Consistency pays dividends

A new generation of players, using computeraided tools, have been threatening the old boys, but Anand has remained unfazed.-R. RAGU

Most of Anand's peers from his junior days no longer make news. Therefore, the No. 1 ranking is indeed a deserving reward for Anand's persistence. Ask him about his ability to keep himself motivated and he comes up with a simple answer. "I still enjoy my chess as much as I did as a child." Over to Rakesh Rao.

It took Viswanathan Anand precisely 10 years to move from the second spot in the world rankings to the top. For someone once referred to as the "lightning kid" for moving the pieces at the speed of thought, it was indeed the slowest move he had ever made.

Still, the millions of Anand fans around the world would not mind that one bit. For the uninitiated, it may seem a tardy effort, but in the world of chess, there are few who can match Anand's consistency at the highest level.

He broke into the world top-10 list in July 1991 and has never looked like tumbling out of the elite zone. It is this consistency that places Anand at a different level when compared to the Indian sporting greats in other disciplines.

Most of Anand's peers from his junior days no longer make news. Therefore, the No. 1 ranking is indeed a deserving reward for Anand's persistence. Ask him about his ability to keep himself motivated and he comes up with a simple answer. "I still enjoy my chess as much as I did as a child."

Indeed, fresh challenges have kept him going. A new generation of players, using computer-aided tools to help in their preparations, have been threatening the old boys, but Anand has remained unfazed.

Years of diligent work and the determination to make the best possible move have made Anand what he is today. At 37, he is a champion with a longevity matched by only a few in sporting history. Truly commendable is the fact that after learning the basics of the game from his mother, Anand did not receive any periodic coaching during his years as a budding champion.

A tremendous understanding of chess positions from a very young age, and the intuition and certainty with which he took decisions at the board made him different from his challengers. Years ago, when Anand was asked as to what made him play his moves so fast, he replied, "I don't usually wait to find the best move over the board in match situations. The moment I see a sound continuation, I play the move and do my thinking in my opponent's thinking time."

This ploy was surely effective as Anand and the clock worked against the unsuspecting rivals. Anand was the first Indian to be seen as a potential world champion. Although the original prodigy from India was Dibyendu Barua, it was Anand who caught the imagination of the country with his rate of success as well as the speed with which he delivered the knockout blow.

Being articulate helped Anand's cause and access to chess books and later computers took him way past his challengers. The decision to move to Brussels ahead of his much-anticipated clash against former World champion Anatoly Karpov in 1991 and train with Mikhail Gurevich, former aide of Garry Kasparov, helped his cause immensely. He also realised that being in Europe was important for his chess. So he decided to shift base to a small town near Madrid and never regretted the decision.

Anand first raised visions of bringing home the world title when he was one-up against Garry Kasparov at the halfway stage of their 20-game World Championship final clash on the top floor of the World Trade Center in New York in 1995. However, things went dramatically wrong after Anand drew first blood.

The World title did come Anand's way in 2000 in Teheran. The year also saw Anand claim the World Cup and the world rapid and blitz titles. By this time, Anand had won all the major classical titles, whether it was at Wijk aan Zee, Linares or Dortmund. Being the undisputed "Rapid King," the titles at Mainz, Leon and Corsica came almost without a break! Even in the Amber Blindfold and Rapid championship, Anand ruled like no other.

Now Anand's eyes were firmly focussed on crossing the coveted 2800-mark in rating and also to become the world number one. He did come close to the 2800-mark in mid-2001 but a forgettable string of defeats in Dortmund pushed him back. Last year, he crossed the 2800-mark for the first time in his career but it was Bulgaria's Veselin Topalov who stayed ahead of him after the retirement of Garry Kasparov in 2005.

The heavy loss of rating points that Anand suffered in the Turin Olympiad widened the gap between the top two players of the world. But Anand's consistency together with Topalov's defeat at the hands of Vladmir Kramnik in the World Championship match, saw the players remain within four points of each other.

At Linares, it was Anand who topped, while Topalov shared the last spot. This ensured Anand a place atop the next World rankings to be released on April 1. If reaching the summit is easier than staying there, then Anand's toughest test of consistency begins now.