As an Indian keenly keeping up with happenings in chess during the emergence of one of the heroes of the sport in the country, the rivalry between Viswanathan Anand and Garry Kasparov was one of the most anticipated attributes of the game. Both masterminds are ruthless when it came to snatching wins from the most unbelievable positions; these two maestros of the game met pretty early in Anand’s career.
The duo first met in the Torneo Internacional de Ajedrez Ciudad de Linares in 1991. The quaint little town in Spain probably never apprehended the enormity of the encounter. Records of the clash suggest a nail-biting match which resulted in a thrilling draw. A use of a variation of the Petroff defense, a move popular at the time but the source of great annoyance for the opponent as it was dubbed dull and uninspired, was Anand’s strategy. Anand, playing with Black, encountered varying levels of difficulty ended the game as a draw in 27 moves.
Anand was just 21 at the time. A relatively inexperienced youngster who was up against one of the most formidable titans of the game in that era. With that one strategy in the game, the Madras Lion grabbed eyes as he first entered the exclusively elite club of grandmasters. In fact, it was in 1991 that another marvellous landmark was achieved.
At the highly respectable Interpolis Tournament in Netherlands that year, Viswanathan Anand defeated the two biggest names in chess. These back-to back upsets were unprecedented – especially by someone as young as Anand from a country like India. The “formidable Ks” as they were called – Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov – had no choice but to feel a tinge of pride in the young champion who had challenged their authority within the game.
It has been 26 years since that monumental landmark. Since then, the rivalry between Anand and Kasparov has been the stuff of legends – two daunting personalities engaged in endless battles of wits and strategy, with the quicker of the two remaining the last man standing. As such, it was quite obvious that a revival of their classic competitiveness would be the highlight of the St Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament.
Garry Kasparov, the man whose very name sent collective ripples of intimidation through his opponents, battled Anand one day before officially announcing his retirement in 2005. In a classic case of history repeating itself, the final encounter took place at the scene of their first meeting, with same colours, with the game ending in yet another draw.
From 1991 to 2005, the pair has met and battled wits on the chessboard a total of 48 times in the classical format. Anand has an abysmal record with 3 wins against 15 losses and 30 draws. He fares better in the Rapid chess format- with five wins against 10 losses and 13 draws.
True to tradition, no great rivalry can end without a touch of drama. So at the Saint Louis rapid and Blitz, a slight confusion ensued when the designated arbiter refused to accept the result of the draw. An insistence was made upon the rules which specified a minimum of 30 moves for the match to be successfully called. Both Anand and Kasparov were, therefore, forced to lay out a few token plays to fulfil the requisite number. This happened before the eager eyes of an audience for whom history was playing itself out right in front of them.
Anand’s famous Sicilian Defense proved to be ineffective against Kasparov, who seemed to read the play only too well. This is where Kasparov’s experience came in handy. Instead of relying on fixed moves and premeditated tactics, common sense and basic knowledge prevailed as he had a similarly strong response to avoid whichever way Anand tried to steer the game. In fact, at one point, he displayed a some of his pristine grandeur when he deflected an attack with a pseudo pawn sacrifice. It even tilted the balance in his favour to some extent.
What one can infer from watching these two legends in action is that, despite being away from competitive chess for 12 long years, Kasparov has found a way to keep up with the times both in terms of strategy and competition. The quickness of his plays and his commendable presence of mind proves that. If nothing else, the clash brought back memories of old- of times when the battle on the board provided a rush of adrenaline like no other to anyone watching it. It was perhaps best summed up in Anand’s words after the St Louis clash. “In the end, we chatted like some World War I veterans,” he joked.