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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Is Anand the Gretest Player Ever?

       Anand, the world`s best rapid player, just won the World Championship for the fifth time.  He first won the World Championship title in 2000 defeating Alexei Shirov then came wins in 2007, 2008, 2010 and now in 2012.
       In addition, Anand has six chess Oscars: 1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008  Oscars are awards won by poll votes from the global chess fraternity, including players and writers across the world.
       Anand`s early success came in 1983 at the age of 14 when he scored 9 out of 9 in the National Sub-Junior Championship and a year later became the youngest Indian to win the IM at the age of fifteen in 1984.  By 16, he was the National Champion and he won it twice more before moving on to fry bigger fish in international competition.
       Anand is known for playing at great speed earning him the nicknames of `Lightning Kid` and `Tiger from Madras.`  In 1987 he became the first Indian to win the World Junior Chess Championship and in 1988, at 18, he earned three GM norms within a span of less than 12 months, becoming India’s first GM in December.  After that his ascent was spectacular.
       His first big moment came at Reggio Emilia in 1991 where he finished ahead of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.  That same year he lost on tie-breaks to Karpov in the quarter finals of those stupid FIDE Knockout World Chess Championships.    
       In Kasparov’s ill-fated Professional Chess Association he reached the final where he lost to Kasparov in New York City`s World Trade Center.  After eight draws, Anand won the ninth game but then disaster struck when Kasparov came back and won four of the next five games and went on to win the match 10.5-7.5. 
       In 2000 Kasparov and Kramnik didn’t participate in the world championships and Anand won in New Delhi and Tehran but nobody was really too impressed because most players consider classical match play to be the ‘real’ test. Still, Anand continued to dominate on the tournament circuit and won ‘Advanced Chess’ tournaments in Leon, Spain, 11 times.  His five successes at Wijk Aan Zee set a record.

       In 2007, he won Linares where the world`s top players participated…Kasparov had retired by then. However, the critics were still claiming Anand had not won a title in match play so he ended up playing the man who had dethroned Kasparov, Kramnik.
      This match was one in which, as previous world champion, Kramnik had been given the right to challenge to regain his title. By winning this match, Anand cemented the legitimacy of his World Championship status.
      Anand is the only player to have won the world title in three formats. In 2003 FIDE organized a rapid tournament in Cap d`Agde and called it as the World Rapid Chess Championship. Each player had 25 minutes at the start of the game, with an additional 10 seconds after each move. Anand won this event ahead of ten of the other top 12 players in the world. 
     Apart from his chess achievements Anand has been awarded the Arjuna award for Outstanding Indian Sportsman in Chess, the Padma Shri, National Citizens Award and Soviet Land Nehru Award, the inaugural Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, India`s highest sporting honour. He was also nominated by All India Chess Federation (AICF) for the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award.
      Very impressive, but the greatest chess player of all time? Most players think the all time greats are either
Fischer, Kasparov, Morphy, Capablanca or Alekhine. Once in an interview Samuel Reshevsky commented that he didn't think Cap’s play fell of towards the end of his life, but that other players were playing at a much higher level than they did during Capa’s heyday so his results were not so good. Then there was Shirov writing about his meeting with Botvinnik and their discussion of the Botvinnik Variation. Shirov commented that the meeting was of no interest because the old man was stuck in the past insisting that certain moves were best when Shirov knew better.

     When Kramnik defeated Kasparov for the World Championship Bobby Fischer claimed in one of his radio rants that the games were fake…they were made up because nobody could play chess games that were that good. It would seem that advances in chess had passed old Bobby by, too.
      Anand is perhaps the greatest rapid chess players ever, but how does he compare to Kasparov? BTW…Kasparov is an arrogant, unpleasant twit while Anand seems to be a very pleasant guy, but when it comes to who’s the best, that doen't count.
      Each succeeding generation of players has built on the knowledge of their predecessors and as a result, they have advanced their understanding of chess to the point that surpassed that of the previous generation. So it is my opinion that Anand is greater than Fischer, Kasparov, Morphy, Capablanca or Alekhine. His games may not be as flashy as those guys, but as Reshevsky said of Capa, Anand’s competition is of a higher level than the greats of yesteryear.

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  1. You make a good point that every generation is a bit stronger than the preceding one. In their games, the great champions write the text books for their successors, and give them a standard to aim at. By that reasoning, Anand must rank very high. The other argument, that he's been successful in many different formats, doesn't seem nearly as convincing. All that really matters is the quality of the games; whether they were played in Matches, Tournaments, or Match-Tournaments doesn't really matter, does it?

  2. I am aware that Kasparov does not have a very high opinion of Anand as a player. But like I said, Kasparov is an arrogant twit. On his Blog Kevin Spraggatt apparently agreed with K.


  3. Comparing people from different eras is always a hard thing to do. However I do think that Anand should be considered as one of the ALL TIME GREATS! He has defended his championship three times now. (or twice if you don't count the Kramnik match as a defence and count it as more of a unification match)

    Kasparov, Karpov, Capablanca et al are all also All Time Greats. Fischer is as well but he didn't defend his championship so really he was only champ as long as Tal was! Petrosion does not get enough respect in my opinion.

  4. It is a great analysis, considering how few words you used to present it. Kasparov is very arrogant, and can be quite foolish with his statements (esp when his oft-repeated statement - Machines are stupid). But what does arrogance or mannerism have to do with the skill? Kasparov was undisputed champion for a long time, but did his game deteriorate with time? No, he kept defeating newcomers until his retirement. His form was intact.

    Anand is indeed great, and then if we take into account the availability of computers today (that are arguably faster than Supercomputers of a decade back), we can easily assess his level of play. Every GM who has accessibility to fast computers today, can train well enough to beat the world champs of B/W era. So yes, Anand certainly has kept up with the accelerating levels of competitiveness of today's players - Makes him better than most of the yesteryear's world champions.

    But what I personally would consider to assess Anand's level of skill would be his matches against Kramnik. Kramnik is a guy who almost beat (if it were not for the 'blunder of the century') a relatively fast computer (compare a computer of 2006 to that of 1997 that baffled Kasparov) in today's era. But that is not all - After computer analysis of the games of all the Chess greats that ever lived, Kramnik is found to be committing the least number of mistakes in any given game.

    So yes, if we take these criteria, then Anand could easily be the greatest player ever, though will not remain so for long... after newer greats come in the future who will be so much more competitive.

    By the way, Kasparov is fond of Anand, kind of Anand's biggest fan! Because Anand is so easy to get along with, and is always so nice and away from politics, even his adversaries keep wanting to help him during tournaments. (Kasparov had himself offered his help to Anand during the world championship this year).