Reports | June 06, 2011 9:11

Anand beats Shirov 4.5-1.5 in León

Anand beats Shirov 4.5-1.5 in LeónOn Sunday Viswanathan Anand defeated Alexei Shirov 4.5-1.5 in their match in León, Spain. On all three playing days the World Champion won one game and drew one to clinch his 8th title in León. Struggling to find his best form, Shirov was no match for an Anand in good shape.

General info

The 24th edition of the Magistral Ciudad de León took place in the León Auditorium, from Friday, June 3rd till Sunday, June 5th. This year the main event was a 6-game match between World Champion Vishy Anand and Alexei Shirov. Contrary to what we wrote before, the rate of play was 40 minutes per game plus 30 seconds increment after each move.

Report days 2 and 3

The second day (read our first report here) of the festival in León started at 12.00 with a lecture by GM Miguel Illescas about the famous Kasparov-Deep Blue match (the eight times Spanish Champion was part of the IBM team in 1997). Illescas revealed that he had given the following advice to the computer company: "You are scientists and do everything with that intention. But Kasparov, when he sits behind the board, is a murderer. Therefore, we have to program the machine to play against a murderer, that is, it sometimes needs to make a move that will not be the best, but bothers Kasparov the most." That strategy was successful, because the Russian lost 2.5-3.5 for lack of control over his nerves, amazed by the style of his inhuman opponent.

Leontxo Garcia and Miguel Illescas

Leontxo Garcia and Miguel Illescas during the lecture

Then, back in the Auditorio at 16.30, the second playing day began badly for Shirov. "I was lost before play started," the Latvian grandmaster said afterwards. "I could not find any satisfactory variation against the Caro-Kann during my morning preparation in the hotel. So I got to the stage in not a very good mood. Then I chose a very aggressive line, with the hope that, playing with White, at least I would achieve a draw. This was clearly not right."

In the Advance variation (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5) Shirov played 4.g4, but the game became a "textbook example" (Anand) of how to exploit this move, and the weakness of a king stuck in the centre. At move 17, in a hopeless middlegame position, Shirov resigned already.

The third game of the match was the most quiet thus far. Anand avoided the sharp Anti-Moscow Gambit this time and went for the proper Moscow line of the Semi-Slav. Many pieces were traded at an early stage and with a symmetrical pawn structure the ending was only marginally better for White. At move 23 Anand decided that a draw was OK.

The podium of the Auditorio

The podium of the Auditorio

Sunday saw the same scenario for the third time: one win for Anand, and one draw. Like on Saturday, the World Champion was victorious with the black pieces in a Caro-Kann. In his third attempt Shirov tried the move 4.h4, like he had done in his last tournament in Lublin about two weeks ago. Anand was well prepared and quickly gained a small advantage in an ending with two rooks and two knights for both sides.

Again, Shirov was punished for taking too many risks. Activating his king on the kingside was brilliantly punished by Anand. The World Champion successfully played a mating attack based on deep calculation, and forced Shirov to resign at move 41. It was of less importance that the computer engines pointed out that, for one moment, both players had missed an opportunity for the white king to escape the mating net.

Anand beats Shirov with a nice combination in game 5

Anand beats Shirov with a nice combination in game 5

Although he couldn't find his best form in León, Shirov could at least finish his match with a decent 6th game. In another Moscow Semi-Slav Anand had some slight pressure in the middlegame, but Shirov played accurately and managed to reach a drawn rook ending.

And so Vishy Anand won the tournament in León for the eighth time. In his press release, press officer Leontxo Garcia wrote that it's becoming more and more clear that the Indian is one of the best chess players of all time. And indeed, Anand's play was very convincing and it's not clear whether his chess is any weaker than, say, ten years ago.

Afterwards there was first a press conference of about half an hour with the two players, attended by about eighty chess fans. After this, at exactly eight o'clock, the two were interviewed live for local TV again. "This success shows that it is sometimes beneficial to have a few weeks off from training and tournaments, as I did after I became a father for the first time. I came to León hungry for chess and I am very satisfied with my play," Anand said.

