A Personal Perspective
On the Road to Kasparov
Anand and I worked together several times after we first collaborated on his victorious 1992 match with Ivanchuk. In May 1993 we prepared for the FIDE Interzonal in Biel, Switzerland. In October 1993 we prepared for the PCA candidates tournament in Groningen, The Netherlands. I was Anand's second for his FIDE candidates match against Yusupov and for his PCA candidates match against Romanishin.
Even though our work went well and we enjoyed each other's company, we both knew that our partnership would soon end. I had decided to return to college to finish my undergraduate education. I was set to matriculate in September 1994, so Anand and I decided that the match against Romanishin would be our last time working together.
Everything had gone well for our partnership until that point, as Anand had easily won every match he had played and had breezed through each of the qualifying tournaments for which we had prepared together. I had no doubt he would continue his winning ways after we parted company.
Unfortunately, after Anand began work with a new second, his very first match ended in defeat.
Anand had struck up a friendship with Elizbar Ubilava, who lived in the same small town in Spain as Maurice and Nieves Perea. Anand chose him as a second for his FIDE candidates match in August 1994 against Gata Kamsky, held in Sanghi Nagar, India. After jumping to an early lead, Anand lost two games in a row toward the end and then succumbed in the tie-breaker. What could explain this loss?
It would be easy to claim that the end of our partnership had some role in this disaster, but that would be an absurd exercise of vanity on my part. Ubilava is a very skilled chessplayer, an excellent second, and someone with whom Anand had developed a good friendship over the preceding months. I think Anand's setback had many causes. He played this match in his home country and must have felt great pressure to win. He made no excuses, but probably it was difficult for him to get the privacy and quiet he needed while Indian journalists were constantly hounding him. Blessed with a normal ego, Anand does not relish the spotlight. Credit is also due to his opponent, Gata Kamsky, a great fighter who never gives up. Many players might crack on finding themselves two points down with three games left to play, but Kamsky fought on with his usual determination.
But perhaps the most important cause of his defeat was within Anand himself. I will not speculate too much on the psychological factors. Many people have suggested that what happened to Anand in New York against Kasparov looks very similar to what happened to him in Sanghi Nagar against Kamsky: a sudden collapse after an excellent start, in the face of stiff resistance from the opponent. Each and every chessplayer has to face his own psychological weaknesses on the way to defeating his opposition. The two matches may form some kind of pattern, but the true meaning of that pattern is for Anand to resolve. He has already shown the strength of character needed to learn from a defeat and come back stronger. As I will relate below, Anand managed to do just that against Kamsky. I think he can do the same thing against Kasparov in the future.
Whatever the ultimate reasons, Anand lost his 1994 FIDE candidates match against Kamsky. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he could still reach a match against the true world champion, Kasparov, by winning the PCA candidates matches. Indeed, there was some reason to think that the FIDE matches were far less important. Nevertheless, he had lost a tough match in disheartening fashion. Now he had to pick up the pieces and prepare himself to play another strong opponent, Michael Adams of England, in little over one month.
Anand passed this difficult test with flying colors. With Ubilava's help he crushed Adams in seven games, +4=3. I spoke to Anand on the phone several times during this match to offer whatever meager assistance I could, but there was no need for me to do anything: Anand played superbly.
At the same time that Anand was demolishing his opponent, Kamsky was crushing no less a player than Nigel Short, the man who had challenged Kasparov for the world championship the year before. Kamsky won his match by the same four-point margin as Anand, +5-1=1. Thus Anand and Kamsky were slated to play each other again in March 1995, this time in the PCA candidates final, to decide who would challenge Kasparov for the world championship.
Anand and I discussed the possibility of working together for the new match against Kamsky. It would be difficult for me because of my studies at school, but I wanted to do it to help Anand. After mulling it over for some time, Anand decided to decline my offer. I was disappointed, but he probably made the right decision. Our work together had been excellent before, but the situation was different now that I was at school. Not only was Anand now working very well with Ubilava, he had also signed up Artur Yusupov -- one of the strongest, most capable, and most conscientious players in the world -- as another member of his team.
