Anand's presence lights up Chess Olympiad camp

A preparatory camp seldom evokes any enthusiasm, but the return of five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand has changed the age-old perception about such camps.

From left: Grandmasters P. Hari Krishna, B. Adhiban, S. P. Sethuraman, Viswanathan Anand, Vidit Gujrathi and R. B. Ramesh (non-playing captain) at the preparatory camp on Tuesday.   -  Rakesh Rao

Ahead of any premier team event in chess, a preparatory camp seldom evokes any enthusiasm. Closed-door debates pertaining to tactical or positional warfare – both on and off the board – are interspersed with calculated but guarded suggestions in an ambiance
that is in keeping with the cerebral nature of sport.

But this week at a five-star property in Dwarka in West Delhi, the return of five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand has changed the age-old perception about such camps.

The Indian team for the Chess Olympiad that begins on September 23 in Batumi, Georgia, has started its preparation with its first week-long camp here.

Anand, along with P. Hari Krishna, Vidit Gujrathi, B. Adhiban, S. P. Sethuraman and non-playing captain R. B. Ramesh, are all enthusiastically discussing ideas and looking to filter out the best from the clutch of options that a position offers. With Anand sharing
some funny moments from his long and illustrious career, regular spells of laughter rents the air.

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“I have never attended a camp,” declared Anand when talking to Sportstar, and continued, “All other players have worked together at some point and I am the one doing the catching up. I want to contribute more to the results. Good that India already won its first medal (in 2014) and that should help (in lessening the pressure). This time, I am pretty excited.

“On paper, we are one of the strongest teams. That goes without saying. But in the nowadays in Olympiads, the weaker teams are not that weak. We have to be prepared to work every hard. We are trying to cope with that,” said Anand, who played five Olympiads between 1984 and 1992 and again in 2004 and 2006.

Anand left for Chennai on Tuesday while Surya Shekhar Ganguly joined the camp on Monday. K. Sasikiran stayed away from the camp citing personal reasons.

The ‘just-married’ Hari, who is the second strongest player in the country, is ready for his ninth Olympiad. “I was 14 when I played my first Olympiad in 2000. Now I am probably
the third oldest member of the team (laughs) and I think, I’m still doing okay. This is the first time Anand has interacted (in a camp) like this with the team. As Anand said, the result is not in our hands. We will work hard and give our best,” he noted.

'Great moment to train with Anand'

Vidit, who will be part of the Masters category of the prestigious Tata Steel chess next January, said, “Getting together before the main event (Olympiad) really helps. I remember, as a prize, I got an opportunity to watch the 2002 World Cup (when Anand triumphed in Hyderabad). That was the first time I saw Anand play, in the final. So, it’s a great moment for me to practise and train with him.

“The camp has a great atmosphere and very light-hearted, too. Last time, we were fourth. This time, with Anand around, I am sure we can do better.”

Adhiban, fresh from winning the Reykjavik Open last week, said, “Fantastic camp. I feel at home. It was my dream to interact with Vishy Anand and to play the Olympiad in the same team as him.”

“In 2014, when we claimed the bronze medal, some people said, “Well, you did not play the strongest teams. So it was a kind of fluke.” In 2016, we played all the top teams and also led the event. It was a bit of hard luck that we did not win a medal. But this time, with Anand, we have a great chance. Every team has a reason to fear us. We will give everything we’ve got.”

The soft-spoken Sethuraman said, “We are having a very nice time. It’s always great to be in the company of a legend. We get to hear some nice and funny stories from him. We are working well and having fun-time as well. I am sure, this time we’ll perform better than last time when we were so close to the medal.”

No one can be like Anand

Ramesh, the non-playing captain, chose to reflect on the past before looking at the future. “Initially, in 1996, when I played Olympiad in the first time, even our participation faced a question-mark because, we would get our visa at the very last minute. Sometimes, it has happened that we were handed our tickets at the airport. Since those days, things have changed a lot for the better. We are getting ready for the Olympiad months ahead of the event. We have come a long way.

“It is heartening to see my childhood hero, Anand, is part of the team. The reason why I came to chess was Anand. When he became a Grandmaster, I wanted to be like him. I later realised that no one could be like Anand. It was not possible. It’s a great inspiration for all the young players in the team to be around a legend, someone who has won five World titles, in all formats, and yet so humble and down to earth. He is not throwing his weight around. He is trying to make everyone feel at home. He is still showing a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” he said.

“Anand (in the camp) is finding most of the moves quicker than other players. To see this kind of motivation, at this age (48) is really inspirational. I’m six years younger to Anand but I still feel much older when I see his energy and enthusiasm.

“Olympiad is till a long way off and I know these are professional players. They all know the importance of giving their best. The results will depend on how well we do. We have a fine mix of youth and experience in the team. We will surely give our best,” he added.