Endgame

Dec 29 2013, 04:36 IST
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SummaryA year in which Viswanathan Anand played some of the best chess of his career, and yet lost a crown

2013 was Viswanathan Anand’s professional annus horribilis. It was a year crowded with mis-steps, lost chances and some plain old bad luck. All of which culiminated with Anand losing his crown to Magnus Carlsen in the world championship match held in Chennai last month.

Looking back, the year too was littered with such so-near-yet-so-far moments.

The traditional season opener is the Tata Steel chess tournament in January. The world’s elite grandmasters all make the journey to the tiny village of Wijk aan Zee, which huddles on the gale-infested North Sea coast of The Netherlands. For two weeks, the village becomes the heart of the chess world. Victory here means entry into the rolls of history, for the event goes back to the 1930s.

Anand has won the event a record five times, more than anyone dead or alive, with the first win going back to 1989. This year was the special 75th anniversary edition and it was clear that Anand was highly motivated. He started well but could not capitalise on promising positions, failing to convert his advantages. Still, by the time the last round came along he was set for a decent second place finish. Pitted against the Chinese Wang Hao, he lost horribly. Last-round defeats are the worst way to end an otherwise good tournament, as they give the feeling that all the hard work has been thrown away, after two weeks of intense struggle.

This pattern was repeated later in May, in the Norway Chess event, in Stavanger. After a good start, it looked the Indian maestro had lost his way amidst the twisting fjords. He pulled himself together and chalked up some terrific wins, the dismantling of the Norwegian player Hammer being particularly gruesome. Meanwhile, Carlsen was put in the shade in his native land by the Russian talent Sergey Karjakin, who dominated the event.

It looked like Anand was on course

for a fine finish. His critical last round

opponent was once again the Chinese grandmaster. And once again, Anand lost — he got “wanghaoed”.

Of course, tournament losses, however painful, cannot even be compared to losing the crown. Fighting for your life on the summit of Olympus takes everything out of you. It is a sacrifice that can only be recompensed by final victory.

Losing a world championship does gouge out deep psychic wounds. It is a loss that

scars your soul. Last year in June, I’d

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