Anand and Shirov at Saturday's press conference

Anand and Shirov at Saturday's press conference

Shirov was self-critical, but one must always be as a chess player: "I will need some days to draw clear conclusions, but obviously I need to change something in the preparation and choice of openings, because that's been my main problem, especially with the white pieces."

Afterwards Anand did a few more brief interviews and both players signed many autographs. Tomorrow the festival finishes with a simul by Shirov. The Latvian GM will play his following tournament game already next Thursday, in the Sigeman tournament in Malmö, where his main rivals will be Anish Giri and Wesley So. Anand won't be playing tournaments in the next few months.

Games 3-6

Game viewer by ChessTempo

Next year the 25th celebration edition of the tournament will be held. Despite the economical crisis in Spain, the organizers hope to create something special for this edition. Although this year's match was quite entertaining, tournament director Marcelino Sión is planning to try to return to the 4-player format. We can only hope that the sponsors, who have been loyal for so many years already, will make this possible.

The writer of this report is preparing a video about the tournament, and also did an interview with Vishy Anand on Sunday night, in which the World Champion speaks about becoming a father, about Kazan, and much more. Both will be published in the coming week, so stay tuned!


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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


AljechinsCat's picture

I dont see that Anand is that much ahead of his rivals- which big tournament has he won within the last years? Kasparov and Karpov, to name two recent examples, have much more dominated the chess world of their time, like Smyslow, Aljechin or Lasker did before.
The best player of all times might be Fisher since he introduced concepts that were groundtaking - anyone remember the -Nh5-theme in the Modern Benoni? And the Najdorf has become so popular and fresh due to his efforts. This was confirmed by a top 100 GM poll (Kasparov second, Lasker third).
But be happy with your own judgement! Personally, I very much hope to see yet a championship match of Vishy against the big talents of our time (Aronian, Carlsen, Grishuk).

RealityCheck's picture

Well, the "big talents" Grischuk and Aronian, just missed their big chance at the candidates matches. As you already know, the second on your list, Carlsen, cried wolf about the format etc etc and skipped out.

Gelfand is as big a talent as the ones you mentioned. Ok, he's older but no less a threat to Anand.

KKK's picture

"Kasparov a champion for 15 years".

How many of those years were undisputed?

dan's picture

google it up

Septimus's picture

Have any of you checked a few recent Anand-Gelfand games? Plenty of wild (but sensible) attacking. This one is going to be just as exciting as Topa-Anand.

gg's picture

I checked the eight latest and seven of them were drawn long before the 30th move, many in 18-22 moves, Anand won the eighth. Some blitz and rapid games have been more interesting but otherwise the excitement level hasn't been on Anand-Topalov level.

Septimus's picture

Yeah true enough I overlooked the date. They have not played each other a whole lot.

This is what I could dig up:

Anand's wins: (16 total)
2011 Amber Rapid - Nimzo
2008 Amber Blind - Slav
2007 Blitz - Slav, Catalan
2006 Corus - Najdorf

Gelfand's wins:
2008 Amber Rapid - Slav

If you look at the openings employed, Gelfand and Anand are both experts with the Najdorf and Catalan. Recently we saw Gelfand employ 1.c4 and Anand displayed his power with the Caro-Kann against Shirov. The rest is a mixed bag.

Anand plays the French, Slav and Gruenfeld (which Gelfand has handled pretty successfully) so what will he employ against Gelfand? KID, QID or just look for side-lines elsewhere?

lex's picture

For all Anand fanboys:

Kasparov : Anand = 26 : 8

Kasparov a champion for 15 years.

Anand champion for 5 years.

And those comments about what would happen if kasparov was born in india, are downright ridiculous. He WASN'T born in india. Now get more facts into your opinions and stop fantasizing.

gg's picture

Kasparov did have more than 20 years as the strongest player in the world, while facing both Karpov and Anand.

dan's picture

exactly. A voice of reason, after all.

oz8's picture


Sumit Balan's picture

Anand is Anand Always Ahead (AAAA) !

