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|Winning the World Championship 2007|
|Crucial games and positions that Anand encountered on his way to winning the title.|
World Chess Championship Won
GM Viswanathan Anand of India won the World Championship, September 2007 in Mecico City, a point ahead of his nearest rivals, GMs Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and Boris Gelfand of Israel. Anand's final score was 'plus four' (or '+4'), meaning that he won four more games than he lost. Since he did not lose a single game, we can also write his score as +4-0=10, meaning four wins, no losses, and ten draws. His closest rivals finished at 'plus two', both +3-1=10.
The diagram shows the last position from the last game (Rd.14: Anand - Leko). White has just played 20.Bg5-e3. The material left on the board is balanced, the Pawn structure is balanced, and neither side has a significant weakness. The game was drawn at this point, making Anand the new World Champion.
In this tutorial, we'll look at some of the crucial games and positions from Mexico City that Anand encountered on his way to winning the championship. We are indebted to the Chessbase.com site (see the box 'Elsewhere on the Web'), especially the analyses by GM Mihail Marin and the videos by Vijay Kumar of the post game press conferences.
The Openings: Anand Playing White (+3-0=4)
The strategy of top tier chess players often uses a simple formula: Win with White; draw with Black. This means that all players follow the same opening strategy. They play opening systems that maximize their chances of winning with White and of drawing with Black.
Mexico City was no different. The eight participants played each other twice, and the four games per round over 14 rounds produced 56 games. White won 18, Black won 2, and 36 were drawn (+18-2=36).
Anand opened all seven of his games as White with 1.e4. One opponent responded 1...c5, and the other six replied 1...e5. Against those six, Anand played 2.Nf3. Two opponents replied 2...Nf6 (the Petrov [Petroff] Defense), while the other four replied 2...Nc6. All four games followed the main line of the Ruy Lopez (3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O), and three of those four games arrived at the position shown in the diagram, known as the Marshall Attack (8.c3 d5).
Both the Petrov and the Marshall give Black excellent drawing chances. Black's winning chances aren't very high, but neither is the risk of losing. The Petrov was played seven times in Mexico City (+0-0=7). The Marshall was played four times (+1-0=3), and would have been played more often if Black hadn't sidestepped it with the Anti-Marshall moves 8.h3 (+0-0=3) and 8.a4 (+2-0=0).
The Openings: Anand Playing Black (+1-0=6)
As Black, Anand faced 1.e4 twice, answering 1...e5 in both games. In the other five games, all of which opened 1.d4, he answered 1...d5 2.c4 c6 twice, and 1...Nf6 2.c4 e6 three times.
The 1.d4 openings provide more opportunity for transpositions between different systems than do the 1.e4 openings. Four of Anand's 1.d4 games converged to the same position (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6). Three of these games continued 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5 8.Bg3 b5, reaching the position shown in the diagram. Known as the Anti-Meran Gambit, it was played in five games overall (+0-1=4).
Top tier players spend much of their preparation studying the games of their rivals, in particular their opening repertoires. They assume that their rivals are doing the same. Together with small teams of trusted assistants, everyone armed with the latest chess software and data, they probe their opponents' openings looking for moves that might surprise. They also verify their own openings by looking for improvements to avoid surprises by well prepared opponents.
It is almost impossible for an observer to explain why a particular player chose a particular opening against a particular opponent in a particular game. Much depends on the preparation of the two adversaries, on their history of playing together, and on other games in the same event which have seen the most fashionable openings. The choice of opening is largely psychological and only the players can explain their choices satisfactorily.
Rd.2: Winning with Black
In the first round, the eight players started cautiously. All four games were drawn in less than 30 moves. In the second round, Anand played Black against GM Levon Aronian of Armenia, a dangerous opponent who was fully capable of winning the event. The game started with an Anti-Meran Gambit, and followed a known variation until Anand uncorked a novelty on his 17th move.
A few moves later Aronian made a temporary sacrifice of a minor piece, arriving at the diagrammed position. Now if the Bishop retreats with 22...Bb7, White regains the sacrificed piece with 23.c6, obtaining an excellent game with pressure against the Black Paxn on g4..
