After sensationally crashing out in the second round of the FIDE World Cup in Tbilisi last summer, yet again there was the inevitable mounting speculation in the Indian media that Viswanathan Anand would soon be calling time on his long and glorious career. But the 48-year-old took inspiration from a resurgent Roger Federer winning Wimbledon – and just like the timeless new tennis world No.1, Anand also staged his own stunning comeback.
He tied for second place in the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis and then third place at the London Chess Classic. And not content with those two excellent performances, Anand continued to defy his critics and his much younger rivals by ending the year on a high by clinching the World Rapid Chess crown in Riyadh.
And not content with another world title late in life, the chess world’s answer to Roger Federer still continues to impress. On Sunday, Anand added yet another title to his huge haul of tournament victories, this time by winning the 11th Tal Memorial Rapid held in the Museum of Russian Impressionism in Moscow.
Anand rolled back the years by first catching up with and then overtaking front-runner Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. And going on to score 6/9 ( his only loss being to Mamedyarov), the five-time former world champion finished in clear first place, a full point ahead of the field – and in the process, he did so by taking the title ahead of four players (Messers Mamedyarov, Kramnik, Grischuk & Karjakin) who will soon be vying to become Magnus Carlsen’s next official title challenger, ahead of the upcoming Berlin Candidates tournament.
And in many respects, it was fitting for Anand to have won the Tal Memorial, as he’s the only active player now left on the elite circuit to have played against the great Mikhail Tal, who died in June 1992. A key game en route to victory was a somewhat fortuitous win over Muscovite Alexander Grischuk, who carelessly overlooked a mating attack.
Final Rapid standings:
1. V. Anand (India) 6/9; 2-4. S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan), S. Karjakin (Russia), H. Nakamura (USA) 5; 5-6. B. Gelfand (Israel), A. Grischuk (Russia) 4.5; 7-8. D. Dubov (Russia), V. Kramnik (Russia) 4; 9-10. P. Svidler (Russia), I. Nepomniachtchi (Russia) 3.5.
Photo: © Eteri Kublashvili (RCF)
GM Viswanathan Anand – GM Alexander Grischuk
11th Tal Memorial Rapid, (8)
Sicilian Defence, Rossolimo Variation
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Popularised by Aaron Nimzowitsch, the Rossolimo Variation took off by being almost the exclusive weapon of the one-man Olympiad, GM Nicolas Rossolimo, the US-French-Greek-Russian, who started his Olympiad career playing for France in 1950, then played for the US until 1966, before reverting again to the French tricolour for his final Olympiad in 1972. 3…g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d3 Bg7 6.h3 Nf6 Although Black has the bishop-pair, it is not so easy to open the game up to maximise their potential. White’s strategy is to keep the game closed to restrict the scope of the bishop-pair, and try to take advantage of Black’s doubled pawns in the ending. 7.Nc3 0-0 8.Be3 b6 9.Qd2 e5 10.Bh6 Anand has a simple plan, and he sticks to it, leaving Grischuk with the task of finding a strategy for the best deployment of his pieces. 10…Qd6 11.0-0-0 a5 12.g4 Anand’s plan is simply to move all of his pieces over to the kingside to launch an attack on Grischuk’s king. 12…a4 13.Kb1 Be6 14.Ne2 b5 15.Ng3 Rfd8 Grischuk would like to play …Ne8, and then, if White plays Bxg7, he’d answer with …Nxg7 and then play …f6, offering a better defensive structure – but he would rather play …Ne8 after he’s brought his kingside rook into the game. 16.Bxg7 Anand chops off the bishop now, avoiding …Ne8 and …Nxg7. 16…Kxg7 17.Qg5! The threat is Nf5+ winning the knight on f6. 17…Nd7 18.Nf5+ Bxf5 19.gxf5 a3 Grischuk has to create his own threats to Anand’s king – and here, forcing the concession of b3 offers hopes of counterplay with threats to Anand’s king, whether that be a …Qb2 mate to be constantly on the guard of, or – more likely – a back-rank mating threat. 20.b3 h6 21.Qg3 Kh7 22.Rhg1 Qf6 Grischuk is defending very accurately, but Anand hoodwinks him into believing his attack is more serious than it really is. 23.h4 gxf5 24.Qh3 f4 25.Rg5 Anand’s attack looks more dangerous than it really is – but kudos to him for not showing any hesitation in holding back here, that puts Grischuk on the spot. But that said, White perhaps should have opted instead for 25.Ng5+!? Kh8 26.Rg2 and a complex struggle ahead for both players. 25…Qe6 26.Rf5 Rg8?? With the White pieces beginning to look the more menacing, Grischuk falls hook, line and sinker into Anand’s trap. But after the simple solution of 26…f6!, doubly locking down on the crucial g5 square, its hard to see how White continues the attack, as 27.Nh2 now 27…Rg8! is good, as after 28.Ng4 Rg6 Black has everything defended – and indeed, with the constant problem of the back-rank mating threats, he looks now to have the better long-term prospects. 27.Ng5+! hxg5 28.Rxf7+! [see diagram] Grischuk clearly had overlooked this possibility – but nevertheless, despite the shocking setback, the Muscovite graciously allows Anand the crowd-pleasing mate at the board. 28…Qxf7 29.hxg5+ Kg7 30.Qh6# 1-0