As Viswanathan Anand finishes his tournament engagements for 2013 and goes into preparation mode for the world title bout against Magnus Carlsen in November, the champion speaks about his busy year so far, his crushing loss against Carlsen in what was their last classical game before the final, the Norwegian's apparent weakness in the opening phase and the inspiration he draws from Boris Gelfand.
Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express:
You made a conscious decision to play more tournaments this year (Anand played 56 games since the beginning of this year, winning 14 and losing eight games). Were there any objectives when you started off and were they achieved in some sense?
Last year I played nothing before the match (against Gelfand in May 2012), and even after the match, I did not get to play until September. I wanted to play a lot in 2013, thought it would be the perfect time to squeeze in a few tournaments.
Initially I had an idea I would play four or five tournaments but I got invitations for Alekhine and the Tal memorials, and suddenly I found myself playing six tournaments by June. I hesitated a bit. Then I thought if you want to play you might as well go ahead and do it. The idea was somewhat to play myself into shape and just play more often and get the feel of how it is to be on the circuit continuously as opposed to taking huge breaks. In that sense it was successful. I did get to play a lot, and I got a lot more wins, a lot more decisive results. I had 22 decisive games — 14 wins, 8 losses. That is already a big improvement over last year when I found it difficult to have decisive games at all. In that sense this year was very successful. I wanted to play a lot to understand what was happening with me and playing a lot helped.
I would say that I was neither successful this year nor disappointed. It's something in between. I came very close, in a lot of tournaments, to having a spectacular result but found that this year I never seemed to know when I would have a low again. It really become a rollercoaster. The consistent last-round losses, there were several areas of concern popping up again and again which I will have to look into. The only overall result I am clearly disappointed with is Tal (Anand finished eighth out of 10 participants with a 1W-5D-3L record). Overall, the year was positive, though it could very easily have been much better.
Was fatigue a factor with the last-round losses (Anand lost to Wang Hao in the last round at both Tata Steel and Norway Chess this year)?
It could be that but I would say my last-round defeats this year were down to a lack of concentration. That could, of course, be connected to the end of the tournament. At some point, I could feel my effort flagging, and I was aware of it and was trying to stop myself doing it, but it happened despite that. Not just the last-round losses this year but my play with white is clearly a concern. I won many more games with white but also lost quite a few with white. I think I've had five losses with white and three with black. There are a lot of technical details I have to sit and think about. In general, I wanted to go through a test of fire, an examination of sorts. Now I have my results and experiences during these games to think about and work on.
How difficult is it to work on, change these things — your concentration levels, results with white and so on — in six months before the match?
Honestly, I don't know. You just work as much as possible on the problems. If you can fix them, it is great, if you can't, you at least improve your play in those areas and hope to cover some of the weaknesses. Doesn't really matter how relevant it is to the match.
Carlsen has shown himself to be a resourceful and dangerous opponent, so I'll have to work really hard. I felt that the tournaments indicated a lot of problem areas, even ones I haven't mentioned or revealed. You feel some concerns at the board and it is difficult to replicate them at home. You play these tournaments and have lots of thoughts and ideas about what you want to do afterwards. That's the most I can take away from them.
The loss against Carlsen (Tal Memorial), how difficult was that to take?
That was one of the worst. Not only did I lose, I lost embarrassingly. The game was over in just a couple of hours. It was a really, really off day. It's a pity. Something clearly just went wrong and I have some idea what it is. I will work at fixing that problem, but it is one among many problems that have cropped up.
The significance of the loss?
What can I tell you... It has some significance. In the end I would say the match begins at 0-0. I'm happy I got it over with in June rather than it happening in November. Ideally, I would have played a better game, a better tournament. A good tournament result would definitely have been better than what I had but that is life. I don't want to fret about it.
Surprisingly, Carlsen was caught out in a couple of end games (against Wang Hao and Fabiano Caruana) this year, his supposed strength. What did you make of it?
Not only were these tournaments an experience for me, but for him as well. I have a lot of material to work on, a lot of material from my games and a lot from his. I noticed some of the things you've mentioned but I'll have to take a much more complete look and spend a lot of time on that.
Gelfand's second wind at 45, is it something to take inspiration from (Gelfand finished first at the Tal Memorial supertournament ahead of Carlsen and several other top-ten players)?
I was very, very happy. I find that when it is not for myself, I root for Vlady (Kramnik) or Boris, the players of my generation. It has become a natural reaction. At Alekhine, I was impressed by his play but was not sure if it was a one-off good tournament, but now he has shown it's something deeper. It's a very impressive result and I tip my hat to him. I will definitely think about what went right with him and incorporate that in some way.
Carlsen's apparent opening weakness, is it all that it is made out to be?
His alleged weakness in opening is something a lot of people have tried to exploit over the last five years. It is just an approach to chess that is different from that of many other people, from my generation. It's different and definitely an aspect I will have to take into account and work on. If I spot a weakness, of course I should try to exploit it but it is too simplistic to call it a weakness as if it is something he developed in the last year. If it really was, somebody would have been able to prove something in the last five years. For me, it is a bit naive to call it a weakness. It definitely is a peculiar style which I hope to find the right weapon against. I would rather say (in terms of a boxing analogy) he is someone who has a very fast right rather than a left, it's just a facet of his style.
How difficult is it to prepare against Carlsen's wider range of opening, universal style of play?
That is something I will tell you after the match, but what I will say is that everybody has strengths, weakness and different facets. I will take that into account and try and find the most successful antidote.
How much of a factor will it be, your experience of having played matches before?
Match experience is one factor among many and if you look at the history of matches, the less experienced player has won probably as many matches as the more experienced one. I would say it is a factor, and if you bring it to play then it will work for you.