Anand still enjoying the game!

When I was the world champion, I played in 2012, '13 & '14 and that turned out to be a ridiculous schedule. I have always been very pragmatic. While some of the situations were not very pleasant, I don’t regret playing those events. My point is once you’ve decided to play, you play and move on. I don’t see it as a conspiracy.

Viswanathan Anand says that chess is getting younger.   -  V. Ganesan

The best thing about five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand is that the legend has not lost any of his warmth or simplicity — his geniality glitters. Before leaving for St. Louis in August for a tournament as a part of the Grand Chess Tour, the 46-year-old Anand spoke to Sportstar on Tuesday on the changes he’s made to his game, on how a physical fitness regimen has gained importance of late, and reveals how rules, which were taking shape during some of his World championship matches, favoured his opponents, among other things.

Question: What keeps your desire burning bright, still?

Answer: I am, pretty much, enjoying the game. And if am enjoying it, why not keep playing. Of course, I want to do well. I still enjoy being a chess player.

At this age, is the challenge more physical or mental?

They are both connected. It’s physically harder, so you have to compensate by trying to be fit. But physical exertion makes you tired, so you start making mistakes. So you have to compensate there too.

Are you at a stage where you have to reinvent yourself?

Computers have forced you to keep changing your working methods. Plus, the modern style of chess is to play long games. So, you have to adapt for that. The tendency now it to is to play long games even in an equal position, and to keep making moves. Many times a draw is forbidden. In such cases, it has become a physical game. Right now, the physical component is getting higher.

That means, an Anand 2.0 is taking shape?

Whether it’s 2, 6 or 7, I don’t know. Things keep changing. It’s not that something new or a revolution is happening only now. Every player is constantly developing. That continues.

Has anything in your training pattern changed after the 2013 World championship in Chennai?

I am trying to keep up with the current trends a lot. When I was playing in matches, I pretty much had the attitude that I would pretty much do what I did in matches. I didn’t adapt that much. Now when I go for tournaments, I try to learn new stuff before I go. I just don’t rely on my match repertoire.

Do you still enjoy living out of suitcases?

If I stay in a place for long, I find it difficult. I am not completely sick of travelling. It’s just that I go one or two days early to adjust to jetlag. I am not tired of travelling.

Do you pick and choose tournaments now?

All that is true, but I don’t want keep on talking on this theme of ‘this phase’. I have always adapted. Once upon a time I used to play much more. Now it’s not only a question of playing less, it’s also a matter of preparation. When you go for tournaments, you want to give your best. It’s healthy in general to stop for a while. I stop more now than, say, 20 years back. Tournaments themselves are evolving. The tournaments I like to play in, I still play. I don’t calculate too much on rating points. The only reason to do that would be to qualify by ratings for the World Candidates. I don’t feel you can be clever about it. I think if you play well, you get more points, and you qualify by ratings. You cannot skip tournaments. You cannot be cunning and qualify.

The Maharashtra Chess League (MCL) was a big success. There were many Tamil Nadu players in it. Will it help if TN hosts a similar league?

Any State which emulates MCL will be good for Indian chess. But TN should be the ideal candidate (to host). I would be very happy if that happens.

Why aren’t many quality Grand Masters tournaments being conducted in India?

Well, a whole bunch of Indian players have gone to Europe to play in the summer circuit. It’s a place where they can train, play and improve their rating points. Of course, it will be nice to have more tournaments in India. We have quite a few. I would like to see more. The funny thing is that we don’t need that many players from abroad as all-India tournaments are very strong. Probably, the focus should be on improving the conditions in that tournament; more sponsorship, better hotels, better venues.

There is a view that FIDE had been unfair to you in quite a few World championship finals. Do you share that feeling?

Those were difficult moments. I had the feeling that the rules which were taking shape were favourable to my opponents. I don’t think about it a lot. If you keep on thinking how unfair something is to you, you will not be able to play very well. Once you’ve turned up, you have to do the best. Sometimes, I thought there were way too many matches in a row when I became the World champion. If you look at the matches in 2013 (against Carlsen), it should have normally been held in 2014. For some reason I was playing an annual match. In fact I played in 2012, '13 & '14 and that turned out to be a ridiculous schedule. I have always been very pragmatic. While some of the situations were not very pleasant, I don’t regret playing those events. My point is once you’ve decided to play, you play and move on. I don’t see it as a conspiracy. For me the important thing was the world championship was unified back in 2006.

Why haven't the youngsters come up the ranks as expected at the world level?

The most important thing is there is a big group behind (me). I hope all of them move into the high 2600s and then into 2700. That would be really something. Of course, Harikrishna and I are separated by very little. The success for me is what we have achieved: the gold in the Asian Nations Cup and the bronze in the last Olympiad; these are all significant successes which show India is making progress.

Your best and worst World championship finals?

My best performance is Bonn (Germany) in 2008 against Vladimir Kramnik till this date. That’s the match I wish I played every time. Chennai (’13) and Sochi (’14) were disappointing.

When people repeatedly ask you about retirement plans, does that affect you?

Honestly, I understand why they are asking that question. It doesn’t offend me. I just live for the moment. One day it will be ‘yes.’ For the moment it is ‘no.’

Is age just a number in chess?

Age matters a lot in chess. It is no longer a number. Clearly, chess is getting much younger. Age in chess will mean the same as what age means in other sport. In the future, we will be very surprised to see anybody over 50 years in the top 10.

Your expectations on the Indian team which is taking part in the Olympiad to be held in Baku (Azerbaijan) in September?

In the last edition in Tromso (Norway) in 2014, the bronze was deserved, but that doesn’t mean it was assured. There are many strong teams. If we are able to retain the bronze, it will be amazing.

On losing to Carlsen in 2013 in your hometown?

It was the worst moment in many, many years.

After the Chennai debacle, you fought back in the Candidates. How was the feeling?

It was a bit of a relief. After Chennai, my confidence was shattered. I felt so bad. I was only hoping for a second or third place finish in Khanty-Mansiysk. The Candidates victory gave me confidence for the rest of 2014, and many things improved. It was one of my happiest moments.

On challenger Sergey Karjakin, who will take on Carlsen in the next world championship?

He’s a tough player. If you see his entire performance in the World championship cycle and the Candidates, it has been tenacious. But based on the Bilbao Masters recently, Carlsen would be the favourite. It is Carlsen: 80-20, or 75-25. Carlsen has been very impressive. In fact his rating is going up. It is not impossible for Karjakin to win, but it’s up to him to prove it.

Your toughest opponents?

The usual names: Anatoly Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik & Carlsen.

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