Interview with Rakesh Rao for Sportstar newspaper
In the words of Viswanathan Anand, the world title-match and the eventual victory against Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov, is the most intense battle of his career. Anand took off on the wrong foot but landed safely with the world title, which he holds since 2007.
The 12-game match was a thrilling contest. Anand came back strongly after losing the opening game and then took the lead in the fourth. A late error cost Anand the eighth game and Topalov levelled the match-score.
Rakesh Rao: How did you deal with the loss in the opening game?
Anand: It was one of those ridiculous moments that you are not supposed to have but it happens. The only thing I told myself was if it had to happen, it is best to happen in the first round. You still have time to recover. I knew it would be a long match. I was not worried at that point. But it was the worst possible start to the match.
Rakesh Rao: Pleasantly, the finish was a dream one – winning the decisive 12th game with black pieces!
Anand: It was nice to clinch it with a win and that too, with black. You know, in the last eight decisive games that we played, Topalov won four times with white, and I won three. So after many years in the matches between us, this was the first victory for black. It felt nice.
Rakesh Rao: How will you reflect on your victories in game two and game four?
Anand: In game two, Topalov was doing fine out of the opening but made a mistake. I pounced and made some very accurate moves. I mean, technically, it is still difficult but I managed to wrap it up in some six or seven moves from this point. I thought it was efficient. Game two was important because it helped me to equalise. Game four was nice. It was just a beautiful game… some lovely tactics there.
Rakesh Rao: Since the result in a chess match depends a lot on the opening preparations and the strategies of the players, how satisfied were you with the way things turned out?
Anand: In one sense, I think, I misjudged him. He made certain changes during the match. One of the things we assumed was, he always likes moving around in matches. This means, he’ll play an opening for a couple of games and then move on to the next one. His match strategy in the past was never to stand his ground. Kind of hit-and-run strategy. So, whether consciously or sub-consciously, we had made this assumption the basis of our preparation. But he stood his ground. He did not switch his openings. We started having problem in the second half because we were thin in the areas he had concentrated on. And we ourselves were doing the hitting and running. So there was some coping there.
In terms of the opening preparation, we made some bad calls. The team did some excellent work but in a match, it is not about excellent work but making the right judgement call. If you prepare something and it does not get played, it is not much use. So in that sense, he did surprise me.
Rakesh Rao: So, for you which was the most difficult phase of the match?
Anand: The second half was difficult for me, from game 7 to 10. He started taking initiative during this phase. In game eight, he did press me, he had a good idea and all, but having escaped, and then to blunder and lose was bad. And in game 10, when I was losing, I thought after the last three games, if I were to lose and fall behind, it will be very difficult (to bounce back). Once I had saved games 10 and 11 by hanging in there, I was okay.
Rakesh Rao: Did you imagine the final game to go the way it went?
Anand: I think Topalov took a big gamble. Now it seems obvious to me that this gamble was wrong. I realised he missed my queen move but still, when my bishop is on the big diagonal like that, and to allow me to open it, he took the decision very late. Later, he did say he missed my queen-move and if he did, then I don’t think it was such an unreasonable gamble. Towards the later part, the position became incredibly complex, though.
The final handshake as Topalov resignes in 12th game
Rakesh Rao: How do you compare the titles in 2007 and 2008 with the latest one?
Anand: The match against (Vladimir) Kramnik went so well (in 2008). Vlady was a bit unlucky that match started so badly. As though he was hit by a perfect storm. Everything that could possibly go wrong did. A three-point advantage and from there on something had to go horribly wrong for you to lose it. Against Topalov, it was like waking up each morning with a sword hanging over your head. For me, that was an unusual experience because against (Garry) Kasparov (in the 1995 World title match) I had the opposite problem. I was hit by a perfect storm for a week and there was a three-point deficit.
In Mexico (in 2007), I took a strong lead in the beginning and basically, I had to maintain it. You knew everything is in your hands. Here (in Sofia), at least I knew, if I had drawn (after 12 games), I had the tiebreaker.
Rakesh Rao: Many experts believed that your best chance of winning was to ‘do a Kramnik’ on Topalov. How correct was this assessment?
Anand: We did copy a bit of Kramnik’s openings. He did a good job against Topalov. Topalov’s score against the Catalan (opening) isn’t that great. We had other openings but because of Topalov’s preparations, the world did not get to see this. My preparation was heavily based on Kramnik, but not entirely.
Rakesh Rao: Several commentators spoke of your ploy to exchange the queens early, particularly when playing black, in order to minimise Topalov’s tactical option. Was it really part of your ploy?
Anand: Well, the point is that you have to think in terms of opening complexities. I always find it quite simplistic that everybody said I was so defensive. I was not playing defensive at all. In the opening complexities, white has several moves and black has several responses. And we had fantastically sharp lines, as well. We thought this blocks white and he probably has to move on. But it was more of an assumption that it would block and he would move on. It did neither. It did not block him completely and we had a problem. And he did not move on. He stayed there and kept pounding. So we did not get to see the lines where I did not exchange queens. My strategy was not so limited, as simplistic that I was going to exchange the queens. We had a bad call. We simply misjudged his approach.
Rakesh Rao: Since Topalov had announced that he would neither offer nor accept draws and communicate only through the chief arbiter, were you prepared for long battles?
Anand: I always knew playing every game till the end would show the strain on both players. Indeed, there was a question of hanging in there. I was prepared.
Rakesh Rao: Finally, was it intimidating for you and your team to play in Topalov’s backyard?
Anand: Since we (the players) stayed in different hotel, we had this feeling of returning to our den or zone everyday. In that sense, it was fine. The audience was very fair. Obviously the audience wanted Topalov to win but they never made me feel bad.