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Is Vishy Anand hinting at retirement?

by Aditya Pai - 05/07/2017

Ever since his World Championship loss against Magnus Carlsen in 2013, many have speculated about Anand's retirement at different points of time. The former five-time World Champion, however, always dismissed such ideas stating he still enjoys playing the game and has no plans of retirement. But in his interview with GM Maurice Ashley after the final round of Leuven Rapid, Anand really seemed to have lost his spirit. Calling his play mental, he went on to say that it makes no sense to him to play chess like this. Was this a reaction out of despair or is the Indian chess legend seriously hinting at retirement?

Magnus Carlsen wins in Leuven

Magnus Carlsen ran away with the blitz event on the final day of the Leuven Grand Chess Tour leg. Thus, he won the overall Rapid+ Blitz event
What started as a three point deficit on the fourth day, ended with a three point lead over Wesley So for Magnus Carlsen. Anand finished eighth.
The Grand Chess Tour Standings. Note: Players like Magnus, MVL, So, Nakamura have played both Paris and Leuven GCT, while Anand, Caruana, Karjakin etc. have played just one.

Is Vishy Anand hinting at retirement?

The Madras Tiger was evidently feeling dejected with his overall performance, but more so because of what happened on day 3 of the Leuven Rapid (Source: Official Website)

After a series of tumultuous games in the rapid leg of the recently concluded Leuven Chess Championship, Vishy Anand for the first time has hinted at plans of retirement. Talking to GM Maurice Ashley about his topsy-turvy play, Anand said, “I think I was playing just mental. I think I shouldn’t bother playing like this. It makes no sense”. When GM Ashley asked if he wasn’t pleased with his play, Anand further added that “there’s no point playing chess like this.”

Vishy in conversation with Maurice Ashley. When you press the play button, the video starts from the interview.

It is clear by his words after the Leuven Rapid tournament that the Madras Tiger was feeling dejected after yet another bad show. After all, he had finished 8th in a 10 player event with a score of 8.0/18. But more important than his overall performance, perhaps, was his performance on the final day of the rapid section. 

Vishy had crushed MVL in the opening but failed to convert (Source: Official Website)

In the seventh round (which was the first round of that day), he was paired against the French number 1, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.  Playing with the white pieces, Anand went for the open variation of the Sicilian defence allowing his opponent to steer the game into the Najdorf variation. For those who don’t know, Vachier-Lagrave is the world’s greatest exponent of the Sicilian Najdorf and plays it almost exclusively with the black pieces against king pawn openings. It’s no exaggeration to say that he is the world’s best player currently in this particular variation of the Sicilian. However, as play proceeded, Anand went on to demolish the Frenchman’s opening by coming up with a crushing bishop sacrifice after Vachier-Lagrave made some inaccuracies. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Anand was on his way to produce yet another brilliancy. Unfortunately, Anand faltered inexplicably on not one but several occasions; and what should have been a glorious victory turned out to be a bitter defeat.

