11 December, 2015. One year ago. It was Viswanathan Anand's 46th birthday. Dressed in a white shirt and a brown sweater, the Indian champion entered the auditorium of the Olympia center. He was up against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the seventh round of the London Chess Classic.
Anand opened the game with 1.e4 and Vachier-Lagrave responded with the Najdorf. Anand looked unsure, and in 34 moves landed in a completely lost position. He duly resigned and left the tournament hall. Suddenly, the atmosphere turned glum at the venue. The birthday boy had lost and nobody could wish him. That's the life of a serious professional chess player. First is the quality of your games and results, later comes birthdays and milestones.
Fast forward one year. The date is 10 December 2016. It's the second round of the London Chess Classic and Anand once again had the white pieces against Vachier-Lagrave.
Anand pushed his e-pawn two squares forward and the Frenchman without any hesitation replied with his pet Najdorf variation. It’s a clear invitation to a full-fledged battle. This time, Anand had done his homework. He blitzed out his opening moves and put his young opponent under tremendous pressure. The game was extremely complicated, but the Madras Tiger emerged victorious after playing some highly imaginative and fearless chess. The finish of the game is very pretty. In order to show you my point, I will make use of an old study (study is a composed position) by Cheron.
In spite of the limited material on the board, White can win the game with the help of a knight sacrifice. He gives up his knight with 1.Ng7+ Black takes the knight with 1…Nxg7 and now the pawn moves forward 2.h6.
For an experienced chess player, this is a pattern he will never forget. The knight is unable to stop the pawn from reaching the last rank and becoming a queen. Try as hard as you may, but the knight is very clumsily placed. Thousands of such patterns are stored in the mind of a chess genius like Anand.
It’s just like the Cheron study! Anand took the pawn on b7 and Maxime resigned the game. The a-pawn will soon queen or Black will have to give up a lot of material.
It was at this moment that I realized what an amazing co-incidence this was. Life had turned a full circle. A loss against the Najdorf Defence and a dejected birthday was now replaced with a win and early 47th birthday celebrations. Anand has been a role model for many chess players all over the world and more than words, he has always let his actions, and games do the talking.
This Anand-Vachier-Lagrave episode stretching over a year teaches us that with patience, consistent hard work, meticulous preparation and learning from your mistakes, you can keep improving at the game of chess at just about any age. But to maintain the level of play that Anand does is just unbelievable.
The full game of Anand along with some instructive analysis can be found on the ChessBase India newspage.
In the other results of round two, Wesley So defeated Michael Adams by playing a long drawn out endgame. With this win Wesley becomes the sole leader of the tournament with 2.0/2. The boy from Philippines, who recently changed his Federation to USA, became only the twelfth person in the history of the game to cross 2800 Elo mark. A fantastic achievement!
Fabiano Caruana played a roller coaster game against Veselin Topalov. Both players made a lot of mistakes but when it was required the young American found all the right moves and won this topsy-turvy battle. The other two games of the day between Levon Aronian and Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri versus Hikaru Nakamura ended in draws.
The third round will begin on 11 December at 19.30 hours IST and you can catch all the action live here.
The author of this article, Sagar Shah, is the co-founder of ChessBase India.
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Updated Date: Dec 11, 2016 16:08:57 IST