A supercharged chess battery!

Since July 1991, Viswanathan Anand remained in the top-10 list till February 2016 — for 296 months in succession! And what more, after a minor glitch lasting four months, Anand has returned to the top-10 list for the past year!

Anand’s first World championship trophy, which he won beating Alexei Shirov in Teheran in December 2000.   -  AP

In any field of human activity, those who excel need no reminding of the eternal truth that reaching the top is easier than staying there. In other words, it takes a lot more to maintain one’s position.

In the sporting arena, particularly in an individual discipline, there are legendary names who have left a mark not only by their feats but also with their consistency in maintaining high levels of excellence.

In the last three decades, performers like Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, Lee Chong Wei, Serena Williams, etc., have carved a niche for themselves in their chosen fields. At the highest level, their performance coupled with amazing consistency has brought them status that is far beyond the reach of lesser mortals. In addition to achievements, longevity in the face of the toughest challenges is one factor that separates the legends from the rest.

Anand is honoured with a crown and baton by his fans in Chennai after he had won the unified World championship in Mexico City in October 2007.   -  R. Ragu

Viswanathan Anand, 47, tops the list when it comes to being consistent among the legendary names in chess. For around three decades, this five-time World champion and former World No. 1 has faced the best of brains in chess and stayed among the best for almost 26 years!

In fact, Anand almost defies the clichéd dictum, “Form is temporary, class is permanent.”

Even Anand’s form seems permanent when one considers the fact that since July 1991, he remained in the top-10 list till February 2016 — for 296 months in succession! And what more, after a minor glitch lasting four months, Anand has returned to the top-10 list for the past year.

Anand’s consistency, one of the hallmarks of his career, can be further appreciated from the fact that he was ranked among the World’s top-five players from July 1996 to July 2012. That is, 192 consecutive months!

In chess, a player’s strength is reflected by a four-digit rating tabulated as per the norms of the World chess federation, known by its French acronym FIDE. When Anand got his rating in January1984, the entry level was 2200, unlike today’s modest 1000.

Read: Dibyendu Barua on Anand

Those days, the world rating list was released only on January 1 and July 1 each year, as its compilation and computation was considered a monumental task. These days, thanks to the growth in technology, the rating list is released on the first day of every month.

Anand’s maiden rating of 2284 placed him 1752nd in the world list headed by Garry Kasparov at 2710!

Given Anand’s immense prowess and intuitive powers, it hardly came as a surprise when he made rapid strides. He crossed 2300 in July 1984, 2400 in January 1986 — and confirmed his International Master title — 2500 in January 1987, 2600 in July 1990, 2700 in January 1993 and 2800 in April 2006.

In order to become a Grandmaster, a player is required to meet certain technical stipulations including three GM-norms totalling at least 27 games and a rating of 2500.

It took Anand around a year to meet the requirements. He started 1987 with a rating of 2500, and collected three GM-norms during the second half of the year. The triumph in the World junior championship earned him a nine-game norm. In December, he collected a norm each from events in New Delhi and Coimbatore.

Since Anand’s third norm came in the last week of December, the data could not be computed for the January 1988 list. As a result, Anand had to wait until July to be officially called a GM.

The 1990s saw Anand firmly establish himself among the chess elite.

A laurel wreath for world champion Anand in Moscow in May 2012 after he had vanquished Boris Gelfand.   -  AP

Having gate-crashed into the top-10 list in the ninth place in July 1991, Anand ended the year by making a splash that made the chess world sit up and take note.

With 10 of the World’s top-14 players making the field for the Reggio Emilia chess tournament, Kasparov started as an obvious favourite. But the ninth-ranked Anand — the only player born outside the Soviet Union in what was the strongest event of that time — stole a march over the rest.

During his astonishing unbeaten run, Anand (2650) defeated Kasparov (2770), Lev Polugaevsky (2630), Valery Salov (2665) and Alexander Beliavsky (2655) and drew with Boris Gelfand (2655), Anatoly Karpov (2730), Vassily Ivanchuk (2735), Alexander Khalifman (2630) and Mikhail Gurevich (2630). For the record, Anand scored six points from nine games, followed by the duo of Kasparov and Gelfand at 5.5 points.

