In chess, the knight moves two steps forward and one sideways. In 2006, three knights of Indian chess — Viswanathan Anand, P Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy — moved a few steps forward and one back, their several triumphs marred by one spectacular collapse that made as much news as their brilliant performances in the entire year.
Anand's debacle came in the Turin Olympiad where he played seven draws in a row. Harikrishna touched the nadir at the Aerosvit 2006 in Ukraine, finishing at the bottom in a tournament for the first-time ever. For Humpy, the year's low came in the Women's World Championship where she made an exit in the second round itself. Krishnan Sasikiran, too, had a mixed year.
Overall, it was an outstanding year for Indian chess as Anand, K Sasikiran and Hari hit an all-time high in their ELO ratings. It culminated in India bagging two gold medals as the sport made its maiden appearance at the Asian Games. Humpy was crucial in both wins.
India's Grand Master tally swelled to 15 as Deepan Chakkravarthy, Neelotpal Das and Parimarjan Negi added their names to the list while the country's domination of age-group tournaments continued both at the World and Continental levels. India scooped all the eight gold medals on offer at the Asian Juniors in Tehran. India then bagged 10 medals, including five gold, in the World Youth Championship at Batumi, Georgia.
Negi captured the imagination of the country when he became the second youngest GM in the history of the sport.
World No 2 Anand got off to a good start, stumbled a bit in the middle part before ending in a flourish. He won the Corus Chess title for a record fifth time, finished third at the Mtel Masters in Sofia, won the title in Leon and defeated Taimur Radjabov to bag the Mainz Classic title for the umpteenth time.
There was disappointment in store for Anand at the Corscia Masters in France where he lost to Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan in rapid chess, which is considered his forte. Then came the Turin Olympiad in which he scored 4.5 from nine games as India, second seed, went into an unbelievable tailspin, finishing 30th among 150 teams. But the disappointment did not linger as the Indian maestro bounced back in style winning the Grenkeleasing World Rapid Championship. He then blazed his way to title in Mikhail Tal Memorial in Moscow by a two-point margin in what was the strongest blitz tournament in the history of the game.
Harikrishna won the chess960 Junior World title and also the Marx Gyorgy which was creditable as he came back from a disappointing performance in the Aerosvit 2006 in Ukraine. "That was the lowest point of my career as I have never finished last in any tournament I have played till now. But I bounced back and also had good results in the Olympiad and Asian Games. Overall it was a mixed year for me," Harikrishna said.
For a sport making its debut in the Asiad, there could not have been a better ambassador than Humpy to bag the first gold medal (in individual competition) and then she joined Sasikiran and Harikrishna to lead India to a thumping victory in the team event.