It would’ve been funny to stop at nine: Anand on his 10th Leon Masters title

It would’ve been funny to stop at nine: Anand on his 10th Leon Masters title

Bengaluru: Age can seem a curious construct in chess. Last weekend, Argentinian Faustino Oro – all of 10 years & eight months (yes, Argentina and No 10!) became the world’s youngest International Master in Barcelona. While in the northwestern Spanish province of Leon, Viswanathan Anand rang in own Number 10 – a 10th Leon Masters title, at age 54.

Viswanathan Anand on way winning his 10th Leon Masters title in Spain. (FIDE)
Viswanathan Anand on way winning his 10th Leon Masters title in Spain. (FIDE)

Anand’s tenth Leon Masters title comes eight years after his previous win. “It would’ve been funny to stop at nine,” Anand told HT, laughing, “Ten is a nice number. I’m happy I can maintain this level.” Anand, who serves as Fide deputy president and is shepherding India’s current crop of top young names, has been playing tournaments sparingly in recent years and believes the switch from following chess to suddenly sitting across another player at a competition can need some getting used to.

Before the Leon event, Anand got together with his European Club Cup teammate Jorden Van Foreest for a short training camp in Romania.“My general way of following chess during the long breaks has to be readjusted a little bit right before an event because instead of thinking in very abstract terms that these things are possible and these aren’t, I suddenly have to decide what am I going to play today. It’s a very different thought.”

At the Leon event, Anand found himself straddling generations – a former World Championship rival, one born the year he won his first Leon Masters title, and a third, a fellow Indian younger to him by over three decades. “With (Veselin) Topalov, our rivalry goes back to 1993 thereabouts. Then there was Jaime (Santos) who was born in 1996 and Arjun (Erigaisi) who was born in 2003. So, you kind of don’t know which era you want to belong to.”

Anand and Topalov played each other in the 2010 World Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Indian went on to win the match, which had its fair share of misgivings, apart from Icelandic volcanic ash and a 40-hour road journey to get to Sofia.

“I don’t think Topalov and I thought too much (of the past). I had this feeling also with (Anatoly) Karpov long back. I played him after a couple of years and you realize, well, too much water has passed under the bridge and you don’t even remember what it was all about.”

Each match consisted of four rapid games. Anand and Topalov played out two edgy draws to start the semifinal, and it was followed by the five-time world champion launching a full-blooded kingside attack in the third game to walk away with a full point. It left Topalov staring at a must-win situation in the final game but Anand had little trouble finding a draw. Defending champion Santos snuffed out the prospect of an all-Indian, inter-generational final between Anand and Arjun with a come-from-behind win in the other semifinal.

“When I was paired with Topalov, I found that I got into trouble quite easily in the first two games, quite serious trouble in the second game. And finally, the same thing happened to me again with Jaime in the final. It seemed that I needed some time to get into these matches. But once I got in, my level in games three and four was much higher, also the confidence of saving difficult positions.”

There’s a reason why Anand is considered among the finest to have played the game and you could see it in the touch of class and the wealth of understanding he brought to the games. Like the stunning 31.bh4 move in the fourth game which perhaps rattled Santos and led him to make fateful captures.

Anand was delighted for his fellow newsmaker of the weekend – 10 year old Oro. “John Nunn (English GM) always used to say that you have to beat the young before they get very strong. Instead, I can say I’ve given him an autograph before he got very strong,” Anand said after his win, “That’s an achievement!”

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