Indian GM Viswanathan Anand’s easy win in the FIDE Candidates Tournament that wrapped up late last month in Russia took many by surprise. The former world champion had fallen to eighth in the world rankings, and most handicappers figured rivals, such as Levon Aronian of Armenia or former world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, had a better chance of capturing the event and winning the right to take on Norwegian world champion Magnus Carlsen for the world title later this year.
In the end, however, Mr. Anand easily outpaced his rivals, and now has a chance to reclaim the crown he lost to Mr. Carlsen just six months ago.
In another sense, though, Mr. Anand’s win fits neatly into the game’s historical pattern — rematches are the norm for world championship battles. Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov famously waged five separate battles for the world title, while Soviet star Mikhail Botvinnik and Vassily Smyslov played three title matches in the space of five years in the mid-1950s. Botvinnik then lost and won back-to-back matches against Latvian great Mikhail Tal before finally surrendering his title for good to Tigran Petrosian in 1963. Mr. Karpov and Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi mixed it up twice in 1978 and 1981, with Mr. Karpov winning two hard-fought victories.
Austrian 19th century champ Wilhelm Steinitz was a multiple repeat offender, defeating Poland’s Johannes Zukertort twice and Russian Mikhail Chigorin twice before finally relinquishing the title to German Emanuel Lasker. Lasker then agreed to a rematch with Steinitz in 1896, but the ex-champ was not up to the challenge, losing to the younger Lasker by a lopsided 10-2-5 score.
Because so many of the title matches were lopsided affairs, fine individual games from the contests have been overlooked (Fischer-Spassky excepted, of course). Lasker was just coming into his own as one of the all-time greats in his second match against Steinitz, playing the kind of psychologically acute, harmonious chess that would be his hallmark.
He took an early lead in the Moscow rematch by patiently dismantling his opponent’s Ruy Lopez defense, after Black unwisely agreed to give up his strong point at e5 early in the game. Steinitz, as was his wont, still manages to forge a playable game out of Black’s unwieldy set-up through 23. Qe6 Qc8 24. Qxc8 Rfxc8 25. Nb3 — the Black c-pawn remains weak and Lasker’s pieces have more scope, but Black is by no means lost.
But Black’s plan to redeploy his king to shore up the weak pawns starting with 25…Kg8?! proves riskier than anticipated. A wasted tempo (29…Bb6?) puts Black further in the hole, and Lasker at his best was never one to miss an opportunity.
White engages with 31. h4! (already threatening 32. h5 Nxf4 33. Nf6+ gxf6 34. Rxe7 Kd8 35. Re8+ Kd7 36. R1xe7 mate) h5 32. Bg5 Bd8 33. g4! (White plays the final phase with admirable rigor, never giving the Black defense a chance to regroup) hxg4 34. h5 Nf8 (see diagram) 35. Nec5+!, blasting open the lines to Steinitz’s king.
The finale: 35…dxc5 (Kc7 36. Na6+ Kb7 37. Nxb8 Rxb8 38. Bxe7 is winning) 36. Nxc5+ Kd6 (this leads to mate, but hopeless was 36…Kc7 37. Bf4+ Kb6 38. Rxe7! Bxe7 39. Rxe7 b4 [Ra8 40. Rb7+ Ka5 41. Bd2+ b4 42. Bxb4 mate] 40. Bxb8 Rxb8 41. Rxg7 Rd8 42. h6 Rd5 43. Nd7+! Nxd7 44. h7 Rh5 45. Rxd7, with a won ending) 37. Bf4+ Kd5 38. Re5+ Kc4 (Kd6 39. Rg5 mate; 38…Kxd4 39. R1xe4 mate) 39. Rc1+ Kxd4 (Kb4 40. Bd2 mate) 40. Re4+ Kd5 41. Rd1+, and Black resigned just ahead of 41…Kxc5 42. Be3 mate.
Aside from the Cold War overtones, the Karpov-Korchnoi matches of 1978 and 1981 were notable as a kind of coming-out party as well for Mr. Mr. Karpov, who had won the crown by default when Bobby Fischer abdicated. His wins over the veteran Mr. Korchnoi, along with his epic battles with Garry Kasparov, would do much to cement his reputation as a worthy world champion.
Mr. Karpov is famous as one of the most patient positional geniuses the game has produced, but he proved against Mr. Korchnoi he could trade blows when the situation demanded. Against his opponent’s trademark Open Ruy Lopez, White sacrifices a pawn on Move 12 to open central lines against the Black king: 12, Nd4!? (Bc2 0-0 13. Nb3 Nxb3 14. Bxb3 Re8 poses no problems for the second player) Nxe5 13. f4 Nc4?! (Black might have done better to remove White’s dangerous dark-squared bishop with 13…Ned3!? 14. f5 Nxc1 15. Raxc1 gxf5 16. Nxf5 0-0 17. Nxg7 Kxg7 18. Qf2) 14. f5 gxf5 15. Nxf5, when 15…0-0 looks far scarier after 16. Nxg7 Kxg7 17. Nxc4 dxc4 18. Bc2.
Mr. Karpov follows up energetically with 17. Bc2 Nd3 (the threat was 18. Nxg7+ Rxg7 19. Qe5, with a winning double attack; because Black’s pieces are so scattered, he will be particularly vulnerable to this tactic in the play to come) 18. Bh6!, when White is clearly better after 18…Bxh6 19. Nxh6 Rg6 (Rf8 20. Ng4 Qd6 21. Nf6+ Kd8 22. Rd1) 20. Nxf7 Qe7 21. Bxd3 cxd3 22. Qe4 Rb8 23. Ne5 Qc5+ 24. Qd4 Qxd4+ 25. cxd4 Rg5 26. Nxd3.
White soon recovers his pawn while keeping a strong initiative, which Karpov transforms into a quick win. Black’s loose position allows for a lethal invasion by the White army on 22. Bxf8 Qb6+ (Kxf8 23. Nd4 Qb6 24. Qxe6 wins a piece) 23. Kh1 Kxf8 24. Qf3 Re8 (Bxf5 25. Qxa8+ Kg7 26. Qd5 Bxd3 27. Rxf7+ Kg6 28. Rf3 Bc4 29. Qf5+ Kg7 30. Qg5+ Kh8 31. Qe5+ and wins) 25. Nh6 Rg7 26. Rd7! (exploiting the overworked bishop; if now, 26…Bxd7 [Re7 27. Rxe7 Kxe7 28. Qf6+ Kf8 28. Qd8 mate], then 27. Qxf7+! Rxf7 28. Rxf7 is mate) 27. Nxf7 Bxd7 28. Nd8+.
Black resigns in light of 28…Bf5 (Ke7 29. Qf8 mate) 29. Qxf5+ Ke8 30. Qf8+ Kd7 31. Qxg7+ Kxd8 (Kd6 32. Rd1+ Kc5 33. Qd4 mate) 32. Rf8 mate.