Khanty-Mansiysk 2014: When an Indian last won the Candidates - Hindustan Times
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Khanty-Mansiysk 2014: When an Indian last won the Candidates

Apr 21, 2024 11:05 PM IST

How Anand went from not wanting to play the tournament to winning it with a round to spare a decade ago

The last time an Indian won the Candidates was a decade ago. Back then, Viswanathan Anand wrestled with the idea of whether to play it at all. He had just been dethroned as world champion. It was a painful defeat on his home turf to Magnus Carlsen in November 2013. At the London Chess Classic in January 2014, Vladimir Kramnik talked him into playing the Candidates.

File image of Viswanathan Anand.(File)
File image of Viswanathan Anand.(File)

“I had not switched on my computer (for chess) for almost two-and-a-half months then. I was wondering do I even want to look at chess?” Anand told Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa, Vaishali and Humpy over a dinner he hosted for them before they left for the Candidates in Toronto.

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“I realised next time onwards I have to qualify for the Candidates. So, I told myself…what the hell, I’ll go and play.”

Anand was 44 and already a five-time world champion then.

Other than a short camp in Germany and playing Bundesliga, he didn’t do any serious chess work heading into the Khanty-Mansiysk Candidates in March 2014. “We did very little pre-tournament work,” one of his trainers, Radoslaw Wojtazsek, said. “Our camp in Germany was largely about keeping a positive attitude. I remember we prepared some opening ideas but Vishy didn’t use any of those during the Candidates…What helped of course was that we did a lot of work ahead of previous World Championship matches, so opening-wise we were certain he would do fine.”

It was Anand’s first Candidates in the double round robin tournament format. He had been pretty much written off after losing to Carlsen and was given poor odds heading into the tournament.

“My state of mind was very unusual,” Anand said. “I went to Khanty-Mansiysk very detached from any kind of expectation or pressure. I felt in my world. It’s a very hard state of mind to recreate or even want to recreate. I was just relaxed, had very low expectations and just wanted to try and see if I could have a good tournament.”

It turned out to be one of the best tournaments of his life.

In the first round, he defeated tournament favourite and world No.2 Levon Aronian, his toughest opponent at the time. In three rounds, he had three wins. “Already I’d more wins than God knows how long in just three days…I didn’t have a single bad position except for the one perhaps against (Sergey) Karjakin in the penultimate round. The entire tournament went like a dream.” He finished unbeaten and earned a rematch against Carlsen. It was also Anand’s last Candidates appearance.

“I rate his 2014 Candidates very highly just for how he was able to re-group and get back to playing high-level chess,” Wojtazsek, who has been part of Anand’s many World Championship wins, said. “It’s so cool that after 10 years so many Indians made the Candidates. Another Vishy legacy.”

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