The 81st edition of Tata Steel Chess (popularly known as Wijk aan Zee tournament) came to a close on Sunday evening with Magnus Carlsen clinching title. For India's Viswanathan Anand, this annual chess meet, sometimes referred to as the Wimbledon of Chess, holds a very special place.
Back in 1989, Anand had bagged his first title prize in Wijk. Thirty years down the line he has played it eighteen more times and is still going strong. This year, he finished joint third with a score of 7½ out of a possible 13.
Looking back at this three decade long journey, he told Firstpost, "It's one of those tournaments that I know the best. I have also played some other events very often. Amber is another one, and there is Frankfurt-Mainz. These are the tournaments that I have played the most and in such long streaks.
"It's a special atmosphere. I mean, you know the tournament. It's a really old tradition; it's a bit like coming home."
Over these years, Anand says that while the tournament in Wijk has kept its original flavor intact, it has evolved and adapted to the changing needs of the time.
"Back then we used to have the board boys and commentary in the pavilion " or even that came along later.
"Now, of course, there's more electronics, (chess) engines have come along so the press center has changed. So, some things have changed, but in many ways, it's the same hall, the same press center. Many things have remained the same."
One among the many things that have remained the same over all these years is the cold of the January month in this coastal Dutch town. Taking a trip down his memory lane, the Chennai based Grandmaster reminisced the time when the freezing cold kept him from talking to his wife Aruna, who was his fiancÃ© at the time.
"One year, when I was still engaged to Aruna " we got married in June (1996) and I was here in January. So, I went to a phone booth and tried to call her. But at some point, I told her 'it's freezing; I can't hold the phone anymore. I will speak to you later'.
"She had no idea what that was because she had never experienced winter. But, of course, she came to Wijk eventually and she found out."
In terms of performance, too, Wijk has been a pleasant place for the Indian ace. His win over Aronian in the 2013 edition remains to be one of the greatest wins of modern times. Also, until last year, Anand was tied with Carlsen for the record for the most number of title wins in Wijk aan Zee, having won the tournament five times. And it wasn't until last year that Carlsen overtook him with his win in the 2018 edition.
This year, Anand had a strong chance of settling scores with the reigning world champion. After ten rounds, Anand and Carlsen, who were co-leading the event at the time, were pitted against one another. As black, Anand went for a delayed Exchange variation of the Spanish opening and had no problems reaching an equal position. But Carlsen kept probing for more than six and a half hours before Anand cracked and let a drawn game crumble down into a loss.
Had the long duration of the game taken a toll on his concentration? Or had he just succumbed to the pressure applied by his opponent? "I don't know what went wrong but something went wrong. Let's put it that way," Anand said, talking about his loss.
While this was a missed opportunity, Anand remained objective in his approach towards his result, saying: "You can overanalyse a defeat but a defeat is simply that."
This approach has also been seen in his games. Of late, he would not take inordinate risks to win. In the final three rounds, he was seen holding solid draws against decently strong opponents. Noteworthy was his eleventh round game against Ding Liren where the former five time world champion, despite being thoroughly outprepared in the opening, found some amazing defensive moves to hold the game.
Anand's objective outlook, however, does not come in the way of his quest for perfection. After his final game against Vidit Gujrathi, he said he was annoyed for having found a promising idea a little too late.
For a veteran like Anand, there is hardly anything that remains to be achieved. When asked what it is that keeps him going, Anand says it's simply his love for the game and as for anything that he is still eyeing to achieve, "I am just trying to get good results," he says.