Anand played the surprising 22...Be5!, when White was forced to continue 23.f4. After 23...Bg7 24.dxc6 Nxc5, the White Bishops were passively placed.
Anand (video): 'I think he missed this plan of ...Be5 and ...Bg7, or he underestimated it. In the whole game I'm playing against his Bishop on e2; my Pawns on h5 and g4, and b5 and c4 control this Bishop. This turned out to be the deciding factor in the game.'
Aronian resigned on his 42nd move. This second round win with Black over a dangerous rival was an excellent start for the Indian GM.
Rd.5: Beating the Marshall
Since reigning World Champion Kramnik was the only other player to win in the second round, the two pre-tournament favorites took the lead, a position they maintained by drawing with each other in round three and against their respective opponents in round four.
In the fifth round Anand played against the Marshall Attack for the first time in the event. The diagrammed position is typical of the Marshall. Black is a Pawn down, but Black's pieces, especially the Rooks, are placed more aggressively than White's. A few moves earlier, Black had weakened his Kingside with 24...g5. The game continued 26...Nf6 27.a4 Ne4 28.axb5 axb5 29.Ra6. After tying down the Black pieces to the defense of the Queenside, Anand played Ng2-e3-f5 and broke through on the Kingside.
Anand (video): 'In a very complicated position at the end he spotted me a bit of time. At the end the position was unbelievably complicated. Basically I tried to get a position where White is able to hold onto the Pawn at the cost of a significant initiative for Black [. ..] When he went Nd5-f6-e4, it's a pretty good plan, because suddenly I can't swap Rooks very easily. That means his attack when it comes will be very strong. I reacted with a4 and Ra6, probably the only correct reaction.'
Kramnik drew his game, and Anand was alone in the lead for the first time.
Rd.7: Avoiding the Marshall
In the sixth round, while Anand and Kramnik both drew, a new front runner emerged. Gelfand won his second straight game to tie Anand at 'plus two'.
Faced with the possibility of playing against the Marshall Attack for the second time, Anand varied with 8.a4, an Anti-Marshall move. In the diagrammed position, the Black Knight is well posted on b4, but White has a stronger center. The game continued 17.h3 Bh5 18.g4 Bg6 19.d5!. With the last move, White locked the Bishop on g6 out of play.
Anand (video): 'I'm not exactly sure how this plan is in the opening with ...Bg4. It's very forcing because I must play [h3 and] g4, but on the other hand his Bishop gets sidetracked to g6. I felt that I should be better, but the tactics are quite annoying. A bit later I realized that my Bishop on b1 is trapped for a while. So it was a complex game.'
The world no.1 gradually improved the position of his own pieces, kept his opponent's pieces in passive positions, and broke through by sacrificing a Pawn on the Queenside to invade Black's position on the Kingside. Black's d-Pawn fell and the White's strong, central d- & e-Pawns were enough to ensure victory.
Rd.8: Drawing with Black against the Closest Contender
At the tournament's half way point, when all the players had met each other exactly once, Anand was again alone in the lead. At 'plus three' (+3-0=4), he was a half point ahead of Gelfand ('plus two') and a full point ahead of Kramnik ('plus one'). He was to play Black against Gelfand in the first game of the second half.
In the diagrammed position, Anand played 10...Bd6. It was a move that had been played only once before, and that Gelfand had not seen.
Anand (video): 'Basically I wanted to surprise Boris with this idea of ...Bd6. It's a very rare move, but I'd done some work on it with some people some months back. It comes down to the Catalan is a story that you play ...e5 or ...c5 or you don't. If you're not in time, you're worse. Here I think ...Qb8 and ...e5 were very important moves.'
The surprise worked. Gelfand played 11.Rd1 instead of the more aggressive 11.Bg5. The game was agreed drawn on the 20th move. When Kramnik also drew on the Black side of a Petrov Defense, the three leaders retained their respective positions on the crosstable.
