By the time Viswanathan Anand was among the world’s elite players, most knew that he would go down as one of the top players of his era. But with the monster that was Garry Kasparov standing in the way of a World Championship, it seemed possible that Anand might go down as one of the best players never to win a World Championship. Not long after Kasparov retired, though, it became clear that Anand was a chess legend in his own right – and one that will go down in history as a more-than-worthy member of the exclusive list of World Champions.
Early Life and Career
Viswanathan Anand was born on December 11, 1969 in Mayiladuthurai, India. After his family moved to Chennai, Anand was taught chess at the age of six by his mother and a family friend.
By the age of 14, Anand was known in Indian chess circles thanks to his perfect score in the National Sub-Junior Chess Championship, and was pegged as a player with the potential to become India's first grandmaster. By 15, he had become the youngest Indian ever to reach the rank of International Master, and at 16, he had won his first Indian national championship.
In 1987, Anand won the World Junior Chess Championship. At that time, that title did not earn a player the Grandmaster title, but that was only a matter of time; the very next year, just after turning 18, Anand would earn his third GM norm and become his country's first player to earn the Grandmaster distinction.
Rise to the Elite
It didn't take long for Anand to make his presence felt on the world chess scene. By 1991, Anand was competing against the best players in the world, and even won the 1991 Reggio Emilia tournament ahead of World Champions Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.
Perhaps most amazing about Anand's play during this time his career was the speed at which he played. While it certainly wasn't unheard of for him to slow down a little in a difficult position, Anand typically played at a pace that was more reminiscent of rapid or even blitz play, regardless of the time control he was presented with.
In 1990, Anand has finished 3rd in the Interzonal tournament, easily qualifying to participate in the Candidates Tournament for the 1993 World Chess Championship. After defeating Alexei Dreev in the first round, he lost a close match to former champion Anatoly Karpov in the quarterfinals to be eliminated from contention.
That cycle was also a turning point in world chess, as Kasparov had split the "Classical" line of champions away from the title that FIDE claimed belonged to them. As a result, there were now two champions: Kasparov, who most people saw as the world's legitimate champion, and Karpov, who help the lesser (but still significant) FIDE title.
This gave Anand two chances to play for a World Championship in the mid 90's. In the FIDE championship cycle, Gata Kamsky was able to eliminate Anand in the quarterfinal round, with Kamsky eventually going on to earn the right to challenge Karpov for the title in 1996 (with Karpov prevailing).
But in the PCA (or Classical) World Championship, it was Anand who had the better of the play. In the final candidates match, Anand was able to defeat Kamsky, earning the right to challenge Kasparov for the World Chess Championship.
That match was held in 1995 in the World Trade Center in New York City. The first eight games of the match were drawn, but Anand broke through to win the 9th game, and it seemed as though he had every chance of winning the title away from the seemingly invincible Kasparov. But Kasparov showed his class in the games that followed, winning four of the next five games and ultimately defeating Anand by a 10.5-7.5 score.
Anand once again fought his way through a Candidates tournament in 1998 - in a format similar to that of the modern Chess World Cup - to challenge Karpov for the FIDE World Championship in 1998. This time, Anand forced a draw against Karpov, playing a 3-3 match before losing a rapid playoff by a 2-0 score.
Reaching the Summit
While those setbacks were difficult for Anand, it was clear that he was a serious contender for either (or both) World Championship title, and it wouldn't be long before he struck gold. Sure enough, in 2000, he worked his way through the FIDE Championship gauntlet yet again to defeat Alexei Shirov 3.5-0.5 in the final, earning the FIDE title. Anand would hold the title until the next FIDE World Championship in 2002, when he reached the semifinals before losing to Vassily Ivanchuk. Anand has another shot at the FIDE title in 2005, but finished second in a eight-person, double round-robin tournament format.
By 2007, the two World Chess Championship titles had been reunified, helping to clarify the situation at the top of the chess world. Interestingly, FIDE chose to have the 2007 championship held in the double round-robin format rather than the traditional match play format. In a tournament held in Mexico City, Anand scored 9/14 against seven of the other best players in the world to win the event and become the undisputed World Chess Championship.
Given the format in which he won, though, many chess fans regarded Anand's standing as World Champion as questionable or suspect. That all changed in 2008, when Anand defeated former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik 6.5-4.5 to retain his title and put to rest any doubts as to the legitimacy of his reign as World Champion. In 2010, Anand - after struggling to get to Sofia for the match due to a volcanic eruption interrupting air travel - defended his title against Veselin Topalov. In a tight match, the score stood tied at 5.5-5.5 heading into the final game, where Topalov had White. Topalov pressed and ultimately erred in a position where he did not have a clear advantage, and Anand won with the Black pieces to hold on to his title by a 6.5-5.5 score.
Anand once again defended his title in 2012 against a surprising opponent: Israel's Boris Gelfand, who had come out of the Candidates Matches as the challenger. Though oddsmakers pegged Anand as a heavy favorite, the match started with six draws with few winning chances for either side before Anand actually lost the 7th game of the match. Anand came back to win the 8th game, though, and after the match stood tied at 6-6 at the end of standard play, Anand was able to win a rapid tiebreak 2.5-1.5 to keep his hold on the title.
Anand has been known for playing extremely quickly, though he has slowed himself down somewhat in recent years. Still, he is capable of playing rapidly whenever he wants to, and rarely finds himself in time trouble as a result. Like all World Champions, he is strong in all areas of chess, though his biggest strength may be his tactical vision. While his tournament results have fallen off somewhat in recent years, he has retained his focus in match play, which has allowed him to hold onto his title against several strong challengers.
- World Junior Champion in 1987
- First Indian Grandmaster
- Six-time winner of the Chess Oscar (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008)
- Won Wijk aan Zee tournament five times (1989, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2006)
- Won Linares tournament three times (1998, 2007, 2008)
- Won Dortmund tournament three times (1996, 2000, 2004)
World Championship Matches and Tournaments
1995: Lost to Garry Kasparov 10.5-7.5 (+1 -4 =13) in Classical World Championship match
2000: Defeated Alexei Shirov 3.5-0.5 (+3 =1) to become FIDE World Champion
2005: Tied for second with 8.5/14 in FIDE World Championship Tournament (won by Veselin Topalov)
2007: Won World Championship Tournament with 9/14 score to become Classical World Champion
2008: Defeated Vladimir Kramnik 6.5-4.5 (+3 -1 =7) to retain World Championship
2010: Defeated Veselin Topalov 6.5-5.5 (+3 -2 =7) to retain World Championship
2012: Defeated Boris Gelfand 8.5-7.5 after rapid tiebreaks (+1 -1 =10 in main match; +1 =3 in tiebreaks) to retain World Championship