Pune, Oct 31: Viswanathan Anand made a mockery of Vladimir Kramnik’s claim in 2007 - that he was merely lending the world chess crown to the Indian - by beating him convincingly in traditional matchplay format. And a lot of credit for Anand’s success in Bonn goes to the four players who helped him make this happen - his seconds.
These players visited match’s playing hall only after Anand had sealed the title after a draw in Game 11. They slept for hardly 4-5 hours a day in the last fortnight, because they were busy preparing for Anand.
Anand outsmarted his opponent but for unleashing any novelty on Kramnik, the Indian was secure in the knowledge that the seconds had checked its practicality using all their talent and hard work.
Anand needed a team of seconds with passion, knowledge and high integrity. And he got that in Uzbek Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Peter Heine Nielsen of Denmark, Radoslav Wojtaszek of Poland and five-time Indian national champion Surya Shekhar Ganguly.
"Anand needed to take enough rest during this time. He had to have proper eating time, a bit of walking exercise and sound sleep. He needed time to freshen his mind," Ganguly told TOI from Bonn. "So we worked for him almost 18 hours a day."
Of course, Anand and his team worked together for months before the match. But even during the match, Anand used to come up with some ideas at the end of the day. So, these four had to work hard for an entire night and come up with their own moves and counter moves. The next morning they used to show their preparation to Anand, who would have his own doubts and judgments. Based on Anand’s line of thinking, they had to device further lines for Anand’s approval. The game used to start at 3pm.
"It was great," said Ganguly. "We haven’t come to terms with the fact that we are not working now. We slept for hardly four-five hours. The only time to sleep was when Anand was playing. Of course, during Game 11 none of us could sleep. We just jumped with joy after the result and rushed to the hall."
Then, it was time for celebration. "We went with Anand to a nice Indian restaurant. We had dosa, vada, kababs, biryani, chicken tikka, lassi and kulfi," said Ganguly.
According to Ganguly, apart from the preparation, even Anand’s approach proved decisive in this battle. "Anand was never afraid of playing any risky, complicated or sharp lines. And that contributed to his victory. For us, it was a tremendous responsibility, pressure and pleasure," he said.
Pitfalls of this kind of job can be quite scary.
Ganguly said: "At times we had some idea but we checked it 10 times as it was Anand who was playing on the board. Mind you, even Kramnik and his team were working quite hard. And if they had come up with something special despite our due thought, it would have been painful for us. It was quite tense and draining."
On the tactical aspects of this match, Ganguly said: "To play d4 was decided months ago by Anand. And it was a huge surprise for Kramnik, who must have spent 70 per cent time of his preparation assuming that Anand would play e4. "In this computer age, with advanced technology and theory easily available, it’s really difficult to find novelties before 20th move. And Anand was showing that on the 10th or 12th move. That was really creative. It was as if finding an entire new system."
Unlike Kasim, Neilsen or Wojtaszek, Ganguly is Anand’s own compatriot. Does that make it different for the 25-year-old? "Regardless of nationality, we all worked hard. I think affection for Anand and passion for work was same for all four of us," said the Kolkata-based Ganguly. "Maybe there was an additional patriotic feeling on my side."
What makes Anand special?
"Anand was cool with us even on the day when he lost. Working with Anand is such a pleasure. It’s never boring. Despite working 19 hours a day, we could continue working. And the reason is simple. Because of Anand we used to get the enthusiasm. If you ask me to be with Anand on an island without any chess material, it would still be a learning experience for me.
"Anand is a very cool guy. You don’t see him panicking, he is an extremely versatile player. He can work any number of hours. Give him a complex position and he is just the best player in the world to handle it. It’s amazing."
Games in Ganguly’s words
Won: Game 3, 5 and 6
Game 3 was very important and it went perfectly. When we saw the opening (Queens Gambit Declined, Meran variation), we were delighted. It was a position meant for Anand. He handled the game superbly, playing almost without mistakes. It gave a message that he was not afraid of playing messy and dangerous lines.
To play the same line again in Game 5 was a tricky choice. We knew that they (Kramnik’s team) would have worked like hell in that position. We had anticipated that they would come up with something. But Anand just changes the move order and managed to uncork a counter novelty! It was indeed a pleasant position for Anand after that.
Anand came up with a novelty quite early (Game 6) from the white side of Nimzo Indian defence. You might get some microscopic advantage in such positions but to outplay Kramnik from there, you have to be Anand.
It should be noted that in all of the three wins, Kramnik didn’t succumb to Anand’s novelties immediately. In fact, on most occasions, he continued with almost perfect moves. His resistance only ended at the end where he just collapsed.
Lost: We lost only Game 10 in the match from black pieces. Kramnik just outplayed us here in the Nimzo Indian. He really proved how classy a player he is
Drawn: The draws in the early part of the match and during the middle part helped Anand. Moreover, Anand’s d4 choice really surprised Kramnik and his team. And then Anand played e4 and how! In Game 11 where he needed just a draw. The logic was simple: he didn’t mind Petroff or Berlin where half a point was enough for Anand. Hence Kramnik had to play a sharp line. And Anand was quite at ease with Sicilian Najdorf which sealed the title for him.