Viswanathan Anand: Chess is becoming younger, but I am eager to play longer in 2020

The Indian chess legend says there were quite a few occasions when he thought of quitting but continued due to his passion for the game.

Viswanathan Anand at an interactive session during the release of his book ‘Mind Master’ in Hyderabad on Sunday.   -  K. V. S. Giri

Five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand, in the city as part of the promotional event for his book ‘Mind Master’, says there were quite a few occasions when he thought of quitting but continued due to his passion for chess.

In an exclusive interview with Sportstar here on Sunday, Anand shared some thoughts on his career.

Q. Can you trace the history behind this book?

A. The idea was on for sometime. The 50th birthday was a natural deadline which enabled us to focus on it and it finally came through. The other change was instead of making it an autobiography, we thought of coming up with the most significant stories which I went through, learnt from them and the takeaways. More like life lessons. Happy to have my story written along with Susan [Ninan] in such a way that only chess players come to know about the struggles but also makes chess accessible to the common man.

When did you think that you will make it big?

There was no event with a time frame. When I won the Asian junior or something I had the feeling this is big in chess. May be, the World juniors triumph was significant.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Many. Any stage what you want do next when you are not sure you are going to achieve it, that is a challenge. In the book we took many interesting challenges, my second wave from Mexico to Moscow, Kramnik match which went like a dream and which also involved a very challenging decision to a bet, risky bet, if you like to call it so, which paid off. Both the Boris Gelfand matches were very hard. Many moments looked like long slump and then at the end of the slump when you least expect it, something nice happens. So, it went on.

The biggest challenge as a world champion?

In 1995 and 1998 championships, everything in chess till then seemed like a sequence. It seemed like a long road, if you kept walking, you would reach the destination. But, after those two matches, you make to have an extra effort, not like an auto pilot. Try to think in terms of how to improve yourself. Delhi and Tehran went like a dream. No real challenges in that. Even tournaments later on were phenomenal. Sometimes you need luck. In a way, you make your own luck, too!

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Biggest inspiration?

My mother. Looking back the way I am and do things similar to how she would do it. Realise it more and more. Her dedication not only brought me into chess and write down my thoughts to help bring out this book.

Were there moments when you wanted to quit?

I have often thought I would quit. It is a typical process. The day you have a bad result, looks like it was the end of the world. Then wait for two days, still feel you should. Then, two more days it is O.K., just bad luck. And a few more days later, you will be waiting to play chess again. It is a difficult curve. Cannot give a serious answer to this but thought about it many times. But, now, I am getting to stage where I understand that and deal it appropriately.

Do you feel you have achieved everything and nothing more is there?

It is not that I don’t want to win anything more. But, I won’t think about it. I don’t feel the pressure to do something. I like playing till I am able to play at a reasonable level. Well, there is no time-frame at all. Yes, when you get to 50, you inevitably think about this. Essentially, chess is becoming younger. But, I am eager to play longer in 2020.

The three defining moments in your career?

Delhi and Tehran World Championships. The World juniors is another break through moment. And, winning Mexico, of course, which started the second journey. When you are in a long slump, you are almost used to it. Stopped pressure on yourself. For, I had many beautiful results after this.

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Whom do you admire most?

When I was young, I was [John] McEnroe fan. And, [Zinedine] Zidane, [Roger] Federer, they were very talented.

If you were not a chess player, what would you have been?

I don’t know, became a chess player when I was six. Not like I had interrupted some other plan. Both my brothers are engineers. May be by default I, too, would have become one (a big smile).

On Indian sports?

So much better now. No one bats a eyebrow when you say you are into sports for a living. The attitude has changed, lot more support, much easier now to be a sportsman. Same is true in chess, too. The effect is very positive.

On reserve talent of Indian chess after the big names?

We have terrific talent. Pragnanandhaa had a very good result in London, hopefully he will continue. There are many others who are all competing with each other, can’t relax and have to keep pushing. The best thing is they are all between 15 and 16 years of age.

Anand: "Koneru Humpy (left), D. Harika and P. Harikrishna (right) have done a great job." Photo: H. Satish

 

Long ago, you said Koneru Humpy and P. Harikrishna would be potential world champions.

Of course, they could have won. Humpy played some World Championship matches and she still wins tournaments. That’s great stuff. And, Hari in 2016, came to very close to me with an ELO 2660+ and was in the top 20. Chess is unpredictable these days. Humpy, Harika and Hari have done a good job. And, Hari continues to be No. 2 behind me with Vidith Gujarati catching up with him.

What was the toughest moment?

It is hard to pick any to say this one was the worst. May be, losing in the Chennai World Championship. It was a huge blow. Affected me [in] many ways. At the same time, I remember we checked out of the hotel before the closing ceremony as it could not be preponed for some reason. Went home and within two hours I forgot I lost that battle. Of course, it had a deeper impact. But, life went on.

Your thoughts on FIDE’s functioning?

Arkady (Vladimirovich Dvorkovich) won last year. It is nice and seems to open many doors. But, the old structure needs some time to change. The World Championship cycle is being well-organised. Much more stable now. We must give credit to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov for the reunification that was one big step.

Your thoughts on AICF’s functioning?

It is sorting out everything. Hope it finishes the job.

Any administrative role for yourself?

Honestly, it doesn’t excite me at all. So, no way.

Can you talk to us about the controversy when you refused the Doctorate in 2010 during the Indian Mathematics Congress?

I understood it looked like bureaucratic mess up rather than anything intentional. And, I have no ill-feelings. Well, I didn’t refuse but told them will do it later on. So, everyone forgot about it. I wasn’t offended. Just felt very strange that of all the Ministries it was the Home Ministry which asked me which passport I have. (a big laugh).

Any one award which gave you the greatest satisfaction?

Can’t say any one particular award. I can’t say Padma Vibhushan is more important than Padma Shri or something like that. It is a wonderful feeling that you are acknowledged for your achievements.

Your advice to the young chess talent?

Just play and enjoy even while taking maximum advantage of the training methods. The structure in terms of tournaments and exposure can always be better. But we are in one of the best situations we have ever had before.

You’ve been a terrific ambassador for sports.

Not a conscious effort. I try to be myself and maybe credit should go to my parents for the way I am groomed.

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