:: Interview with Viswanathan Anand

India’s 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 status.
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 draw.
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 the tournament?
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 just great.
SCHAACK: Does that mean you will not prepare at all for Chess960?
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 players.
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 forget. (laughs)
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 well.
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 Championship?
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 Mexico.
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 matches?
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.

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