Stanley Peters's picture

Karpov being stronger than Anand is someone's fantasy. Moll's comment about moon landing is just ridiculous, and his assertion that Anand will be in Karpov's class after beating Carlsen is quite ludicrous given Arne's ambitions of being a serious chess journalist.

Anand leads Karpov head to head in all formats of the game by large margins, and their overall games records are virtually identical - the only difference being Karpov had the might of Soviet empire behind him till 1990, while Anand has achieved his results on his own and against a much stronger field since the nineties.

Anand lost his battle with Kasparov in 1995, but between 1995 and 2000, he won Chess Oscars twice in 1997 and 1998 ahead of Kasparov. Speaks volumes.

Pasted below are excerpts (from a series of articles) from 1995 match and the aftermath, including Kasparov's own comments about the match and about Anand.

Article starts...

What went wrong for Anand, after a fine start to the tournament? Experts have analysed the series to death, in a bid to answer that question. But perhaps the most perceptive analysis came from the person who was in the best position to know.

"Anand's seconds," Kasparov was to say in his post-tournament analysis, "have made the mistake of over-preparing him for this contest. They have prepared him to play me, rather than preparing him to play the style of chess that best suits him, and letting him play to his strengths. Anand is a natural, intuitive, player, but the way he has been prepared, his natural brilliance and marvellous talent have been pushed into the background and the emphasis has been on overly rigorous theoretical preparation. Anand is at his best when allowing his creativity free flow."

In course of his exhaustive post-tournament analysis, Kasparov also made one other valid point. Anand, he argued, hadn't (at that point in time) learnt the value of reining in his emotions. "He was hugely delighted by his win in the 9th -- and so his defeat in the very next game dampened him just as enormously, and crushed his spirit."

Kasparov, not known to go out of his way to applaud an opponent, also paid a final tribute to the challenger he had so decisively crushed: "Anand on this form would have crushed every other player in the world today. My win does not reflect how very difficult and psychologically draining the match has been for me."

There was, finally, only one question left. In the recent past, other aspirants for the world title had, following a defeat, faded away. Would the same fate befall Anand? Or would he be able to absorb the trauma, and rise again?

What does it take to challenge for the world crown, and lose? You only have to look at three instances from recent history to find the answer to that one -- and those instances are named Jonathan Speelman, Nigel Short, and Gata Kamsky.

In their time, all three were contenders for the world title. Each made his bid. And lost. And faded. Anand and Kasparov have, at various times, both used an indentical analogy to describe what it is like. Imagine you are climbing a mountain. You climb 95 per cent of it, and then have to quit and come back down. The mountain, meanwhile, remains -- its peak shrouded in mist, enticing you, challenging you, and at the same time, defying you, constantly reminding you that you weren't man enough to make it to the tippy-top.

Most simply give up. Very, very few have what it takes to try the climb again. In fact, in recent memory, the only one who has had the courage, the nous, to attempt the climb again has been Garry Kasparov, after his first bid for the world title against holder Anatoly Karpov ended in failure.

That then was the question that was on most people's minds when Anand emerged from the roof of the World Trade Centre a conquered man: Did he have what it took to climb back up?

There was, thus, keen interest in Anand's progress in the ensuing years. And in 1996, the Indian began providing the answer -- tying with Vladimir Kramnik for joint first in the Dortmund Tournament, winning the Credit Suisse Masters rapid chess tournament beating Garry Kasparov, and then appearing in the Las Palmas Super Cup, featuring the top six chess players in the world. This was the one that was the focus of attention -- if only because this was the first time after his defeat in the world title fight, that Anand was facing Kasparov in regular tournament play.

Kasparov won the tournament, Anand was runner-up. But most importantly, the faceoff between the two ended in a hard-fought draw, with both players doing their damndest to get the upper hand in a scrappy, take-no-prisoners middle game.