Rd.10: Drawing with Black Against the Most Dangerous Opponent
In round nine, Anand agreed to a draw against after 21 moves Aronian's Marshall. Gelfand and Kramnik both lost their only games of the tournament, stretching Anand's lead to a full point.
Round 10, with Black against World Champion Kramnik, would likely be the Indian's most severe test of the event. In an Anti-Meran Gambit, both players had prepared the opening and the initial moves were played quickly. Black was forced to sacrifice the exchange, but received good compensation in a centrally posted Knight. In the diagrammed position Black played 28...Nf4.
Anand (video): 'When I played Nf4 I thought it was quite unpleasant for him, and that's when I started to feel that I was better already. He can never take on g5 because of ...Ne2+ and ...Qh2+. He cannot play g3 either because of ...Ne2+, ...Qd5+, and ...Rd8. On Re1, I just go ...Qd5, and so on. So I started to get ambitious, but he found 29.Kh1, which is the best move. I went 29...Qd5 30.f3 Rd8 31.Qg7 Rd7, and here my Knight is too strong. By playing 32.Qf8 with the threat of Rfc1, I thought I could go 32...Qd6 33.Qg7 Qd5, and then it's a draw. Probably this was best. I thought 32...Ne2 was very strong because I'm also restraining Rfc1, but completely missed 33.Rfe1.'
Kramnik in turn missed the best move. With a lot of fight left in the position, but tired from the constant tactical complications, the players agreed to a draw on the 41st move.
Rd.11: Clinching the Title (Almost)
Anand now led by a point with four rounds to be played. In the next round he had White against Morozevich, a daring player who is always full of creative tactical ideas. Against Anand's 1.e4, the Russian played 1...c5, the only game in Mexico where Anand faced other than 1...e5.
Play from the diagrammed position continued 31.Qf1 Rh4 32.Qg2 Rh5, bringing the game back to the diagram. If Anand had now continued 33.Qf1, the players would most likely have repeated the same move sequence, leading to a draw by triple repetition. Instead he played 33.Nxa6.
GM Marin (analysis): 'An important moment in modern chess history. Anand's most dangerous trailers, Kramnik and Gelfand, had finished their games hours earlier and a draw would have maintained his comfortable lead in the tournament. The ambitious decision to play on will lead to a slightly irrational position, without any safety net for White. Therefore, Anand deserves the highest praise for the way he chose to climb up to the highest peak of the chess pyramide. This is the kind of World Champion the public needs.
Anand's reward for his daring play was to pull ahead of his nearest rival by a point and a half. With only three games remaining, this was an almost insurmountable lead.
Rd.13: Holding a Bad Endgame
Most people believe that chess is not a game of chance. By any strict definition of the word 'chance', they are probably right. Chess players know better. No matter how far ahead they calculate variations, or how solid their position seems to be, there is always a chance that they have overlooked something. Going into the penultimate round, Anand's lead was still a full point and only bad luck could steal the victory from him.
After Grischuk's 40.Kc4, as shown in the diagram, Anand played 40...Kc8. White's unexpected 41.Rc2! put him in great danger of losing.
Anand (video): 'I blundered in the Rook ending, but the funny thing is I might not have lost anything anytime at all. Even if I had gone correctly [via e7] to f6, he would have gone to e3, checked on f3, and we would have had exactly the same position as in the game. It's funny that you can blunder something and still end up in the exact same situation. I don't know if it's a draw, but I remembered once I drew with [Kramnik] in Monaco like this. You keep attacking one Pawn on the Queenside and one on the Kingside, back and forth. It's a typical idea in Rook endings. It seemed to hold this time. I didn't see a clear win for him and I didn't see a clear draw for me, but somehow it was enough. It's difficult to play a tournament without one bad day, and for me today was the day I chose to play some lousy moves. At least it was not enough.'
Anand held the position by simplifying into an endgame of Rook and a-Pawn vs. Rook and h-Pawn, sacrificing his Rook for Grischuk's a-Pawn, and shepherding his h-Pawn to the promotion to its eighth rank, where his opponent was forced to sacrifice his own Rook. The draw was a question of a tempo: one tempo more and White would have won.