Viswanathan Anand: Ahead of the game

Viswanathan Anand: Ahead of the game

In a candid chat with Manisha Mohite, Viswanathan Anand shares a few special moments from his life, some joyous, some painful, all gathered together in a new book that chronicles his incredible journey

Viswanathan Anand

Five World Champion titles, six Chess Oscars, Padma Vibhushan (the first sportsman to receive the honour), World Cup titles, Grand Slam titles and numerous accolades —Viswanathan Anand’s chess journey, spanning four decades, is as exceptional as it can be. In ‘Mind Master- Winning lessons from a Champion’s Life’ that was released on 11th December, Anand’s 50th birthday, he magnificently manoeuvres his way through the checkered board, combining the rather technical narrative with his thoughts and spicing up the off-board anecdotes with his customary sparkling wit. 

The book unexpectedly does not start with his triumphant thoughts or euphoric expressions after winning a world title but begins — ‘My heart thumps in my ears. My fingernails mock me; over the next few hours, they could be ravaged. A World Championship match can transform its protagonists. You are never the same after it.’

He was referring to the beginning of the 2008 Bonn Classical World Championship Match against Vladimir Kramnik. Prior to this, Anand had won two World Championships in different formats but cynics and the so-called purists refused to acknowledge him as a legitimate World Champion, to be placed alongside former legends, because he had not yet won in the classical format. The hurt and pain seeps through as Anand recalls:  “Bonn was the time I finally could start forgetting about people asking me ‘are you the real World Champion’? The answer to that should have been a simple ‘yes’, but when you have to start explaining, it is obvious that you are not in a good place. It gets annoying and after winning at Bonn, I didn’t have to answer that question anymore. For six years after my first title in Tehran, there was anger in me and I wanted to ask people ‘what was wrong with my first title in Tehran?’ The reference to ravaged nails is a self-mockery of his habit of biting nails during tense encounters.

Takeaways for kids

There are many takeaways for youngsters keen on pursuing chess in the book; like the analysing and note making routine after every chess game, a habit which Anand picked up more to please his mother than anything else but later embraced wholeheartedly after realising its advantages. Anand admits that he visits these notes regularly over the years, and till date, swears by this habit. 

Another must-do includes studying patterns and positions numerous times to keep them imprinted in memory. He humorously dismisses the myth about the mammoth memories of chess players with an amusing anecdote involving his wife Aruna. During an event in Europe, Aruna commented that the code to unlock the safe in their hotel was easy to recall, 2706. The book has Anand replying ‘That’s a silly code… which player has a rating like that!”,  a reference to ratings that were updated to a difference of five. An upset Aruna replies that it was not a rating but their wedding anniversary date!

‘Be intuitive’

Anand emphasises the importance of children finding their own way and stamping their individuality on the 64 squares and allowing them to go with the flow. His ability to play fast had earned him the title of ‘Lightning Kid’ during his youth and the metamorphosis into ‘Speed King’ was a natural progression. When many criticised his speed and predicted that it could be an impediment to his progress, his father encouraged him. “My father is regimental in his ways, but he encouraged me to be intuitive at the board. If you want to play fast, play fast, son, he told me.”

One of the most inspiring chapters in the book is the one that brings his passion for the game and his impeccable sportsmanspirit to the fore. In this chapter, Anand describes how he and his team travelled by a rented bus from Germany to Sofia in 2010, a journey close to 40 hours, to play against Veselin Topalov. All flights had been cancelled due to volcanic ash and the team travelled through five countries with only the ‘Lord of the Rings’ for company.

On a personal front, Anand pays tributes to the two women in his life, his mother Susheela and his wife Aruna, who have always stood by him. Another admirable trait of Anand, which accounts for his winning ways, is his ability to constantly experiment, take risks, learn new things, adapt himself to changes and reinvent, all the while honing his skill and craft to perfection.

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