Chess Super Star continues along his chosen path
Vishy Anand looks at the Chess Classic as the final test
for the World Championship
Due to his continued success, Viswanathan Anand has
become the front man of the Chess Classic.As the
strongest player in the world, he joins the competition
in Mainz as the favourite to win. In a conversation with
Harry Schaack, Viswanathan Anand explains his thoughts
on the new format, how he considers his chances, and
provides answers to many other questions. Vishy Anand
spoke to Harry Schaack right after his team from
Baden-Baden won the German team championship, the “Bundesliga”
(translation by Mark Vogelgesang).
SCHAACK: Vishy Anand,
right now, there is more than just one reason to
congratulate you. First, you are the number one player
in FIDE’s world rankings. Following your victory in the
most competitive tournament in Morelia / Linares, you
are now for the first time in your career the highest
rated player in the world. What does this mean to you?
ANAND: It feels great to win the strongest tournament in
the world and become the number one player at the same
time. I think for any professional athlete, it’s a
fantastic feeling to lead the world rankings.
SCHAACK: Second, I would like to congratulate you for
winning the German team championship, the „Bundesliga“,
together with your team OSC Baden-Baden. In your career,
you have achieved much success for yourself. But how
does it feel to win with a team?
ANAND: Well, it is something special indeed. We tried in
vain to win this championship for a couple of years.
This year, we managed to defend our title for the first
time, and are extremely happy about that. We were
regarded the clear favourite to win, but in the
preceding years, we were not always able to justify that
SCHAACK: Are you a team player? Do you play differently
when playing in a team?
ANAND: For me, it does not make a difference. I play my
game. Although it can be quite frustrating sometimes.
You look around and see that your team mates are losing,
as happened in the last round, when we were playing
against Hamburg. With a lot of luck, we got away with a
SCHAACK: Isn’t it a bit strange to play in a team,
together with players who are normally your opponents?
ANAND: No, I have good relations with most players. That
shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider how often
we meet every year. Team spirit was excellent in
Baden-Baden, which is also due to the fact that our
sponsor, Wolfgang Grenke, put in a lot of effort to make
us all comfortable.
SCHAACK: Let’s talk about this year’s Chess Classic in
Mainz. For many years, you have been fighting matches in
Mainz. This year, the format of the event will change.
There will be two tournaments with four players, one for
rapid chess, the other for Chess960, and the players
will be the same for both tournaments. What are your
thoughts on this change of format?
ANAND: It will be a new experience for me. At the end of
the 90s, I played in tournaments of 4 players, but
during the last couple of years, I got accustomed to
playing matches in Mainz. But playing matches might at
some point become a bit boring for the spectators. I for
myself like the change in format.
SCHAACK: Compared to playing a match, is it easier to
play in a tournament with four players?
ANAND: It is different. I need to prepare for more than
one player, but not with the same intensity that is
necessary when preparing for a match. When you prepare
for a match, you have to dig a lot deeper in your
preparation. When playing several opponents, you can be
somewhat broader in your choice of openings. In
addition, tournaments with several opponents have their
own dynamics. For me, it’s nice. I like the fact that we
will be playing tournaments with four players.
SCHAACK: This year, you can defend your title as World
Champion in rapid chess for the 10th time overall, and
for the eighth time in succession. After so many
victories, how do you motivate yourself?
ANAND: When I play chess, I do not think about this at
all. If I were to do that, if I were to consider the
fact that I have won nine times in Mainz, then I would
have to conclude that my string of successes must come
to an end soon. It is much easier to look at the event
each year as if it were the first time, and to free
yourself from the burden of the past. That is why I will
not think much about this, and it will not be a burden.
SCHAACK: So you will be playing a Chess960 tournament
for the first time in your life. Do you have any
experience playing Chess960? How will you prepare for
ANAND: A couple of years ago, I played a few games with
Hans-Walter (Schmitt). And I think it is great. So far,
I haven’t had the opportunity to play in a Chess960
tournament, but I am sure it will be a great experience.
I just find it very comforting to know that I can play
half the event without any opening preparation. That’s
SCHAACK: Does that mean you will not prepare at all for
ANAND: Maybe I will play a few training games. What I
will do for sure is that I will take a close look at
some starting positions, in order to gain a feeling on
how to play an opening with a random starting position.
SCHAACK: Isn’t it very difficult to play Chess960, and
right after that, play traditional chess?
ANAND: That is possible, but I cannot answer this
question before I have played in the tournaments...
(laughs). Certainly, it is not easy to go from one
tournament to the next within one day. Maybe it will be
difficult to switch from Chess960 back to traditional
chess. But maybe it will be similar in that regard to
Monaco, where we play rapid and blindfold chess in
succession on the same day. Which is not a problem.
SCHAACK: What are your expectations? How good will you
be in Chess960?
ANAND: I have no idea.
SCHAACK: What can you say about your competitors, about
Aronian, Kasimdzhanov, and Bacrot? Against former FIDE
World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov, you suffered a
painful defeat in rapid chess in the finals of the last
Master tournament in Corse.
