Viswanathan Anand, the five-time world champion, had finished seventh in the Tata Steel Rapid Chess championships in Kolkata. Heading into the blitz leg of the tournament, the expectations were low from Anand, who is ranked No.11 in the format.
However, the 48-year-old put up a flawless display as he clinched the Tata Steel Chess Blitz Championship with a stunning display on the final day. After securing 7.5 out of nine points on the final day, he was tied for the lead with Hikaru Nakamura, considered to be the best blitz player in the world currently. In the ensuing two-round play-off, which was faster than blitz in a reduced time format of a three-minute game, Anand secured a win with white pieces and drew the last game to clinch the title with a score of 1.5-0.5.
Speaking after the end of the tournament, Anand said the feeling to do well in Kolkata, where he was playing for the first time since the Goodricke Open in 1992, was magical. “I wanted to show the audience what is that I do in some other parts of the world all the time and it was nice to be able to do it here. I did not have any problem with motivation. It genuinely meant a lot to me to do well here,” Anand said.
Final day drama
Heading into the last day of the tournament, Anand put up a flawless display. Placed fourth after the end of the first leg, the Chennai Grandmaster secured six wins and three draws in the nine rounds. On the other hand, Nakamura had a forgettable outing on the final leg where he managed to win four and drew four and suffered a defeat to Pentala Harikrishna in the 11th round.
In the last round, 13-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa did a huge favour to Anand in the last round when he held Nakamura. Playing with whites against the 13-year-old, Nakamura was on the verge of winning but Praggnanandhaa probably displayed the best defensive game of his life to manage a miraculous draw that forced a playoff.
Silencing the critics
With this win, Anand has once again silenced his detractors who were saying that age was catching up with the five-time world champion and that he should quit. In 2017, following a barren run in the last couple of seasons where he failed to make an impact in the World Championship cycle or in the Chess World Cup, Anand bounced back in sensational style to clinch the World Rapid Chess Championship in Riyadh in December 2017.
In 2018, Anand had some mixed results but the Blitz Championship win in Kolkata has once again silenced critics. After the play-off, Nakamura paid Anand the ultimate compliment. “To me, what Vishy has done... I am almost certain I won't be playing chess at that age. So it's really remarkable and I think especially if you compare (him) against Gary (Kasparov) for example. Gary kind of came out of retirement to play in St Lucia. And I think Vishy did better than he did. It just shows what a truly amazing chess player he is,” Nakamura said.
-With PTI inputs-