In what marks a new chapter in the 122-year history of the world chess title contests, India’s Viswanathan Anand became the champion, beating Russian challenger Vladimir Kramnik with a round to spare in their 12-game match in Bonn. He is the first player from outside the erstwhile Soviet Union region — after the legendary American Bobby Fischer in 1972 — to hold the champion’s crown with a victory in the match-play format. It was far more than just a war of pieces in the German city. It was a stage where Anand proved that he could win in any format of competition against the toughest of opponents. For long, a battle had been brewing between those who believed that Anand was worthy of the world champion status and others — mainly from the western world — who wanted the Indian to prove his prowess in the match-play format. Eight years ago, he won a 128-player knock-out event for the world title and last year he beat a field including Kramnik in an eight-player round-robin competition. Anand has silenced for ever the doubters who had been sceptical about his record in the time-honoured match-play format, with his effortless 6.5-4.5 victory over Kramnik. Defeating a player of Kramnik’s calibre by a two-point margin is itself a remarkable feat given that the Russian is a player who has been undefeated in head-to-head clashes since 2000 and has the distinction of having dethroned the redoubtable Garry Kasparov as the world champion. At one stage, the Indian ace had a commanding three-point lead before Kramnik bounced back with a win in the 10th game.
The victory should help Anand climb back to the No.1 spot in world rankings and it is undoubtedly one of the biggest successes for India in an individual sport. Coming as it does after Abhinav Bindra’s Olympic gold in Beijing, Anand’s triumph does highlight afresh the potential for India to excel at the world level in sports, if there is a greater focus in this regard. If the genius of Anand has left the connoisseurs around the world in awe, his amazing accomplishments have also set off a silent chess revolution in the country. His excellence has inspired fresh talent to enter this extremely challenging game with four junior Grandmasters in India, apart from 12 other GMs. After becoming India’s first Grandmaster in 1987, Anand soon showed his willingness to master the time-tested Soviet system of training. Today, many aspiring grandmasters in India follow the great man’s footsteps. Anand is sure to renew his search for excellence, explore fresh challenges, and scale new peaks even as he remains one of the most admired sporting icons of the country.