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The return of the King: Garry Kasparov rekindles iconic rivalry against Vishy Anand

299   //    20 Aug 2017, 13:36 IST

World Chess Championship
World chess legend Garry Kasparov is back.

It was 2005 when Garry Kasparov, arguably the best player of chess in the history of the game decided that he had had enough, and it was time to hang up his boots. His legion of fans was distraught. The man had, after all, ruled the top levels of competitive professional chess for close to three decades. And towards the middle, he was so far ahead of the rest of the pack that he was virtually unbeatable.

There are three distinct phases in a chess player’s career, a game where, contrary to the public opinion of players, age plays a highly discernable role. In the first phase, from beginning to play to the mid-twenties, a player is considered an upstart, a young buck, getting familiar with the level of cutthroat competition, locking horns with the big shots, and making a mark on the world rankings.

This is the challenger-phase of his/her career. This is the time where a lot of deep learning is involved as well playing some very non-traditional moves. This is the time where a player builds up his/her own unique style that marks him/her out over the rest of their career.

This phase of Kasparov’s career was marked by the beginning of his fierce rivalry with fellow countryman, the great Anatoly Karpov. This rivalry would culminate in as many as five World Championships events over seven years in which they faced off against each other. At the end of it all, it was Kasparov, much younger than Karpov, who came out the clear winner in 1990.

The second phase of his career began then and lasted till towards the end of the decade. During this era, he was virtually unplayable, deploying variations in openings that were unheard of. His theoretical innovations in opening preparations went off the charts and soon he was raking up record points on the ELO scale, the highest ever in history till very recently. As his dominance continued, but a strong presence was quietly preparing himself in the background.

Born to Tamil parents in the Philippines, Viswanathan Anand took up chess at a young age, urged and encouraged by his mother. His rise was rapid, like his playing style, and he quickly established himself as a force to reckon with. By the early 1990’s, he had had quite a few run-ins with the Russian and come out bruising badly.

In fact, they had faced each other in a World Championship match high atop the World Trade Centre in New York in 1995. Kasparov was still much too strong for him and the Indian was still learning the ropes. But streaks of Anand’s tenacity were already starting to show and neither knew to what heights the young challenger would climb to.

Chess World Championships
A prolific author, human rights campaigner and a fierce critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

With the dawn of the 21st century, age began to catch up with Kasparov. He was vulnerable, even he could bleed. Challengers like Vassily Ivanchuk, Vishy Anand, fellow countryman Vladimir Kramnik were out to draw his blood. He hung up his boots while still on a high, and decided to engage himself in fresher pastures like politics, both inside and outside of the chess world. His long standing feuds with Putin-led Russia, and FIDE, which he claimed to be influenced by Putin, now took center stage.

The gap in the center of the chess world was soon usurped by Vishy Anand. In back-to-back matches, he wrestled the World Championship from Kramnik and began a long sequence of successful title defenses against a variety of opponents, young and old. In fact, Anand sought and received help from Kasparov for his preparation against challenger Veselin Topalov.

Fast forward to 2013. Vishy, 43, faces the toughest match of his career in his title defense against Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen. The challenger was not only the best player of his generation, he was proving to have potential to topple Kasparov himself as the greatest player in history.

The Russian even took him under his wing, and for a year, trained the young prodigy to hone his skills and make him more lethal. Vishy, dashing all hopes of fans worldwide, lost the match and thus gave up his title. His return match proved no better as Carlsen comfortably defended his title. It was an end of an era, the demise of Anand, and Kasparov had more than a little part to play in it.

The two faced off in the recently concluded St. Louis Blitz and Rapid event, as Kasparov came out of retirement after 12 years to play in a competitive match. Anand, playing with the fatigue carried from the just concluded Sinquefield tournament, had an unremarkable stretch finishing 8th out of 10 competitors. Kasparov picked up some momentum on the last day to end up fifth. Though chess is ‘no country for old men’ we hope to see these legends face each other many more times over the years, because even at their worst, they are better than the best.

Including all formats, Kasparov beats Anand, 27 to 8 with 43 draws. 10.3% of the games won playing white, 34.6% games won playing black and the rest ended as draws.

If one line can sum up the meeting of these two legends, it would be,

‘When an unstoppable force, meets an immovable object.’

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