For, he did it at the age of 48 and at a time when many had written him off. Little wonder he rates the title up there among his most cherished memories.
“This will always remain a sweet memory,” Anand told The Hindu in a telephone interview. “This success has come at a time when I needed it. It was quite like winning the Candidates tournament at Khanty-Mansiysk in 2014.”
That triumph, in fact, remains one of the finest performances in Anand’s long career. It had come just a few months after his eminently forgettable World title match against Magnus Carlsen in his hometown of Chennai in 2013.
He had shown remarkable character to bounce back to win what was a strong Candidates event — it determines the challenger to face the reigning World champion — and silence his critics who felt his best years were behind him. Three years later, there were even more people who wondered aloud whether it was time for him to quit.
But, over five days and 38 games at Riyadh, he proved that his chess was still in fine shape.
He just lost one game on his way to the rapid title and the bronze medal at the blitz championship.
“When I have a slump in form, I wonder how I should go about it,” said the genial genius. “I don’t think about what others might be saying about me all the time.”
Looking back at his campaign at the Saudi Arabian capital, he said there were many games he was happy with.
Special win :
“Of course, the win against Carlsen in the ninth round of the Rapid championship was special,” he said. “I was playing with black pieces and it came with a big margin. It was also important given the history of my games against him. But, I feel the most crucial win was the one against Alexander Grischuk in the penultimate round.”
He said he was also particularly fond of his second-round victory against Peter Leko. “It was a nice game with all those sacrifices,” he said.
“But, there were also many games I was disappointed with. You should be disappointed in a way that it should help you improve and not to punish yourself.”
He had needed the tie-breakers to win the Rapid crown, following his quick draw with Bu Xiangzhi in the final round. “He went for the most solid line and there wasn’t much I could do,” he said. “I knew that my chances now depended on Carslen’s game, but within five minutes I saw he was getting into trouble against Grischuk.”
Good chances :
Anand said he felt he had good chances against Vladimir Fedoseev in the tie-breaker match. “He is a player who gives you chances even as he creates them for himself,” he said. “And when it was all over, it felt great to reflect that I could have the title World champion before my name once again.”
He said he was moved by the messages he received from his supporters following his victory. “It is nice to have people rooting for you, but you have to give them something to root for,” he said. “I am happy that I could make so many people happy.”
There was a strong Indian contingent at Riyadh. And they were there largely because of the revolution in Indian chess spearheaded single-handedly by Anand’s success at the international arena.
“I am impressed with our young players like Vidit Gujrathi, Aravindh Chithamabaram, Nihal Sarin, R. Praggnanandhaa and P. Iniyan,” he said. “They are all playing steadily.”
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