Pentala Harikrishna finished second in the rapid section and fifth in the blitz section of the Tata Steel Chess tournament. (Image credit: Chessbase Twitter)
Viswanathan Anand, the five-time world chess champion, has endured a tough period in the last couple of years. The 48-year-old has struggled in the Chess Grand Prix and is out of the reckoning in the World Championship. With every passing year, critics have been quick to point out that Anand’s playing days are numbered and the voice has grown louder with each failure.
However, each time the voices have grown, Anand has silenced them in grand style. In 2017, the Chennai Grandmaster became the World Rapid Champion in Riyadh. In 2018, at the Tata Steel Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship, Anand added another feather to his cap by becoming the Blitz Champion in what was the strongest super tournament held in India.
In an exclusive interaction with News Nation, Indian grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna lashed out at critics who had questioned Anand’s calibre. “Critics have the right to say what they want. However, with this win, they have no validity. They have never experienced the kind of pressure that Anand is facing. The amount of rapid and blitz Anand is playing at this age, the pressure is immense. The fact that he is sustaining it even now shows his brilliance,” Harikrishna said.
Stunning win for Anand
On the final day of the tournament, Anand was fourth heading into the last round of blitz games. In a stunning display, the 48-year-old registered a total of 7.5 out of 9 points and was tied for the lead with Hikaru Nakamura, the best blitz player in the world behind only world champion Magnus Carlsen. In the play-off, Anand registered a win in the first game and drew the second to clinch the title.
“Anand was really motivated. He won the games convincingly and his performance was really outstanding,” Harikrishna said.
However, the 32-year-old, as well as 13-year-old Grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa played a big part in Anand’s win. Harikrishna had defeated Nakamura in the blitz game while Praggnanandhaa drew with the American Grandmaster in the final game to take the competition into the tie-breaker.
India show in depth in talent
Harikrishna had a strong Tata Steel Chess Championship, finishing in second position in the Rapid section and finishing fifth in the Blitz. In addition to Harikrishna, other Indian superstars like Vidit Gujrathi, Nihal Sarin, Praggnanandhaa and to a certain extent, Surya Shekhar Ganguly all put in greatt displays to show that Indian chess was in great hands even if Anand retired in the immediate future.
Harikrishna analysed each player and said, “The next two generations are doing really well in Chess. The confidence that 14-year-old Sarin and 13-year-old Praggnanandhaa will get from playing with players with an ELO rating of 2700 is massive. Vidit was solid but he could not convert his good openings into a win. The tournament showcased to the people of India the depth and talent available in our sport,” Harikrishna said.
The tournament was special for Harikrishna for several reasons. He was the only Grandmaster to beat Nakamura in the blitz section and defeated Levon Aronian in both rapid and blitz, the only losses the Armenian suffered in the tournament. However, the Indian Grandmaster rued some missed chances. “I lost too many games, in fact three games on the last day. However, I am satisfied with my game, considering I was the fifth seed. My wins against Aronian were special. It was great to come back to the city where I had secured my first GM norm and perform well. I rate my performance 8/10,” Harikrishna said.
Currently, the World Chess Championship match is going on between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana. When asked about who might win the championship, Harikrishna said, “Caruana looked nervous on the big stage but he has bounced back well. Currently, it is 50-50 but I hope Caruana wins.”
The 32-year-old, who recently tied the knot with Woman FIDE Master Nadezda Stojanovic of Serbia, will now play in the World Rapid Championship which will be tentatively held in December.