Chess rewind 2017: Viswanathan Anand’s year to forget, but other Indian shine
In the last 28 years, Viswanathan Anand has been a towering figure in world chess. The five-time world champion continued to give players half his age a run for their money. The fact that Anand has never slipped out of the top 10 since 1991 is a testament to his greatness. However, 2017 witnessed a possible passing of the baton in Indian chess. It was a tough year for Anand, finishing last in the Chess Grand Prix and losing in the second round of the World Cup in Tbilisi, Georgia. Having not finished at the top of the Grand Chess Tour and not qualifying for the World Cup final, Anand is out of the Championship cycle in 2018 to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world title.
However, Anand did show some signs of brilliance. In the Sinquefield Cup, he finished joint second with champion Carlsen. In the St Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament, Anand squared off against former world champ Garry Kasparov of Russia. Although the game ended in a draw, Anand described the meeting with Kasparov after the game as, “We chatted like World War-I veterans.”
Despite Anand’s disastrous year, the Indian chess scenario is not bleak. The year witnessed the coming of age of 22-year-old Vidit Gujrathi. The Nashik youngster reached the third round of the World Cup, the best among Indians. Gujrathi was within touching distance of entering the next round but faltered in a crucial tie-breaker. Gujrathi drew with world champion Carlsen in the Isle of Man tournament but he crossed the 2700 ELO mark, making him only the fourth Indian GM — Anand, Harikrishna and K Sasikiran are the others — to achieve the feat.
India also witnessed a resurgence in women’s chess thanks to Harika Dronavalli. The high point for Dronavalli came in the women’s World Championship in Tehran in an epic encounter with eventual champion Tan Zhongyi of China. One match went to 162 moves and Dronavalli won the titanic clash. After drawing in rapid and blitz, she lost in sudden death Armageddon because she ran out of time.
Dronavalli’s bronze in Tehran was followed by her winning the best women’s player-of-the-tournament award in Reykjavik and Abu Dhabi.
However, 2017 yet again belonged to Magnus Carlsen. The reigning world champion finished top of the Grand Chess Tour. Carlsen, though, threw FIDE authorities into a tizzy when he decided to play the World Cup and the Candidates, exploiting a rule which did not bar a world champion from participating in the tournaments.
Carlsen crashed out in the third round and the event was won by Levon Aronian, who defeated China’s Ding Liren. In the process, both players qualified for the 2018 Candidates event.
Looking ahead to 2018, Anand, 48, has a chance to try something new in the Grand Tour and stay in contention for a future shot at a Championship in 2020 ,while the youngsters can build on the gains of 2017.