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I'm grateful: Anand
Congratulations, Anand. Not for the first time you've brought joy to the country. Let's address first the issue that you were playing sub-par and were not in good form.
That was not obvious to me. I had difficulty because Boris (Gelfand) had made excellent preparations for the match. A lot of people started with the premise that I was the favourite and therefore felt I was not dominating. From my point of view I was not the favourite. I operated on the assumption that he will be well-prepared, and it would be a match of endurance and attrition and it was. When your opponent has done a good job of being prepared, you may give out the impression that you are in bad shape.
How was Gelfand's preparation? And didn't you have a plus score against him?
He had done excellent work. He had worked on a lot of openings that he had never played and he was mentally prepared. You could see it in his face. He was determined and he wanted to take the crown. For my part, I had worked on my preparation too although I was not in the best of form last year.
My record with him was a narrow +1 in classical chess and about +5 in rapid chess. A lot of people saw too much into this and the fact that he had not beaten me since 1993. The fact is he had beaten me the first four times we met till 1993. And then we went 1-1 till 96-97, and then I beat him four times in the late '90s and then again once in 2006. So they could have equally said I had beaten him only once since the late 1990s.
But the sense was you played fairly conservatively. I mean there were comparisons to how Sachin Tendulkar has reigned himself in to conserve himself late in his career...and that it is all the more creditable to win now.
Well, I tried to play sensibly. I was happy to do exciting stuff and take a lot of risks. But in a match you first have to understand your opponent's preparation and lure him into your favourite areas. So in that sense, you can make the charge that I was conservative.... till I got more information about his preparation. If you remember, Garry Kasparov also played conservatively in the 1995 world title match against me, drawing the first eight games in trying to figure out my preparation.
So, did you get the sense that you were against the Russian chess establishment and that Boris was a homeground favourite. Was some of the coverage and previews biased?
During the match, I did not read any coverage. It gets so annoying. Everyone comes in with an opinion. In the press conference I could feel it...there was a critical tone (about my form) and it was based on the last few tournaments in which I did not do well. I saw it differently...I worked very hard for this match.
So did you see Gelfand as the favourite?
Boris is very popular here (in Moscow) and has many friends. He has deep roots (Gelfand is a Bylorussian who was born in Minsk and subsequently took Israeli citizenship) here. He is also a very conservative player in the best traditions of Soviet chess and he has worked with all the legends. He knows his strength. The way he neutralised me with white and made sure I could make very little headway was terrific...and I returned him the favour.
So you felt the pressure? Some analysts wrote you off even as the match was in progress.
Well, these are passionate chess fans and they express themselves. But you cannot go and do something suicidal because of that. When I fell behind (in the 7th game), I thought it was over. It is much worse when you think of how well prepared he was.
And you struck back in the very next game to draw level. What went into it?
It was a variation of Game Three. He switched it to a King's Indian instead of Gruenfeld. Clearly something went wrong. He missed a tactic but I was already ahead by that time. I also made some unusual choices and I was relieved to draw level immediately.
Match over, and I believe you got to meet President Putin? Is he a chess fan?
Well it was the first time I met him. They invited us to the palace and we drove there. He was very informed and had followed the matches. I found him warm and charismatic. He was joking about judo and football but said he always followed chess. I told him I benefited a lot from the Soviet system of chess growing up in Chennai and he said "Oh so we brought it on ourselves, " which I thought was very witty. It was nice of him to take the time;he was flying off to Minsk and stopped to greet us.
So where would you rank this title considering how hard fought it was, the fact that you won it against so many odds...
I don't want to rack up and rank the titles. I'm just grateful to be the world champion.
So what's coming up next?
I'll play a tournament in Romania in late June. But right now I'm just looking forward to going home and catching up some sleep and seeing our son Akhil.
Right...he's what...a year old? Has he started playing (chess) yet?
Not yet (laughs). Too early. But he saw his mom (Aruna) on TV and apparently went and hugged the TV.
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