[Event "Your Next Move GCT 2017-Rapid"]
[Site "Leuven"]
[Date "2017.06.30"]
[Round "7"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Vachier Lagrave, Maxime"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B90"]
[WhiteElo "2786"]
[BlackElo "2795"]
[Annotator "TA"]
[PlyCount "160"]
[EventDate "2017.??.??"]
[EventType "rapid"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. h3 e5 7. Nde2 h5 {
B90: Sicilian Najdorf: Unusual White 6th moves, 6 Be3 Ng4 and 6 Be3 e5} 8. Bg5
(8. g3 Be6 9. Bg2 b5 10. a4 b4 11. Nd5 Nxd5 12. exd5 Bf5 13. c3 bxc3 14. Nxc3
Be7 15. O-O {1/2-1/2 (30) Xiong,J (2674)-Robson,R (2668) Saint Louis 2017})
8... Be6 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Nd5 Qd8 11. Qd3 Nd7 {LiveBook: 21 Games} 12. O-O-O g6
13. Kb1 Rc8 14. Nec3 Bh6 15. h4 Nc5 $146 16. Qe2 Bd7 17. f3 Ne6 18. Qf2 Rc5 19.
g4 hxg4 20. fxg4 Bg5 $2 {[#]} (20... Bg7 $16) 21. Bb5 $1 $18 Bf4 (21... axb5
22. hxg5) 22. Bxd7+ Kxd7 23. Na4 Rc6 (23... Rxd5 {was called for.} 24. Nb6+ Kc7
25. Nxd5+ Kb8) 24. Qa7 Ke8 25. Qxb7 Rc4 26. Nab6 Rd4 27. h5 gxh5 28. gxh5 Rxh5
(28... Rxd1+ $142 29. Rxd1 Kf8 30. Qxa6 Nc5) 29. c3 $2 (29. Rdf1 Rxh1 30. Rxh1)
29... Rxd1+ 30. Rxd1 Kf8 31. Rg1 $2 (31. Nd7+ Kg7 $16) (31. Qxa6 $18 {has
better winning chances. Threatens to win with Nd7+!} Nc5 32. Qc4) 31... Nc5 $16
32. Qc6 {Hoping for Nf6!} Rg5 33. Rh1 $40 {White has strong attack.} Kg7 {
And now ...Qh8! would win.} 34. Nc4 $4 {[#]} (34. a4 $18) 34... Nxe4 $4 (34...
Qh8 $1 $19 {and life is good for Black.} 35. Re1 (35. Rxh8 $2 Rg1+ 36. Kc2 Rc1#
) 35... Qh4) 35. Nxf4 $18 ({Weaker is} 35. Qxa6 Ng3 $16) 35... Ng3 36. Ne6+ ({
Stronger than} 36. Nxd6 Nxh1 37. Nd5 Rg6 $15) 36... fxe6 37. Qb7+ Kf6 38. Rh7
$1 Qf8 39. Nxd6 $1 {White threatens Rf7+ and mate.} Kg6 40. a3 Nf5 41. Nc4 Ng3
$2 (41... Ng7 {keeps fighting.} 42. Rh1 Qf5+ 43. Ka1 Qd3) 42. Ka2 e4 43. Rh3
Kf5 $2 (43... Nh5 {might work better.} 44. Rh2 (44. Qxe4+ Qf5 $18) 44... Qf4)
44. Qh7+ Kf4 45. Qc7+ e5 $2 (45... Kf3 46. Nd2+ Kg2) 46. Rh7 Rf5 47. Qb6 $2 (
47. Qa7 $18 {Black must now prevent Qf2+.} Kg4 48. Ne3+ Kf3 49. Nxf5 Nxf5 50.
Qd7) 47... Qg8 $14 48. Qf2+ $2 (48. Qe3+ $14 Kg4 49. Rc7) 48... Kg4 $17 49.
Rg7+ Qxg7 50. Ne3+ Kh5 51. Qh2+ Kg6 52. Qxg3+ $19 {Endgame KQR-KQN} Rg5 53. Qh4
$2 (53. Qe1 $17) 53... Qf7+ $1 54. c4 Qf4 55. Qh3 Qf3 $1 56. Qe6+ Kh5 57. Qe8+
$2 (57. Nc2) 57... Kh4 58. Qh8+ Kg3 59. Nd5 Qd3 60. Qf6 Qxc4+ 61. Ka1 Qc1+ 62.
Ka2 Qc4+ $2 (62... Kh2 63. Qh6+ Kg2) 63. Ka1 $1 Qxd5 (63... Qc1+ $2 64. Ka2 $19
) 64. Qxg5+ {KQ-KQ} Kf3 65. Qh5+ Ke3 66. Qh3+ Kd2 67. Qg2+ Kd3 68. Qf1+ {[#]}
Kc2 $1 69. Qf2+ {[#]} Qd2 $1 70. Qc5+ Kd1 {( -> ...Qc1+)} 71. Qxe5 e3 72. Qh5+
$2 (72. Qe4 $19) 72... e2 {Black mates.} 73. Ka2 Qd4 74. Qf3 a5 75. Kb1 a4 76.
Ka1 Kd2 77. Qg2 Qe5 78. Ka2 Ke3 79. Qg1+ Kf3 80. Qe1 Qd5+ {Precision: White =
42%, Black = 57%.} 0-1