Yusupov's close and friendly collaboration with Anand, after Anand had defeated him the year before in their FIDE candidates match, speaks volumes about the characters of the two men. Both are nice, thoughtful people who do not have any need to dominate others or to prove their superiority. Although on other occasions they are professional rivals, and even though one of them had recently inflicted a painful loss upon the other in an important match, they could still work together. Anand had no need to remind Yusupov of their match result, and Yusupov could put aside his earlier defeat to offer Anand genuine support. Jumping ahead a bit, during all the time I worked with them before and during the world championship match I never detected the slightest trace of bitterness or animosity.
With two such helpers, Anand vanquished Kamsky in superb fashion. Not that there wasn't drama and difficulty along the way. In the first game of the match, in a winning position, Anand time-forfeited for the first time in his career!
What made the incident even more amazing was that Anand had not reacted to the fact of his time pressure. He did not speed up his moves, and to the bitter end was still neatly recording the moves and the times on the clock. Poor Anand was as much confused by the loss as he was upset. "You've got to put it behind you and focus on playing your best game," I told him on the phone that night.
"Yeah, I guess," he said, his voice quiet, "but to lose like this ..."
"Listen, Vishy, you can beat this guy. He's good, but you're better. You have an excellent chance to win the match if you keep playing your best game. It's only natural to encounter a setback at some point, and you can take a lot of confidence from the fact that you clearly outplayed him. All you can do is play your best game and keep plugging away."
I followed every game as it was played. I even planned to fly to Spain and surprise him if I thought he needed a boost for the last game or two. But after getting over his first-game jitters, Anand was completely in control. In the remaining 10 games he won three and drew the other seven, without ever being in serious danger of losing a game. Two days after the match he called me, still excited from his victory.
"Anand," I cried, "you played brilliantly! I can't believe you're really going to play for the goddamned world championship!"
"Neither can I, Pat! So tell me, do you want to help me prepare?"
How could I say no? I wanted him to win almost as much as he wanted it himself. School could wait one more semester. So that is how I found myself flying to Spain, where Anand now lived, just two weeks after my final exams, to help him prepare for his greatest challenge yet.
Training in Spain
In early June 1995 I arrived at the same airport as three years earlier when I had first worked with Anand. I was picked up and driven to the same town as before. This time, rather than staying at the home of Maurice and Nieves Perea, I stayed at the home that Anand had recently bought. Times have been good for Anand during the last few years; he bought his house outright with cash. "How did you pay for it?" I asked one day.
"Well, I took some money out of my German bank account, my French bank account, my Spanish bank account ..."
I was amused to see that his house was decorated in both Spanish and Indian style. He had bought the house from a Spanish couple who already had another home in Madrid, so they sold it furnished. But Anand also brought a few bibelots from India to remind him of his native land. Every morning I would descend to the living room to see Vishnu perched atop a Spanish mantle, beckoning me to enter with her many hands. I was the first of Anand's seconds to arrive from outside the country. Of course Ubilava, who lived in the same town, was already working with Anand. We all knew there was no time to waste. Kasparov had spent more than 10 years preparing for world championship matches, and we only had two and a half months. The day after I arrived I joined Anand and Ubilava in their work.
I had never met Ubilava and did not know what to expect. Ubilava is from Georgia in the former Soviet Union but had emigrated to Spain with his wife, daughter, and son. Times are hard in Georgia; chessplayers are lucky in that they can ply their trade in many countries. Even so, moving is not easy. One must learn a new language and become comfortable with a new culture. There are thousands of small details one must take care of, as well as legal hoops to jump through. Yet Ubilava and his family were willing to endure the necessary difficulties so that they could live in Spain. It seemed to me that they had approached the task with extraordinary energy. Ubilava had studied Spanish for only three months in Georgia before coming to Spain, yet as far as I could tell he now spoke Spanish fluently. The family had a nice little apartment in town, the children were in school, and all in all the family seemed to have adjusted very well to their new environment.
