriov I saw the move only at the board, because it was not published or even mentioned anywhere. It simply doesn't exist in chess knowledge.
In fact, before this game with Bologan, I had mentioned it only to two people: one was [Krishnan] Sasikiran, and the second one was my second. After the fourth round, I told my second, I think Bologna is going to go for my game against Ponomoriov, and let's keep this for him.
So that move was not spontaneous at all. It was total home preparation. The game also was equally good; it was a brilliant game.
Now it is said it will win the year's best game...
I hope it will win either the best game or the novelty of the year!
Which was the toughest tournament of 2003?
Linares (Anand was joint third with Garry Kasparov there) was tough, I would say. Two times I had a chance to finish first and both the times I lost positions that I could draw in my sleep. Sometimes the tournament's tension makes people do such things. At home, if you look at it, you will never make such a mistake. I was getting quite tired also. In the sixth round, I had played 80 moves and it had gone to six hours and 45 minutes. Next day, the fatigue caught me. The same thing happened at the end of the tournament.
If I had half a point more I would have been joint first! I didn't feel it was a big disaster, but it was a slightly bitter aftertaste! Right after that, I went to Monaco and won.
Design: Imran Sheikh
Part II: 'I have a lot of chess left in me'