Kramnik on Anand: A 50-year-old in chess is like 95 years in normal life

Vladimir Kramnik recalled he had teased compatriot Efim Geller after his loss to “a certain 16-year-old guy called Viswanathan Anand” in the '80s.

Vladimir Kramnik (left) and Boris Gelfand address the media in Chennai on Tuesday.   -  SAHIL HUSSAIN I

 

Even though chess legend Vladimir Kramnik struggled to search for words amid severe jet-lag, his trademark sense of humour didn't go unnoticed when he addressed the media ahead of a 10-day coaching camp with 14 young Indian chess players at Thiruvidanthai here on Tuesday.

Talking about a tournament in India in the mid ‘80s, Kramnik reminisced how he, along with his trainer Truskowski, had teased compatriot and former world-class grandmaster Efim Geller after he lost to “a certain 16-year-old guy called Viswanathan Anand”.

“Geller did win the tournament but he lost to one Indian. You know... a young Indian player. You can guess the name, of course. When he came back to the Soviet Union everyone started to tease him. But, of course, we knew (that Anand is talented). Even if not immediately, quite soon everyone understood. But we couldn’t stop teasing him, you know.”

However, Kramnik also went on to say, "Now, it’s kind of a normal scene - Russian top grandmaster losing to an Indian one. But at that time, it was not that common,” to which the whole conference room burst into laughter.

Chess legends Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand at the official inauguration of the chess camp for select young Indian players in Chennai on Tuesday.   -  M. Karunakaran

 

Belarusian grandmaster Boris Gelfand, who would be working alongside Kramnik, during the training camp, had a little to add too, to how the Indian scene is when it comes to the sport. He said, "Chennai itself has such a big concentration of chess talent. We can see some older grandmasters present here in the room who have already shown their potential and would show even more. Some young players will be part of the camp, who all definitely have the potential to go to the very top of the chess world.”

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Anand, who recently turned 50, has often been irked by fans and journalists alike, with questions regarding his retirement. Kramnik, who retired as a professional in January last year, feels it is solely the player’s decision as to when he or she decides to walk into the sunset. “In chess, you can play as long as you want. It’s always the choice of the player. But these days, after 40, it’s becoming more and more difficult to compete with young players, but not as dramatic as in physical sport. The most important thing is that Anand still likes it. He still enjoys travelling and going to tournaments. As long as you enjoy, you should continue. I hope he will continue for a few more years.”

But is Anand past his prime? The 44-year-old Russian was quick in his reply. He said: “Maybe. Because his prime was so high that it became difficult for others to emulate. Definitely, he is not as good as he was at his peak. But for his age, he is still extremely good. There are not many 50-year-olds around in world chess. A 50-year-old in chess is like 95 years in normal life. To remain among the top at this age is no mean achievement. I am not sure if any of the current generations can have a long career like Anand.”

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Gelfand concurred with Kramnik. He said, “In 2013, when Anand lost to (Magnus) Carlsen in Chennai, people were trying to push him into retirement, which I think was total nonsense. As long as he enjoys, he will play competitive chess. And you have to thank him for continuing at the highest level.”

The camp, organised by tech company Microsense, will have grandmasters R. Praggnanandhaa and D. Gukesh among others in attendance, and will go on from January 8 to 18.