Unfortunately for me, Ubilava's English was rudimentary and my Spanish, Russian, and Georgian were much worse! It was hard for us to communicate, so Anand tended to work with Ubilava for the first few weeks before the other seconds arrived, and I worked alone. Anand speaks good conversational Spanish. Later when all of the seconds were together, it would sometimes strike me how funny it was that the same message sometimes had to be translated from Russian to English to Spanish!
Anand had another good reason to put me to work alone. There was much preliminary spade work to be done before we could conduct deep analysis. While Anand and Ubilava did analysis for the black pieces, I began organizing our work with White. For example, we decided that Anand would play the Classical Scheveningen against Kasparov's Najdorf Sicilian. We felt that this system suited him stylistically, as well as offering good chances for advantage. But before we could analyze the finer points, we had to organize all the existing theory into a form we could use. For two weeks, that job was one of my primary responsibilities.
Ubilava, quite naturally, wanted to spend his free time with his family; that gave Anand and me time to chat about various things. One topic that kept coming up was the PCA's organization of the world championship. To put it bluntly, we had no clue what was going on.
Imagine you are going to play a match for the world championship. You have a great deal of chess work to do. You do not want to worry about organizational details. You want to be told what the accommodations and travel arrangements will be. You want to know what the rules will be, including the time control and the arrangements in event of a tie. (Of course it is traditional for the champion to keep his title in such cases, but the PCA had been floating the idea of a tiebreak match of quick chess.) You want to see a contract. None of these things was forthcoming from the PCA. At the end of June, Anand sent a fax to Bob Rice, the commissioner of the PCA, to request some answers. There was no reply. However, a surprising answer to at least one of these questions would arrive with Artur Yusupov.
Yusupov arrived in Spain at the beginning of July, several days after the fax was sent. Yusupov had just finished competing in the New York leg of the PCA's Intel Grand Prix. On the last day of the event there was a closing party at which he had spoken with Kasparov. Kasparov told him that the world championship match, which was supposed to be held in Cologne, Germany, would probably be moved to New York City.
We were shocked to hear this news. There had been rumors that the sponsorship in Germany was in some kind of trouble, but the PCA had not told Anand anything about it. Indeed, we had heard the rumors not from the PCA but from other people. Now the match was being moved and nobody had so much as asked Anand what he thought.
I still do not have reliable information about what caused the German sponsorship to dry up. Kasparov of course was intimately involved in these matters, because the PCA was his baby: he held the most power in the organization, and he with Bob Rice and perhaps two or three other people made the decisions. Apparently nobody felt a responsibility to tell Anand what was happening with the forthcoming world championship match, although he was one of the two players.
One problem is that the PCA is still just a part-time organization. Bob Rice, who is the commissioner and responsible for the PCA's day-to-day operations, works full-time as a lawyer in the New York firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Probably he was so busy with his two jobs that he had no time to respond to Anand's faxes. Until August 6, we received few details. The feeling of being kept in the dark, that anything could change about the match at any time without our knowing what or why, added more pressure to what was already a tense endeavor.
It must be said that Anand did manage to speak with Rice by telephone several times during the months of July and August, and in the end most details were worked out. Anand did sign a contract, although not until just before the match. And the accommodations turned out to be good. However, Anand never had the feeling of being involved in the decisions.
Adding injury to insult, the PCA notified Anand privately that 10% of the prize money would be taken to pay organizing costs. This was an expensive and upsetting development for Anand, who already saw himself paying more for taxes and other expenses than he had anticipated due to the change in venue from Cologne to New York. The original prize fund of $1.5 million, with $1 million going to the winner and $500,000 to the loser, was reduced to $900,000 for the winner and $450,000 for the loser. In public, the PCA maintained the farcical pose that the purse was still $1.5 million with $1 million to the winner. At the closing ceremony Kasparov received a giant facsimile of a $1 million check. But now I am leaping ahead of my story.
