Viswanathan Anand became world number one for the first time in April this year, capping off a brilliant journey that began over two decades ago. But the head that wore the crown rested uneasy without the title of undisputed world champion.
The 37-year-old had won the FIDE World championship in 2000 beating Alexei Shirov in Tehran, but he was still considered the ‘FIDE champion’ by many, and not the world champion. For them, that title was Vladimir Kramnik’s who claimed the title by beating Garry Kasparov in London earlier that year.
Though Anand never held a grudge against those who refused to accept his world champion status, the elation of having proved a point to them was palpable in his voice when the Hindustan Times contacted him in Mexico over phone soon after he had clinched the unified crown.
“To become an unified world champion is fantastic,” Anand said. “For me both Tehran and Mexico are world championship wins. But some people felt that 2000 was just a FIDE title. Now they can't say so.”
Anand went into the final round with a one-point advantage over Israel's Boris Gelfand and required just a draw against Leko to clinch the crown and pocket $300,000.
Defending champion Vladimir Kramnik, winner of the Unification Match against Veselin Topalov last year, finished second after beating Armenia's Levon Aronian in the final round, while Gelfand was third. Both finished on 8 points, a point behind Anand.
Despite the comfortable margin of victory, Anand admitted that the journey to the title had not been an easy one, despite him being considered a runaway favourite. “Being a favourite puts pressure on you. That showed in the initial rounds.
“The field was very strong and I always expected a tough campaign," said the champion.
Anand got off to a tentative start in the competition and it was only in the fifth round against Peter Svindler that he hit top gear. He opened up a one point lead over Gelfand in the ninth round and there was no looking back.
“Even then I was not taking anything for granted," Anand said. "(Alexander) Grischuk proved that last night (when Anand barely managed a draw against the Russian in the penultimate round). But once I came out unscratched, I knew the title was mine to take, more so because I was playing with white against Leko.
“I am very happy the way I played. To win the title without losing a game is a fantastic achievement,” he added.
Asked what his initial reaction was when Leko accepted his draw offer, Anand said he felt very happy. "The feeling is yet to sink in. Maybe late in the night I will wake up and exult: YES. At the moment I am giving interviews and speaking to people.”
Anand will have more reason to celebrate when FIDE releases the new rating list for October 2007 tonight, as he will cross the 2800 ELO mark once again. According to estimate, Anand has gained 11 points from Mexico and will be rated 1801 in the new list.
According to the world championship cycle, the Indian will defend his title against Kramnik next year. But Anand said he wasn’t thinking about that yet. “That is a year away. I will take one step at a time. Let me enjoy this moment now,” said the four-time Chess Oscar winner.
So what celebrations are planned? “Nothing much. I am currently getting ready to go out for dinner with my wife and few friends. That's all," Anand signed off.