World Champion Magnus Carlsen had a narrow escape against Viswanathan Anand (Source: Official Website)

In his second game of the day, playing against Magnus Carlsen, he was posed with some really difficult problems out of the opening. The world champion sacrificed a piece and had lashed out with a strong attack. But Vishy defended with stone cold nerves and didn’t let the position go out of hand. In the end, although the position was equal, Carlsen was in horrible time trouble. He merely had 13 seconds on his clock. And Anand made the most of it by finding a neat maneuver to exchange queens and come out with a very strong position. However, in this game too, Anand slipped at the very end and allowed Carlsen to get enough counter play to hold on to a draw.

[Event "GCT Rapid YourNextMove"]
[Site "Leuven BEL"]
[Date "2017.06.30"]
[Round "8.3"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A20"]
[WhiteElo "2832"]
[BlackElo "2786"]
[PlyCount "122"]
[EventDate "2017.06.28"]
[EventType "rapid"]
1. c4 e5 2. e3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Nge2 c6 5. a3 Ba5 6. b4 Bc7 7. d4 O-O 8. d5 d6
9. Ng3 a5 10. Rb1 axb4 11. axb4 Nbd7 12. Bd3 c5 13. b5 Ba5 14. Bb2 Re8 15. O-O
Nf8 16. Qc2 Ng6 17. Nce4 Ng4 18. h3 Nh6 19. Nh5 f5 20. Neg3 Nh4 21. f4 g6 22.
e4 gxh5 23. exf5 e4 24. Bxe4 Rxe4 25. Qxe4 Bxf5 26. Nxf5 N4xf5 27. Ra1 b6 28.
g4 hxg4 29. hxg4 Nd4 30. Bxd4 cxd4 31. g5 Nf7 32. Rf3 Bd2 33. Rxa8 Qxa8 34.
Qxd4 Bb4 35. Qe4 Qa2 36. Kh1 Bc5 37. Rf1 Qd2 38. Qf3 Qc2 39. Re1 Qxc4 40. Kg2
Qxb5 41. Re7 Qb2+ 42. Kg3 Qd4 43. Re4 Qg1+ 44. Kh3 h6 45. Re6 hxg5 46. Rg6+ Kf8
47. fxg5 Qe3 48. Rf6 Qxf3+ 49. Rxf3 Kg7 50. Kh4 b5 51. Kh5 b4 52. Rf1 Bd4 53.
Rf4 Bc5 54. Rf1 Ne5 55. Ra1 Nd3 56. Rd1 Nf4+ 57. Kg4 Ne2 58. Re1 Nc3 59. Re7+
Kf8 60. Rb7 Nxd5 61. g6 Ne7 1/2-1/2


In the final game of the day, Vishy was pitted against the Georgian Grandmaster Baadur Jobava. Jobava had had a nightmare of an event in Leuven. He had lost his first seven games and had drawn against Anish Giri in round 8. But despite his poor performance at the event, the Georgian Grandmaster was in a good spirit after scoring his first point. As the game began, Vishy was able to build up a commanding position for himself. And yet again, he almost spoiled it. With two extra pawns to the good, Anand seemed to be cruising towards victory when he slipped for the third time in a row and allowed Jobava’s queen to enter his position. After the game, he said he felt he was going to lose this game as well. But objectively, the position was only equal. Fortunately for Anand, Jobava miscalculated on move 38 and allowed Anand to race his pawns to the queening square and win the game.

