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ĎI have to be more efficient in converting winning positionsí
- A TELEGRAPH EXCLUSIVE
- Iíll wait till 2007 before believing Kasparovís finally gone, says Anand

Calcutta: It has been Sania Mirzaís year. No other Indian sportsperson hogged as much media space as the tennis beauty from Hyderabad.

It has been Irfan Pathanís year. No other Indian cricketer took as many strides towards international stardom as the Baroda allrounder.

Then there was the one and only Viswanathan Anand. He may have made lesser number of headlines compared to his younger compatriots, but the super Grandmaster retained his position of pre-eminence in the world of chess.

Despite seeing Bulgarian Veselin Topalov steal his thunder at the Fide world championship in San Luis (Argentina), Anand had his fair share of glory capped by the fourth Chess Oscar award.

Having finished the year with his engagements in the German league earlier this month, Anand and wife Aruna went on a three-day holiday to Berlin where he celebrated his 36th birthday. Back to their Spanish base in Collado Mediano, Anand has already started preparations for next monthís Corus meet in Wijk Aan Zee.

The Grandmaster took some time off to speak to The Telegraph from Spain.

The following are excerpts

Q: How would you assess your performance in 2005' Are you fully satisfied'

A: I canít say Iím dissatisfied. If I have to be realistic, I shouldnít be too upset. At almost every tournament, I performed above my rating' I won every rapid meet except Corsica. In the Open events, my worst performance was third. So, I canít really complain.

Wasnít the failure to win the Fide World Championship a major disappointment'

Yeah, it would have been nice to win the World Championship. My technical level was generally good, I played quite well in Argentina, but there were some problems which Iím trying to iron out'

You were the clear favourite going into the World Championship. Do such situations put any extra pressure'

I try not to think about it. In Argentina, we were pretty isolated, I could focus on my game without problems' I was capable of winning in Argentina but for a couple of weak points. My opening preparation is generally quite good, but can be choppy at times. Second, I have to be more efficient in converting winning positions. All said and done, I will have to give credit to Topalov.

Is Veselin Topalov a worthy world champion'

At the moment his title is stronger than Kramnikís. Yes, Topalov is holding more cards right now' It certainly helps him that Kasparov is not in the scene now. When he was around, people would say Kasparov didnít play the world championship. Now his shadow is not there.

What were your feelings the day you heard Garri Kasparov had retired earlier this year' Were you taken aback'

I was surprised' I thought he had stepped back for a while to take stock. To be honest, such thinking made sense. He had been playing very little for the last three years, his schedule was basically till February. He seemed to be busy with other things'

You had your differences with Kasparov, but at the end of the day wouldnít you miss competing with him'

That he has gone hasnít sunk in yet because he wasnít a player I saw often in the last few years. Maybe in Linares. So his disappearance has not yet struck me' I had forgotten him completely'

Will there be a void at the top'

His results suggest he was one of the all-time greats, if not the best ever. But the scene is changing so fast now' I donít think the competition will lessen because of his retirement. There is the established group in which myself, Topalov, Leko, Ivanchuk and Kramnik are there. Then there are a few guys in the 23-24 age group who are all in the 2725-2730 rating range and pushing us' guys like Ponomariov, Grischuk, Aronian, Bacrot.

Do you think thereís a chance that Kasparov could be back'

Iím not quite sure. Iíll wait till 2007 before believing heís finally gone.

Kasparov found you one of the toughest guys to beat. Are you satisfied with your record against him'

Yeah, I have a fairly decent record against Kasparov. But it could have been better.

Does the talent pool in India excite you'

We have quite a few Grandmasters now, some of whom are very high on talent. Three of them did well in the World Cup ' (Pentalya) Harikrishna, (Krishnan) Sasikiran and (Surya Sekhar) Ganguly' they all lost in tie-breaks. Ganguly did well to beat the US champion and was in a winning position in the next round before going down.

What do they need to do to make the transition to the super Grandmaster category' How important is it to set up training base abroad, like you'

The most important thing for them is to play as many of the bigger tournaments as possible. They need to demonstrate their skills in meets where the top players are there. Modern chess is very tough. The more they play with better players, the more they learn and higher are their chances of earning rating points.

You are a member of the playersí movement in India. Do you take an active interest in its activities'

The basic point was that the players and the federation were at loggerheads over certain issues. Itís been sorted out and now things back to normal.

What should the role of a playersí association ideally be'

The players should put their views across to the federation and point out if anything is not being properly done. They should not get too involved so that the primary focus remains their game. A playersí association should be there, but not be heard too often. I would also like to see the federation organise bigger tournaments on a regular basis.

Do you set any specific goals at the start of a year'

You do need to have some sort of an objective' Like I know the field at the 2006 Wijk Aan Zee meet will be one of the toughest. Thatís why I have started my preparations early. Iíll prepare hard and will know exactly what to expect' just no point in going there with the idea of beating A, B or C.

You are within striking distance of the 2800-rating mark. Would that be a realistic target for 2006'

I am 2792 right now, yeah I would be looking to bridge that gap. It would be nice to break into 2800.

Finally, your assessment on the Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen'

Heís quite a sensation' To become a Candidate for the world championship at the age of 15 is mind-boggling, though I would still rate Bobby Fischerís record higher. For his age, Carlsen is extremely resourceful.

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