Just when many people thought Vishy Anand was over the hill, the 44 year old Indian has staged one of the most remarkable turnaround in the history of chess. Playing brilliantly and intelligently in the FIDE Candidates Tournament, Anand emerged the victor in the field of 8 players’ double round-robin matches held from March 13, 2014 onwards. Other than Anand himself, whose current world ranking is 8, the participants included; Armenian world no.2 Levon Aronian, world no. 3 Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, world no. 4 Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, world no. 9 Sergey Karjakin of Russia, world no. 11 Peter Svidler also of Russia, world no.13 Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan and world no. 39 Dmitry Andreikin of Russia. For the last couple of years, Anand had lost his rhythm and when he meekly lost his world champion status to Norway’s Magnus Carlsen at Chennai in November 2013, critics thought he was on his way out.
But in the Candidates Tournament at Khanty-Mansiysk, a city in the Siberian region of Russia, Anand displayed tremendous tenacity, beginning with round one on March 13, 2014. Playing dominating chess, Anand surprised tournament favorite Levon Aronian by using his pair of bishops and took the Armenian to the endgame. In the second round on March 14 against Topalov, Anand settled for a draw but in the third round, he scored another victory over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan. In rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7 Anand settled for draws with Kramnik, Andreikin, Karjakin and Svidler but his round 1 and round 3 victories kept Anand ahead of the pack. He had a return leg match with Aronian in round 8 on March 22, where the two greats of chess finally settled for a draw but Anand gained further in the round 9 match against Topalov, whom he beat decisively. By this time Anand was firmly in the saddle with a clear one point lead over Aronian. In round 10 on March 25, Anand played another drawn game with Mamedyarov and settled for two more draws on round 11 and round 12 against Kramnik and Andreikin. The match with Andreikin could have been won by Anand since he appeared on the verge of victory but a last-minute lapse took the game to a draw. In the round 13 played yesterday, Anand’s drawn game with Karjakin took him ahead of everyone and since second placed Aronian lost to Andreikin, Anand had a slice of luck as well since it signified that no player has the margin to overtake Anand, even if he lost in the last round. Therefore, with just one inconsequential round 14 remaining against Peter Svidler on March 30, Anand has already scored the top spot in the tournament.
With this victory, Anand has secured the right to challenge the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway for the world title, which will take place sometime in November 2014. Some chess experts believe that Levon Aronian’s deteriorating display in the tournament has helped Anand. But these people forget that Vishy Anand has ruled the world of chess for a number of years and he is not an easy player to beat even at 44 years of age. Moreover, Anand does not have to prove anything to anybody and in all probability he will not take his match against Magnus Carlsen in November as a prestige game. The victory in the Candidates Tournament served a reminder to Vishy Anand’s detractors that the Chennai Tiger was far from finished.