‘Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand is more than just the face of Indian chess, he is the world’s first player to win World Championships in three formats of the game. He opens up to Shrabasti Anindita Mallik about his memorable tournaments and what life-lessons he learnt from the sport’
A national champion in 1986 when he was in the 10th standard, a world junior champion a year later and India’s first Grandmaster (GM) the following year – Viswanathan Anand needs no introduction. In a career spanning a little over three decades, he has not only participated in tournaments across the world but has also played against some of the most celebrated names in the game – Russian Grandmasters Anatoly Karpov, Vladimir Kramnik and Garry Kasparov, and Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen to name a few.
One of the most prominent faces of Indian chess, he has, single-handedly, encouraged and motivated hundreds of Indian youngsters to take interest in the sport. So much so that when he became the Grandmaster in 1988, he was the only one in India, a country that, today, boasts over 50 Grandmasters. “Becoming the country’s first Grandmaster is undoubtedly a proud feeling but it is equally gratifying to realise that I have hopefully played a small role in inspiring others to take interest in the game and do so exceptionally well,” says Anand.
They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In Anand’s case, it was being introduced to chess by his mother. “I moved my first piece when I was six years old,” he recalls. Chess, however, was not the only sport he grew up playing. He dabbled in tennis and badminton too. But the chequered board intrigued him more than anything. So, when did young Anand decide to pursue chess wholeheartedly? “I don’t believe there was one definitive moment… I just enjoyed chess most. The more I delved into it, the others took a back seat,” he points out.
Of all the impressive feats he has achieved over the year, the 2007 World Championship where he defended his title against Kramnik is most illustrious. With that win, Anand became the first player in the history of the game to have won the World Championship in three different formats – knockout, tournament and match. Ask him about the format that engages him the most and he claims to not have preferences. “I simply enjoy doing well. I used to be extremely well in knockouts about 20 years back and was once quite good in rapid and blitz chess too. Nowadays I enjoy playing a classical chess event once in a while,” elaborates Anand.
As with all sportsperson, Anand too had his share of defeats but he never let them discourage him. He got up, dusted off and returned, and how. In fact, he says that some of his most cherished games were the ones that came “after a long slump”. “Those are the tournaments that I look back on with pleasure because they reinstated in me the belief that I was back,” he reminisces and lists some of the most memorable matches. “The World Rapid and Blitz in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and the Candidates Tournament 2014 in Russia spring to mind, as do the matches that I played against Joël Lautier [French GM]. When you play a beautiful game, you are satisfied for a long time afterward and those are the matches that your fans remember forever,” he adds.
Today, at 50, Anand is taking it slow on the board and focussing on other aspects of his life – his son Akhil and his recently-published book Mind Master. But he can never leave chess behind. After all, it has not only been his professional game of choice but has given him valuable life lessons too. “The important things that chess has taught me is how you have to keep learning and how, sometimes, you have to take risks in order to make progress,” he smiles.