We could not let organizational details distract us from our main job; we had more than enough chess work to keep us busy. With Yusupov on board we had considerably more brainpower to devote to our analysis. It was also nice that I had finished the task of collecting and organizing the data we needed, so we could get down to the far more interesting task of analyzing it.
Artur Yusupov was a great boon to the team. He is a very strong player who has been a candidate for the world championship several times. I was impressed not only by his ability but also his intellectual flexibility. Yusupov has very little experience with the Sicilian Defense, whereas I have quite a lot. At first his lack of experience was apparent, but after only a few days he quickly caught onto all the important themes and ideas. I had the impression that Yusupov could train himself to analyze almost any kind of chess position just as well as someone who had spent many years playing that kind of position. It was very valuable for us all, and a great honor for me, to work with a player of his level.
Artur taught me something else as well: how to appreciate art. I must shamefacedly admit that I was ignorant that Madrid has some of the world's great art museums. We took two trips into Madrid together, one to the Prado and one to the museum of modern art. In particular, Picasso's Guernica made a powerful impression on me. There was not much time to spare, but I was glad that we had enough free time to share that experience.
Yusupov gave me the impression of being calm, at peace with himself. What a contrast to the fourth second, Jon Speelman of England. While Artur is a rock, Jon is a tempest. Jon has an enormous amount of energy and a brilliant talent for chess. Whereas Artur will patiently probe all the aspects of a position to form a complete conception of it, Jon will shoot off dozens of sparks simultaneously, hoping one of them will light a fire on the chessboard that only he can control. Many times he succeeds. It was fascinating for me to observe how differently my colleagues would analyze the same position.
For example, suppose that Artur and I were probing a position together as we would often do. Artur and I both like to organize our thoughts carefully. We want to consider all aspects of a position, to arrive at the truth as accurately as we can.
Now suppose that Speelman and Ubilava have entered the room and become interested in the same position we have been analyzing. Ubilava would set up the position on his small board and sit off to the side. He is now thinking about the position by himself. Jon, meanwhile, would walk up to our board, lean over somebody's shoulder, and plop his hands down just on the edge of the board. Usually this meant that one of us would have to lean away to make room for his enormously long arms and large head. "Hullo, boys. What do we have here?" he would ask.
There was no use answering, because he would quickly suggest an outrageous move. But the move would never be silly and would often be brilliant. Quickly one side or the other would have sacrificed material in return for fascinating play. I don't think Jon consciously chose this way to analyze; he just has so much energy that he has to express it. And often his ideas would help us reach a higher level of understanding.
Meanwhile, let's not forget Ubilava off to one side. He has been patiently analyzing the position on his own, and now has a move to suggest. If you thought that Jon's suggestion was difficult to find, wait until you see Ubilava's idea. He has probably suggested a move that looks absolutely ridiculous; and yet, and yet ... The more you look, the more you realize that he really has something there. His idea looks radically different than anybody else's, but may have fantastic potential. I will give one example of Ubilava's ideas. Look at the line Anand played in game 8 against Kasparov, starting with the amazing move 9 ... g5!? Many people thought that Speelman suggested this move, but they did not know Ubilava well enough to understand that this is just the kind of thing he would think of. This was only one of many excellent ideas he found and you can see how effective it was.
We were an excellent team, I think: a good mix of the rational and the creative. All of us worked very hard at Anand's house because we all really wanted him to win. The eight weeks I spent there flew by. Although I dearly missed my home and my friends, I wished I could spend even more time helping Anand prepare for Kasparov. I remember telling Yusupov, "I think we've done a lot of good work, Artur, but I wish we had another month to prepare."
"A month?" he replied. "I wish we had a year."
But we didn't, and that was that. I left on 6 August. Speelman had already left and Ubilava was taking time off to be with his family since he would not be able to see them during the match. Yusupov stayed until the middle of August to help Anand tie up some loose ends. Then the training camp had completely disbanded, and we would not meet again until a few days before the match in New York.
This page last modified on
28 April 2018.
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