Second to none

Team Anand after the success.-

These (‘seconds') are nice men who get along well and have fun even while they put in long hours — sometimes even up to 16 to 18 hours — each day. Sleep is always at a premium. They do rest by turns but the mind is seldom at peace. By Rakesh Rao.

For the third time in succession, the four-man army of Viswanathan Anand played its part to near-perfection. Peter Heine Nielsen, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Radoslav Wojtaszek and Surya Shekhar Ganguly again accomplished the job entrusted to them after helping Anand tame Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov in the two previous World Championship title-clashes.

Anand's back-up men, better known as ‘seconds' in chess parlance, were hailed for their contribution in the match against Kramnik in 2008. The Russian, known for his meticulous match-preparation, faltered when faced with some quality opening study done by Anand and his team in Bonn.

Two years later, against Topalov in Sofia, Anand retained the same team. It came as a bit of a surprise since Kramnik and Topalov possess completely different styles of play. Kramnik is respected for his positional understanding over the board. Topalov is feared for his unusually aggressive approach in search of tactical possibilities. But Team Anand did enough to help the champion get over the line.

This time, against Gelfand, Anand showed his trust in the same quartet. His trust paid off yet again. Anand has reasons to have immense faith in the abilities of these players. Here the abilities go beyond chess. It is obvious that these players bond well, know their roles well and more importantly, know exactly what Anand expects of them.

As Anand once said, “We work for long hours. So personal equations are important. Then comes chess.”

Clearly, these are nice men who get along well and have fun even while they put in long hours — sometimes even up to 16 to 18 hours — each day. Sleep is always at a premium. They do rest by turns but the mind is seldom at peace.

But what exactly is expected from these ‘seconds'?

In effect, ‘seconds' are employed by a player to study the hundreds of games of the opponent in question in great detail. Since the opening moves of a game set up the middle-game and the resultant endgames, the main focus of the ‘seconds' remains the study of opening choices opted by the opponent in the past. Since each opening has several variations that follow every move, it takes meticulous computer-aided study by the team of ‘seconds' to let their player know what options to choose from.

Anand, for one, spent up to 10 hours a day thinking about each of this last three challengers in the months leading to the matches. “I must remember that he is thinking about what I am thinking about him.” These words from the champion reflect what all goes through the minds of the players before and during the match.

Nielsen, who had a quiet 39th birthday during the course of the match, has been a constant companion for Anand for years. The Dane's organised ways and knowing what is best for a player like Anand helps the team immensely.

“Peter would say, ‘Vishy won't do it because I know him'.” These words from Anand truly reflect his faith in the ability of the man.

Former FIDE World champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov, 32, is the problem finder of this team. Just when the other members appear relaxed about having cracked a puzzle, Kasimdzhanov takes over and comes up with questions that make the others start all over again. Anand feels the Uzbek keeps the rest on their toes.

Radoslav Wojtaszek, 25, contributes with his eye for sophistication and understanding of a given position. Anand was very impressed with his depth of preparation before he signed him up.

Finally, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, 29, had been on Anand's list even before the team was finalised. They had worked together through internet and Anand believed he would make a good ‘second'.

As Anand said, “There were others, too, who helped me but it won't be fair to name them but the team of ‘seconds' was unchanged.” And so did the result.

For all their hard work, what do they get? An agreed fee plus part of the million-dollar prize money!