Indian chess legend Viswanathan Anand opened up on his rivalry with Vladimir Kramnik, especially recalling their 2008 World Championship meeting where Anand beat Kramnik 6.5-4.5 after 11 matches.
Kramnik and Anand, who faced each other in 93 classical games, won eleven each and drew the other 72 meetings. Throughout their careers, there was little to choose between the players and that’s how it concluded.
“Out of the 20 odd years, we have swapped the number 2-3 position. We were always very close to each other in terms of points, so close that when he retired our scores were absolutely identical even after more the 150 games,” Anand was quoted as saying in The Finish Line web series.
In the 2008 World Championships, Anand and Kramnik squared off in the best of twelve-games match. Anand entered the contest as a defending champion.
Four out of the first seven games ended in draws with Anand winning the other three, twice with black. The next three games ended as draws with Kramnik beating Anand in the tenth game. With another draw in the eleventh game, Anand sealed the title without needing to play the twelfth game.
Anand decided to go with 1D4 in the big match for the world title against Kramnik, who had always been a 1D4 player. The change of opening worked.
“Well it was a big risk to take for sure in such a scenario, I looked at my recent games with him where I found that I was finding it very difficult to land the punch in E4,” Anand said.
“I did not want to get to a position where we were playing some sort of boring attrition chess, then I suddenly thought why not play with D4 as I have dabbled with it even though I am not very good at it,” he added.
“It wasn’t a logical decision, If I would have written down pros and cons after a while I would have convinced myself to not pursue it. For someone who might not understand, in exaggerated words, it is the equivalent of Federer switching to his left hand against Nadal in a Grand Slam,” he continued.
A 12-game match takes its toll on the players and when the competitors are so neck and neck like Anand and Kramnik were, small tweaks can make a difference.
“Well for the world championship the schedule is fairly luxurious, but that gives you some sort of a starting point. We used to play one white one black, then there is a rest day and it goes on. The idea is to take two games at a time.” he said.
“The real difficult moment comes after game 10 because after game 10 he finally managed to pinpoint one weakness. It was all about making some logical improvisations, but we had done such good work and we had two white pieces. So I managed to neutralize him fairly early. In fact, the 11th game did not last very long,” he added.
Kramnik retired in 2019, a decision that took many chess fans by surprise. His rivalry with Anand though was one of the highlights of his career.