Fifth-time World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand has been ruling the squares undisputedly and has maintained his international ranking in top five for the last 20 years.
Today, his name is synonymous with calibre, patience and intelligence and in India where cricket is a byword, he has emerged as one of the greatest sportsmen in history. When events like IPL rule the minds and numb the senses, people forget to respect and admire the importance of other sports – which becomes the primary reason that efforts like Anand’s often get sidelined.
Fondly called ‘Vishy’, Anand is the first Asian to be the undisputed champion and only the second player from outside Eastern Europe in the last 60 years. He started playing chess at six and became India’s first Grandmaster at 17.
Known for equable reactions post a big win, this time too the Grandmaster in a telephonic interview from Chennai, remains true to form: “For a moment you do not realise what has happened. But yes, I was relieved that the game was over. It took some time for the feeling of winning the title, to sink in.”
Chess is a game of computational ability and analysis and it takes months of preparation.
“I start preparing at least 2-3 months prior to a tournament but this time I started in January,” shares Anand, who defeated Boris Gelfand of Israel, and rates the match as one as his toughest in terms of intensity. “I meant that the opposition was very well-prepared and didn’t give me enough chances for my moves.”
The chess wizard learned and honed his craft from his mother, Sushila Viswanathan and there has been no looking back. “She is a great support and she used to travel along with me for all my tournaments. She still follows every game and we often talk about the play. She was really happy after I won the title, as she knew how a big struggle it was this year.”
As men of substance go, Anand too is calm and content in his space. What keeps him motivated? “You know, habit takes over you after playing the game for so many years.” He regularly trains for polishing his moves and play and his daily routine includes running and stretching exercises, lunch and then practicing the game.
“I also enjoy a light workout at the gym just to relax.” What about vacations? “We took a three-week break in April. I do take breaks after tournaments but I don’t play immediately after my vacations.”
Can chess emerge as a mainstream game? “Parents are now encouraging their kids to play chess. The mindsets are changing and parents no more think of sports as wastage of time.
” Anand is working with NIIT to promote chess as part of Mind Champion Academy to take the level of chess a notch higher. “This game has a great influence on you, it develops your skills, concentration and memory and that is why I support chess in schools.”
Does he often enjoy a game of chess with Aruna, his wife? “I have played chess only once with her till now and that was a draw,” he smiles. Oh well, even you can’t win them all, Vishy!