Anand had well and truly beaten a dream-field. This rightly earned him the respect of the chess world. In fact, following this epoch-making triumph, Anand was jokingly hailed as the champion of the ‘Soviet championship’ since all others (except Khalifman who represented Germany) played under the flag of the USSR.

In 1993, the chess world faced a serious crisis following Kasparov’s decision to defy FIDE and hold a parallel World championship title-match with Nigel Short. Two years later, it was Anand who faced Kasparov for the ‘world title’ though Anatoly Karpov was the ‘official’ World champion, recognised by the FIDE.

Unruffled by the uncertainty in the divided chess world, Anand continued to establish himself.

In what remains the finest phase of Anand’s career, between January 1990 and July 1993, his rating sky-rocketed from 2555 to 2725. He gained points in every rating list and took his world ranking from 68 to 3!

In a highly competitive sport like chess, where the games of the elite players are dissected threadbare, by rivals and analysts using mind-boggling computer programmes and software, Anand’s consistent excellence is indeed awe-inspiring.

From July 1996 to July 2012, besides winning the world title five times and holding the World No. 1 rank, Anand crossed the magical figure of 2800 and attained a career-high rating of 2817!

Anand was the fourth player, and the oldest till date, to cross the 2800-rating barrier, in 2006.

Click to Read Anand's Statistics

It is truly amazing how after Kasparov formed ‘Club 2800’ in January 1990, it took his former student and Russian compatriot Vladimir Kramnik 11 years and six months to join him. Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov was the third player to reach 2800 in January 2006, six months before Anand followed suit.

It is also Anand’s never-say-die mindset that saw him persist with hard work and attain the targets. If Anand was 36 years, three months and 21 days old when he reached 2800 for the first time in April 2006, he topped the World ranking list exactly a year later at 37 years, three months and 21 days, in April 2007.

Another fact that reinforces Anand’s unparalleled consistency is the fact that Vassily Ivanchuk — second behind leader Kasparov when Anand first made the top-10 list in July 1991 — was last seen in the top-10 list in December 2012. The temperamental genius from Ukraine, in and out of the top-10, has failed to regain his place for more than four and a half years.

In 26 years, Anand slipped out of the top-10 list only from March to June last year and that allowed P. Hari Krishna to get the closest to his idol in world rankings. Though Hari’s best ranking of 10 came only once — in November 2016 — he inched closest to Anand in the March 2016 ranking list.

On this list, Anand slipped to his lowest ranking of 12 — in more than a quarter of a century — and Hari climbed to 14th.

This was caused due to Anand’s disappointing performance in the Gibraltar Chess Festival. Anand made a rare appearance in an Open event but performed poorly. The third seeded Indian, rated 2784, performed at 2541 and scored just 5.5 points from 10 rounds to finish 41st!

The loss of a whopping 22 rating points, mainly due to two defeats in three middle rounds, brought down Anand’s rating to 2762 and snapped his dream run of 24 years and eight months in the top-10.

As is his wont, Anand picked himself up and completed another year among the world’s top 10 players. Defying age and challenges from much younger, energetic rivals, Anand continues to redefine consistency.

A temple that meant a lot

It is well known that Vishy Anand's mother, the late Sushila Viswanathan, was the one who initiated him into chess at the age of five or six. The lady was very fond of the sport and her passion ignited Anand, who became a roaring inferno in the game.

Anand with his mother Sushila Viswanathan on return to Chennai after winning the 2007 World championship. She was also his Godmother in chess.   -  R. Ragu

 

Sushila was also religious and used to bring Anand quite frequently to a temple in Mahalingapuram in the late 70s and early 80s. Basically a Vinayaka temple, the place also had other shrines. The chief priest of the place at that time, Sabesa Gurukkal, had a special liking for Anand, who was a very well behaved boy, and did special poojas for him with intensity and fervour. And Anand's rise in the game at about this time was meteoric.

The temple is still there, but Sabesa Gurukkal is no more. Maybe Anand remembers.

P. Krishnan