Viswanathan Anand vs Garry Kasparov: A classic rivalry set to revive at Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz event
Marvelling the tactical sharpness of Viswanathan Anand and Garry Kasparov, one could not help getting excited that these two masters will be once again battle each other
In the just concluded Sinquefield Cup, after his win against Ian Nepomniachtchi, when Viswanathan Anand visited the commentary box, he encountered another significant presence – Garry Kimovich Kasparov, the 13th world champion who had decided to entertain himself watching the seventh round of the super tournament. There was one curious moment during the analysis when both were amused to learn of a funny-looking move suggested by a computer chess engine. Kasparov suggested a straight-forward dangerous looking push of a white pawn, while Anand instantly came up with a quiet rook move, which would calmly sidestep the engine’s threats and win the game much more efficiently.
Marvelling the tactical sharpness of these two erstwhile rivals, one could not help getting excited that these two modern giants will be once again battling each other in the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz which starts from Sunday.
Anand’s first encounter with Kasparov was at the annual Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez Ciudad de Linares in 1991, held at Linares, a sleepy little town in southern Spain, and it was a thrilling draw. The Petroff Defence, precursor to the modern Berlin Defence of the Ruy Lopez, was a point of annoyance for white players at that time, aiming for symmetrical structures in the centre seemingly producing ‘dry’ positions where White found it difficult to infuse any dynamism. With black pieces, Anand played a topical variation of the opening at that time and held the draw without difficulties in a 27 move theoretical encounter.
The then 21-year-old Indian was a comparative newcomer to the world of ‘elite’ chess, while Kasparov was the reigning world champion, en route to creating records which stand against his name till date. Most importantly, when the encounter took place, Kasparov’s play in the opening was the benchmark of theoretical preparation of the times, while Anand was a still a learner of top-class theory, a deficiency which would haunt him for the first decade of his career among the elites.
Anand announced his phenomenal potential with a cracker of a tournament at the elite Interpolis tournament at Tilburg, Netherlands in the same year, when he defeated both Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, making sure the whole world sat up and took notice of him. The significance of Tilburg 1991 was the course of those two games when Anand defeated the two ‘formidable Ks’ in the same event. The two soviet grandmasters were the acclaimed giants of the game who were believed to be roaming the heights of the top exclusively between themselves, fighting a total of five world championship matches between them during 1984 to 1990.
That inaugural baptism by fire for Anand at Tilburg has an amazing significance even today historically. Anand defeated Kasparov with white pieces in a complicated tactical Sicilian mess of a game, where at some point he had voluntarily accepted the imbalance of a queen against Kasparov’s three minor pieces. Material imbalance is one of the most difficult territories for a practical player to traverse over the board, where only naturally brilliant and tactically intuitive players possessing the knack of conducting the game correctly.
Against Karpov, what started as a slow manoeuvring game in the solid Caro-Kann descended into tactical chaos late in the middlegame, again with a material imbalance of Anand with white pieces holding a rook against a minor piece and two pawns. Moving with lightning speed, Anand’s pieces wove a consistent assault on the black king which Karpov could not withstand.
This, in a nutshell, was the phenomenon of young Anand – incredibly gifted and natural tactician moving like an express train who burst into the world elite and challenged the might of western dinosaurs who seemingly possessed all-rounded chess pragmatism and knowledge.
Curiously, the final encounter between Kasparov and Anand too was from the Petroff Defence with same colours again at Linares in 2005, resulting in another draw in 22 moves. But in the interim years, Anand’s reputation underwent a radical change, ultimately resulting in the feared theoretician that he would establish himself after the millennium, as praised by another esteemed colleague Vladimir Kramnik, himself an opening theoretician of excellence.
Between these 14 long years, the two modern giants of the game would duel a total of 48 times in the classical format of Chess, where Anand would score three wins against 15 losses with 30 draws. In rapid chess - as much as we can rely on available data which may not be entirely complete, Anand’s score was a much better five wins against 10 losses with 13 draws.
Seen in the overall context of their rivalry, Anand probably ran into Kasparov too soon for the title of the world chess champion, when they played each other at the Kasparov-founded Professional Chess Association’s summit match at the World Trade Center in New York in the autumn of 1995. Running into the opening theoretical might of Kasparov, Anand almost didn’t know what hit him. Delightedly tasting first blood in the 9th game, Anand immediately ran into disaster in the next two games, losing in the opening battle itself from the black side of an Open Ruy Lopez in the 10th game and white side of a Sicilian Dragon in the 11th game. Anand never recovered from those twin hits.
Battling his own career frustrations, Kasparov retired from the sport in 2005, and Anand’s long reign as the world champion started in 2007 when he won the Mexico City round robin. But it was in the year 2008 when he etched his name determinedly as one of the all-time greats of opening theory. Anand defeated Kramnik convincingly in a World Championship match winning the 3rd and 5th games with black pieces in amazingly concocted theoretical ambushes where Kramnik couldn’t withstand the force of black’s raw attacking threats on the kingside.
What happened between those years of Anand being hit by the Dragon by Kasparov 1995, and Anand the creator of the onslaught in the Slav with black against Kramnik in 2008?
He became a master of theory, even inventing his own scientific methods of using computers for opening preparation, more maturity in board presence, and even more sharpening of tactical skills. A pity for chess lovers that Kasparov was not still around.
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