That match, and that tournament, answered a lot of questions. Anand was the second best in the world. Anand had what it took to bounce back from that WTC defeat. The only question remaining was, when would he make his next bid for the title?

That second bid came in 1998, in somewhat controversial circumstances, when after going through the grind of qualifying, Anand took on Anatoly Karpov in the final at Groningen. We will review that tournament tomorrow, as the penultimate part of this series before looking at his last, and successful, bid for the world title. Meanwhile, it needs mentioning that in 1997, Anand further reinforced his reputation by winning the Melody Amber at Monaco, in the process becoming the first player in the world to win both the blindfold and rapid sections. In that same year, 55 chess journalists selected Anand for the Chess Oscar (he was to repeat that next year as well) ahead of the rest of the field -- thus making him the first non-Russian after Bobby Fischer to receive that cachet.

gg's picture

"Karpov being stronger than Anand is someone’s fantasy"

Karpov was the clearly strongest player in the world for ten consecutive years while being World Champion, and was close to Kasparov in all their matches after that. A year like 1988, in between the numerous title matches against Kasparov, Karpov won top tournaments like Wijk, Brussels, Moscow, Tilburg as well as individual gold in the Olympiad. In the 1990s he was declining after 20 years as a top two player, but won his matches against Anand and was still good enough to win Linares 1994 with one of the most impressive tournament results ever. Kamsky won against Kramnik and Anand but was no match for an aging Karpov in 1996. Karpov shouldn't be underestimated.

Chess Fan's picture

I certainly respect Karpov, he was my chess idol growing up, and I benefited by playing and understanding his games.

But before any/all of us get into "who is better" juvenile talks, (I know that if done in a healthy, respectful way, it is academically interesting), the only truth is that it is really hard to know for sure. The circular results in chess (A beating B, B beating C, and C crushing A in matches) is a case and point towards this argument.

The greatest ever: Kasparov, Fischer, Tal, Capablanca? Maybe Karpov? Who knows. According to Yasser Sierawan, Anand and Grischuk are the two greatest natural chess talents that he encountered. The legendary Bent Larsen (who consistently beat Karpov in the tournaments at his best in the late seventies and early 80s when others found it an accomplishment to draw with the then World Champion) considered Anand as the World Champion and potential all time greatest during the peak of Kasparov's reign.

So, who really knows? All we know is each World Champion is great and needs to be respected. These relative greatness cannot be reduced to the triviality of statistics, mathematics, or logical analysis. That is my opinion.

oz8's picture

which is the next tournamnet which features Carlsen?

gg's picture

Looking through the previous discussion I noticed a couple of posts one couldn't reply to but I found it impossible to withhold a comment so I post it here :-)

"When compared to the army of super talents Anand has been up against:
Gelfand, Ivanchuk, Kamsky, Kramnik, Ponomariov, Topalov, Grischuk, Aronian, Carlsen, just to name a few, Kasparov had it easy."

Several of those players were tougher opponents during Kasparov's reign. Gelfand was at his best 1990-95, top three for a short while but not top 15 this year. Kamsky won matches against Anand and Kramnik but hasn't been close to the same level the last years, maybe #5 in the middle of the 1990s and #20 now.
Kasparov's career stats against Gelfand and Kamsky are quite good, by the way.

Ivanchuk won all his Linares titles 1989-95. When Anand and Kramnik were at their best is hard to say but they were both quite good 1995-2000, and Topalov won many top events already in 1996 even if he obviously improved a lot around 2005. Grischuk and Ponomariov have never surpassed the world ranking they reached in 2002-03, when both were beaten by Kasparov.

Aronian and Carlsen are obviously Anand-only opponents on a very high level, but then Kasparov had Karpov instead and many top opponents that have declined since those days: Salov, Shirov, Short, Ljubojevic, Yusupov etc. So I don't think Kasparov had an easy ride compared to Anand, rather that he was extremely strong.


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