These were the days when there was still a split between FIDE and Kasparov's PCA. Prior to 1998, qualifying matches for World Chess Championships followed the traditional pattern of interzonal matches held throughout the year, culminating in a Candidates Tournament where the winner would be selected as the challenger to the title. In 1998, FIDE President Ilyumzhinov replaced this system with a new one: A 100 player knockout tournament with 2-game matches each round, as well as blitz/rapid tiebreakers if necessary. The winner of this match would then go on to challenge incumbent FIDE Champion Anatoly Karpov in a 6-round match.
Viswanathan Anand won the qualifying tournament, which was held in Gronigen, Netherlands, December 1997. However, there was much controversy over the scheduling of the match, which was barely 3 days after the qualifying tournament. This meant that an exhausted Anand had to face a fresh and prepared Karpov, leading some to question the fairness of the contest.
|Karpov (left) vs Anand in 1998|
Controversies aside, this was a matter of Rising Star vs Experience: Karpov was already a firmly established giant in the chess world, and his strength in positional play was undisputed. On the other hand, Anand (in those days) was a fast-rising talent with a keen eye for tactics; he was also famous for his proficiency in rapid chess. Certainly a contest worth watching.
The match began with Anand falling behind by 2 points, but bounced back in Games 4 and 6 to bring the match into overtime. Karpov then won 2 rapid tiebreaker games to retain his title. Today, we will take a look at the final game; the game which allowed Karpov to remain as FIDE World Champion.
Anand, Viswanathan vs Karpov, Anatoly
FIDE World Championship 1998 (Round 8)
1. d4 d5
Having a one point deficit Anand was under pressure to win this game; thus he tries playing offbeat lines in order to lead Karpov into unfamiliar territory.
3. Bh4 c6
4. Nf3 Qb6
5. b3 Bf5
6. e3 Nd7
7. Bd3 Bxd3
8. Qxd3 e6
9. c4 Ne7
I thought immediate castling would have been less risky: 10. O-O Nf5 (10... dxc4?! 11. bxc4 c5 12. d5 and White has very good control of the centre.) 11. c5 Qa5 12. Nc3 preparing a3 followed by b4 to chase away Black's Queen and expand on the Queenside.
11. Nc3 b6
|Position after 11... b6|
This sacrifice sends many heads scratching; why would Anand give up a couple of pawns for no apparent compensation? So to take a closer look I decide to look at the other candidate variation: 12. cxb6 axb6 13. O-O Nf5 (The immediate pawn break doesn't work: 13... c5? 14. Nb5 Kd8 15. Nd6 Kc7 where the constant threat of knight forks leaves Black's king in a very awkward position.) 14. a4 Bb4 15. Rac1 O-O (D)
|Position after 15... O-O|
Here Black seems to have a slight edge with more space on the Queenside and opportunities for a c5 break. On the other hand, White's b3 pawn does not look strong. Such positions are in Karpov's territory-- a slow, positional grinding which Anand would prefer to avoid at all costs.
Returning to the position after 12. b4:
Thus, we can say that it would be in Anand's favour to create more tactical opportunities on the board, even at the cost of a pawn or two.
13. O-O Nf5
14. cxb6 axb6 15. Rab1 Qc4 16. Qxc4 dxc4 White has no way to exploit the semi-open b-file, while Black can advance his queenside pawns to target the isolated a-pawn.
15. Rab1 c4 (D)
|Position after 15... c4|
Typical positional ideas: Seizing more space on the Queenside. Of course 15... Qc4? 16. Qxc4 dxc4 17. Rb7 leaves Black with an intruder on the 7th rank and a terrible pawn structure!
16. Qc2 Qa5
So perhaps Anand's sacrifice was worth it? We shall see.
18. Rcb1 Bd6
19. e4 Nxh4
20. Nxh4 Rb8 (D)
|Position after 22... Rb8|
Unfortunately, White's occupation of the 7th rank does not get him any significant advantage!
21. Rxb8+ Bxb8
22. exd5 cxd5
White's pawn sacrifice hasn't gotten him much; Black has retained centre control, and gotten rid of the intruder on the 7th rank. But you must remember that this was the young and energetic Anand who would not go down without a fight, and instead throws in one final gambit:
23. Ng6?! (D)
|Position after 23. Ng6|
Sacrificing a piece to attack the uncastled king. Typical all-out Anand style!
24. Qxg6+ Kd8
25. Qxg7 Re8
26. Qxh6 Qa5
27. Qg5+ Kc8
Karpov calmly fends off the attack.
28. Qg6 Rf8
29. Rc1 Qb6
30. Ne2 e5
31. Qh5 Qf6
32. Rf1 Rh8 (D)
|Position after 32... Rh8|
With this victory Karpov won the tiebreaker, and retained the title of FIDE World Champion. Unfortunately, the rift between FIDE and Classical Champions continued, and would not be resolved until the 2006 World Championship. Meanwhile, barely a decade later, Vishy Anand would return to clinch the title for himself in 2007.