Viswanathan Anand had high and low points in 2016. He won the Leon Chess Rapid Masters tournament and had solid performances in the Sinquefield Cup in St.Louis, Tal Memorial tournament and in the London Chess Classic.
The low point was the Candidates tournament where, despite beating eventual winner Sergey Karjakin of Russia, Anand ended up joint second. He finished fourth in the 2016 Grand Chess tour, resulting in him not securing direct qualification for the Grand Chess tour of 2017.
Another low point for Anand in 2016 was the death of Tamil Nadu chief minister, Jayalalithaa, on December 5. The five-time world champion had a good rapport with the actress-turned-politician. Her biggest contribution to chess was ensuring Chennai hosted the 2013 FIDE World Championships, the first time the World Championship was held outside Europe, Russia or the United States.
Anand, who will play the World Rapid and Blitz championship in Doha on December 25, spoke about his performances, his memories of Jayalalithaa and the challenges for 2017.
Q) How would you describe your performances in 2016?
It was a stable year. Except for the start, I did well in most of the tournaments where I managed a score of +1. I had success in rapid tournaments. There are positives to take out from 2016.
Q) A talking point in the London tournament was your innovation against winner Wesley So. Can you describe it?
The Queen’s Gambit declined, which I used against Wesley (Filipino GM playing for US), is an old move. There is a variation with the bishop which makes this move different. I had prepared well for this. I used the same against Vaselin Topalov to secure the win.
Q.) Magnus Carlsen and Wesley So are dominating the chess circuit. How would you describe their style of play?
Both Carlsen and Wesley play effortless chess. Wesley, in particular, never seems to be breaking into a sweat while playing.
Q) Were you surprised Karjakin stretched Carlsen into the tie-breaks in the recent championship clash?
Karjakin put in a solid effort. He went for a conservative approach and executed it well. It was an exciting contest from a sporting point of view. However, from a point of view of new ideas, it was not a good championship.
Q) What are your memories of Jayalalithaa?
She had a very humble nature. Every time I won, Jayalalithaa would congratulate me. I shared a wonderful rapport with her.
Q) What was Jayalalithaa’s contribution to the growth of chess?
Her personal efforts were instrumental in Chennai playing host to the 2013 FIDE World Chess championship match (Carlsen beat Anand). India had bid in 2010 and 2012 but on both occasions, we lost. Jayalalithaa’s insistence ensured the championship came to Chennai. The presence of chess in Tamil Nadu schools increased. A lot of awards were given during her tenure.