Viswanathan Anand ended the 2016 World Chess Candidates Tournament in Moscow with a feeling of “what if?”
What if he had not gone in for a premature attack against Hikaru Nakamura’s home preparation in Round 12?
Playing with black pieces, Anand lost badly to Nakamura and that defeat spoilt his chances as he had fought back superbly into contention. Anand had lost to Fabiano Caruana in the 10th round and had bounced back by defeating eventual winner Sergey Karjakin in the very next round. But for the loss to Nakamura, he would have been a joint leader going into the last two rounds. Instead was left trailing half-point behind Karjakin and Caruana.
What if Anand had done better with black pieces? He is normally very sound player with black pieces but had three defeats and four draws in seven games in Moscow.
What if he had got a better position with white pieces against “The Immovable Wall”, Anish Giri, in the penultimate round?
Giri had played 12 draws in the event in the 8-player, 14-round tournament and Anand could not get the better of him, thus ending his chances of winning the Candidates tournament and qualifying as challenger for the World Championship Final match against reigning champion Magnus Carlsen in New York in November this year.
Anand eventually finished the Candidates Tournament with 7.5 points out of a possible 14, ending third behind Karjakin (8.5) and Caruana (on tie-breaker). He won four games, just like Karjakin but unlike the Russian challenger, the Indian GM also lost three games too, thus ending on a +1 score, the same as Caruana, who won two games and lost one.
Thus, five-time World champion Anand would return from Moscow with a bitter-sweet feeling.
On one hand, he would be satisfied that his performance was far better than that in the last few events like London Classic and in Gibraltar Chess Congress, his first open tournament in two decades in which he uncharacteristically ended in the 41st spot.
Since the latter half of 2015, Anand has been struggling to get favourable positions on the board. Unlike Carlsen, he is someone who thrives on aggressive play, sound preparation and dynamic positions on the board. In the last few years, Anand’s performance seems to get affected once he fails to get the desired position on the board and lapses into mistakes.
In the Candidates, he was well prepared and got good positions especially against Svidler (first half) and Karjakin (11th round) and his defeat of Karjakin and Levon Aronian was especially pleasing to watch.
However, Anand would be ruing missing an opportunity to play in another World Championship Final match. He will now have to wait till 2018 for another shot at the crown that he first won way back in 2001 in Tehran.
He has contested for the title in every cycle since 2006 and it would be after a decade that the Grandmaster from Chennai would not be in contention for the title. Anand regained the title in Mexico in 2007, defended it by beating Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn in 2008, Veselin Topalov in Sofia in 2010 and Boris Gelfand in Moscow in 2012. He lost to Carslen in 2013 in Chennai and then in Sochi in 2014 and came very close to qualifying for a third battle with the Norwegian World No 1.
“It was a bit of a roller-coaster (ride). I had some very good moments; in the end third is still a good result in this tournament. But I feel that, and there were times when I was really close, it could easily have been a great tournament.” Anand said after his 14th round game against Svidler.
“The thing is that you can’t pick and choose – take the wins and say the losses should not have happened. So there is mixed feeling. There were hits and misses, clearly with black, I missed a lot,” he added.
With that feeling in his mind, Anand will be off the circuit for couple of months, taking rest after the hectic schedule. He plans to be back playing tournaments in the second half of the year and take things from there.
In Moscow, he lost his position as India’s numero uno for a day but regained it a day later.
Having answered his critics who though he was too old to be in contention for the title in Moscow, Anand will be hoping to build on this performance and continue to prove that there is still a lot of fight left in him.
The Moscow Candidates has established that Viswanathan Anand is not done with the World Championship yet.