[Event "GCT Rapid YourNextMove"]
[Site "Leuven BEL"]
[Date "2017.06.30"]
[Round "9.5"]
[White "Anand, Viswanathan"]
[Black "Jobava, Baadur"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2786"]
[BlackElo "2707"]
[PlyCount "97"]
[EventDate "2017.06.28"]
[EventType "rapid"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bd7 5. Nf3 Bc6 6. Bd3 Nd7 7. O-O Ngf6 8.
Ng3 g6 9. c4 Bg7 10. Qe2 O-O 11. Rd1 b6 12. b4 Bb7 13. Bb2 Qc8 14. a4 Rd8 15.
Rac1 c5 16. dxc5 bxc5 17. b5 a5 18. Ne5 Nb6 19. Bc2 Rxd1+ 20. Rxd1 Qc7 21. Bb3
Rd8 22. Rxd8+ Qxd8 23. Bc3 Nfd7 24. Qd2 Bxe5 25. Bxe5 Bxg2 26. Bc3 Qa8 27. f4
Bh3 28. Bxa5 e5 29. Bxb6 Nxb6 30. fxe5 Nd7 31. Qd5 Qa5 32. Kf2 Qb4 33. Bd1 Be6
34. Qe4 Nb6 35. Qd3 Kg7 36. Ne2 Nxc4 37. Qc3 Nb2 38. Qxb4 cxb4 39. b6 Bd5 40.
Bb3 Bb7 41. Ke3 h5 42. Nd4 h4 43. a5 h3 44. Nb5 g5 45. Nd6 g4 46. Nxb7 g3 47.
Nc5 gxh2 48. Bd5 Nd1+ 49. Kd2 1-0

His performance in these games just goes on to show that Anand is undoubtedly capable of winning against the best in the world. But what is also starkly visible is that he isn’t consistent in his play and isn’t able to finish his opponents off like he used to do in the past.


Many in the chess world have felt at several points of time that Anand had lost his force and should retire from the game. But the Madras Tiger had never really given up his hopes of winning back his world championship title and dismissed all talks about retirement. In fact, on many occasions he had shut down his critics by setting miraculous comebacks.


Before the 2014 Candidates tournament – after Anand had lost his world title to Magnus Carlsen – Russian chess journalist, Evgeny Surov went so far as to say, “If you asked me who would NOT win (the Candidates tournament) then I’d be glad to give you a clear reply: Anand. Let’s agree on the following: if Anand wins the tournament I’ll publicly admit I understand nothing about life or chess, and you’ll never ask me to take part in such a survey again.” Anand did not comment on this but went on to dominate the 2014 Candidates right from round one and won in style. After Anand’s victory, Surov had to publicly admit that he knew nothing about life or chess.

Anand did not answer Surov. He just won the 2014 Candidates tournament in style! (Source: Official Website)

The bottom-line is that the world knows Anand to be a fighter. He has suffered bad form, bitter defeats and a lot more. But like a phoenix, he has always risen back from the ashes. He is after all the man who made India a force to be reckoned with in the world of chess.


Today, India, with its forty seven Grandmasters and a plethora of upcoming talents, could be considered one of the super-powers when it comes to the game of chess. But this wasn’t always the case. Until the late-80s, the country did not have a single Grandmaster to boast of. That one person who really catapulted the chess scene in India was Chennai’s own lightning kid, Viswanathan Anand.


His success has inspired tens of thousands in India to take up chess as their profession, and as a result, the chess scene in the country is bustling. He has not only been a great player but also a great ambassador for the game in the country. It can only be hoped that the Tiger from Madras comes back with a roar yet again, putting behind all of these failures, like he has done so many times.


Note: Vishy Anand will be playing at the World Cup 2017 in Tbilisi, Georgia from the 2nd to the 29th of September 2017. The top two players in the 128-player knockout event qualify for the Candidates 2018.