ANAND: Yes, indeed. But I did win against him in rapid
chess in Leon in 2005, so you cannot say that this is a
one-sided affair. But I admit that the defeat hurt. And
with their previous successes in Mainz, Bacrot and
Aronian have proven themselves as very strong Chess960
SCHAACK: Against Aronian, you won a hard fought game in
Monaco with bishops of opposite colours. But overall,
your score against him is about equal.
ANAND: Yes, he beat me in Morelia in a game that won the
brilliancy price. And shortly after that, he won a
blindfold game in Monaco. But it was me who won the
rapid game. So we are about even. If he manages to
qualify for the World Championship tournament in Mexico,
that would add another dimension to our encounter in
Mainz. But anyways, I always faced strong opponents in
Mainz. Out of four participants, two can qualify for the
World Championship, in addition to myself. Even tough
the qualification matches haven’t been played yet, Mainz
will be in a way the final test for Mexico.
SCHAACK: A while ago, you stated that two rapid games of
chess would be more exhausting for you than one
tournament game. This year, you will need to play at
least three rapid games each evening.
ANAND: Compared to previous years, the time control is
somewhat shorter, but it is not unusual for me to play
more than one rapid game per day. It will be just the
same for my opponents.
Rapid chess is more difficult than traditional chess,
because you need even more concentration, but at the
same time, the game doesn’t take as long. So if one game
ends, the next one follows right after it. As a result,
you cannot dwell on a lost game for too long. But of
course, losing still hurts. I think this has less to do
with the time control, and more with your opponent.
When playing blindfold chess, serious mistakes do
happen, as you can see at the Amber-Tournament in
Monaco. But in rapid chess, you can see the board, so
losing a game hurts more.
One important difference between slow and rapid chess is
the fact that you just cannot “give away” a tournament
in traditional chess. If you play poorly, you will lose
rating points and will slide down in the world ranking.
As a result, you just need to re-focus and re-motivate
constantly, even if the tournament does not go well.
When playing rapid chess, you can say: okay, the
tournament doesn’t go well, but nothing will happen.
Your ELO is not affected.
SCHAACK: Do you prepare yourself physically for this
kind of tournament?
ANAND: No, I go through my normal preparation. I will
exercise as usual, but not more. I talk long walks at
the Rhine, as I always do when in Mainz. But after
losing a game, I often go to the fitness club to
re-focus. I am mad and angry at myself, so I exercise to
SCHAACK: After the Chess Classic Mainz, the World
Championship tournament in Mexico is just around the
corner. How will you prepare? Compared to your
preparation in San Luis 2005, will you make changes?
ANAND: No, first and foremost, you need to rely on your
experience and see how you feel after each round. In
this tournament, all players are strong and well
prepared. I believe that the outcome of the tournament
will be decided on site. That’s when you see in what
shape each player is. You cannot prepare 100 percent for
an event like this one, as there will always be
surprises. For example, in San Louis, I did not expect
to start so well, achieving 2.5 out of 3, including this
incredible game against Adams. If a tournament goes like
that, you need to adjust your decisions accordingly. Of
course, I will go through the usual technical
preparation with my team. And I will take a close look
at my most recent tournament games. I try to anticipate
what my opponents will play, even though that is only
possible to a certain extend. Everything is decided on
site. I did not expect to be the favourite to win the
tournament in Morelia and Linares. It just went very
SCHAACK: Did something go wrong in your preparation for
the last World Championship tournament?
ANAND: No. But I did not have one months time to think
about San Luis. The schedule in professional chess is
just too tight.
SCHAACK: For you as the number one player in the world,
is it something special to play against the reigning
World Champion in a tournament about the World
ANAND: No, Vladimir Kramnik is simply a very strong
opponent, just like Topalov. But in Mexico, there will
be six other opponents, all very strong.
SCHAACK: What do you think about the new cycle?
ANAND: It is great that the World Champion is
participating in this tournament. I think, the format is
good. We need to say goodbye to the former zonal and
interzonal tournaments, where every player could
qualify. That is the past, and we need to forget about
it. We need a tournament in which the very best players
of the world, together with the reigning World Champion,
determine the next World Champion. I believe that a
tournament is the best way to determine who will be the
next World Champion.
SCHAACK: Should that tournament be held every year?
ANAND: The recent announcements from FIDE did not
clarify this point, but it would be good if this
tournament would be held at least every two years. That
would be fair. Right now, there are discussions whether
tournaments and matches should alternate, or whether
there should be a match every two years, as it was in
the past. That question remains unresolved. But for me,
it is not so important what will happen in 2015. That is
just too far away. All my thoughts are focussed on the
next World Championship in Mexico. And I am quite happy
that it is played as a tournament.
SCHAACK: It seems that there are still some open
questions. Will the winner play a match against Kramnik?
ANAND: Not everything has been decided yet. I do not
believe that any player should have this kind of
privilege. But, okay, if the winner gets a well funded
match against Kramnik, that is not the worst possible
outcome. On one hand, I believe it is wrong, on the
other hand, I do not intend to make a big fuzz about it.
In any case, it is very good that Kramnik will play in
SCHAACK: Don’t you believe that such a rule favouring
Kramnik will devalue the qualification for the World
Championships, as it provides an alternative route to a
World Championship fight, namely through well funded
ANAND: No, I don’t think so. There will be a World
Championship in Mexico, and the winner will be the World
Champion. But I have no idea what will happen next year.