December 15, 2019 4:20:51 pm
Anatoly Karpov once critically remarked that Vishwanathan Anand “doesn’t have the character” to win big games. The observation “hit a raw nerve”, says the Indian, who has since become a name as big as the Russian in chess world.
“Ah, well Vishy’s a nice guy but he just doesn’t have the character for a big win,” was what Karpov had said about Anand after beating him in the final of the 1998 world championship.
Anand recalled the remark in his newly-released autography — ‘Mind Master – Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life’.
It was made to a journalist by Karpov, while Anand and his wife sat at the adjacent table, after the final.
“His words hit a raw nerve. It was a decidedly unpleasant feeling to be seen as a good player who lacked the conviction to win big,” Anand writes in his book.
“I was working myself up to display my potential and this swipe only reinforced the conviction I already had deep within – nothing else mattered anymore, I just had to win a title now.”
In 1998, after several near misses, Anand had the chance to claim his maiden world championship title, albeit under peculiar circumstances. The Indian had qualified for the finals by winning a knock-out tournament in Groningen but had to immediately travel to Lausanne to play for the title without a break or time for preparation.
Former world champion Karpov, on the other hand, was directly seeded for the final.
Two of the biggest names in chess then, Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik, had refused to participate in the tournament over the privileges being extended to Karpov.
To add to his woes, Anand was also burdened with the logistics of booking a flight for his entire team from Amsterdam to Lausanne, and find accommodation during the peak holiday season.
“We hadn’t planned our travel to Lausanne in advance since the outcome of the Candidates tournament couldn’t have been foreseen. FIDE, too, had made no arrangements for the winner to reach Lausanne from Amsterdam.”
“It was New Year’s Eve and flights were overbooked. We somehow managed to reach only to find out FIDE had booked all its officials into hotel rooms but made no provisions, whatsoever, to accommodate the winner of the 21-day-long knockout tournament.”
The championship match ended in a 3-3 draw, forcing a rapid playoff, which Karpov went on to win to be crowned world champion.
“It was almost as if I had been asked to run a 100-metre sprint after completing a cross country marathon,” writes Anand.
“The defeat rankled like few had before… It was soon after my loss, that Karpov spoke of my inability to win a world championship title while still justifying his own credentials despite the brazenly undue advantage he had received. He had been fresh, well-rested and pottering around while I was almost ‘brought in a coffin’ to play him.”
The incident led the Indian Grandmaster to reflect on his career’s trajectory.
“I felt it was perhaps true that I had lacked the intent and the mental fortitude to win a World Championship title. For a long time in my career, I wasn’t quite fired up by the ambition to become the World Champion,” Anand writes.
In 2000, the first leg of the FIDE World Championship was held in New Delhi and Anand grabbed the home advantage with both hands. He cruised into the final, to be played in Tehran.
It was smooth sailing in the final as well. After a drawn first game, Anand won the next three to win the title.
“At last, I was a world champion.”
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