A grandmaster in every sense

King of kings… World champion Viswanathan Anand contemplates his move during the FIDE World Championship match against Boris Gelfand of Israel at the Tretyakovsky State Gallery in Moscow.-AP

Viswanathan Anand's contribution to Indian chess has been quite remarkable. He has single-handedly inspired thousands of children, and their parents, to look at chess as something more than a mere hobby. As a result, India has produced several World junior and age-group champions and is a major force to reckon with in international chess. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

He is a genius. Like Federer. Like Warne. And Viswanthan Anand still looks as hungry for World titles as he was that night in New Delhi 12 years ago. It was a cold, wintry night. There was a party at the Taj Palace Hotel, right after the concluding ceremony of the Delhi segment of the 2000 World chess championship. The women's event was already over and China's Xie Jun had won the title quite convincingly.

The men's championship had identified the two finalists who would soon be flying to Tehran (Iran) to play the final. Alexei Shirov of Spain was one of those finalists, but few seemed to care. Everyone wanted to meet the other finalist, Viswanathan Anand. It was as if all of us at the party knew he was certainly going to win the World Championship final. It wasn't just the Indians who wanted him to win; he was too popular in chess communities around the world.

While speaking to him for a few minutes one learnt that he was determined to finish off in Tehran what he had started in Delhi.

In 1987, when this writer was playing in the State junior chess championship in Pala, a small town in central Kerala, the organisers of the tournament had arranged a big function to honour Anand, who had just won the World junior title in Baguio, the Philippines.

There was also a simultaneous display by him as he played with the participants at the State Championship. If one remembers correctly, Anand lost one, drew one and won the rest of the 40-odd games he played.

After the simultaneous display, Anand spent time with the players and charmed one and all with his disarming smile. He was an inspiration for the younger players, he was their pride.

Twenty-five years later, he is still an inspiration for any chess player in India.

Anand was the World champion in 2000. (As expected, he demolished Shirov in the final in Tehran). And 12 years later, he is still the World champion.

Anand, 42, continues to amaze. He was the favourite to win against Boris Gelfand in Moscow — not merely because he was World No. 4, 16 slots ahead of the Israeli, but that he was in a different class.

True, Anand may not have been as dominant a player as he was during his previous title defences, which may have raised Gelfand's hopes of an unlikely World championship triumph. But Anand reminded his rival and everyone else that class is permanent.

Anand's class was evident very early in his career, even before he had won the World junior title in the Philippines. Talk to old chess players in the country and they will tell you how Anand as a young boy was so different from anybody else they ever met across a chessboard. He needed only minutes to find moves that most other players would take hours.

Anand became the World champion in a sport that is played in just about every corner of the universe. And he did that all by himself, with little support from the system and with no fellow-countryman to draw inspiration from. No Indian had ever reached anywhere near a World Championship when Anand mounted his first serious challenge for the crown in 1994. He could not handle the pressure of playing at home, as he lost in the semi-finals to Gata Kamsky at Sanghi Nagar (Hyderabad). Anand seemed to be cruising along to what looked like an easy victory when he crumbled.

He was in for greater disappointment four years later when he lost the 1998 final in Lausanne to Anatoly Karpov. He lost to an unfair format that seemed to clearly favour the Russian, who didn't have to play a single game against an Indian rival who had come through an exacting knock-out tournament just a few days before.

Anand took the defeat in his stride and waited for his turn. He didn't have to wait long. Though he survived a few anxious moments in Delhi, he pulled off a crushing victory against Shirov in Tehran. And India rejoiced. The country that taught the world this fascinating mind game finally produced a World champion!

Thereafter, Anand brought the World titles to India in 2007, 2008 and 2010 before winning his fifth in Moscow recently. Remarkably, he has won the World Championship in every conceivable format — the classical matches, round robin and knock-out. Equally remarkable is the contribution he has made to Indian chess. He has single-handedly inspired thousands of children, and their parents, to look at chess as something more than a mere hobby. As a result, India has produced several World junior and age-group champions and is a major force to reckon with in international chess. India is ranked fifth among women and eighth among men in the world.

Anand is not only one of the greatest World champions ever, he is also one of the nicest. Before he won his maiden world title, he was often thought to be too nice to be a world champion.

Anand is always polite, humble and a genuinely friendly person. He is also one of the most articulate sportspersons you would ever come across.

He is also one of the world's most consistent players of all time. He has been among the world's best for more than two decades. And it looks like he would continue to be so for a few more years.