Viswanathan Anand: ‘Wesley So is the guy everyone is keeping an eye on’

Viswanathan Anand had a mixed last year in terms of results. But he is eager to make amends this year. Anand will start off with the Zurich Chess Challenge in April and take it from there.

Viswanathan Anand plays chess with youngsters at an event in Chennai on Friday.   -  PTI

Viswanathan Anand had a mixed last year in terms of results. But he is eager to make amends this year. Anand will start off with the Zurich Chess Challenge in April and take it from there. Besides his plan for this year, the five-time World chess champion spoke on wide-ranging issues on the sidelines of a chess workshop organised by the Velammal Vidyalaya here on Friday.

Excerpts:

What have you planned for the workshop?

I will share my experiences and training methods, of course. As far as the training is concerned, first I am going to do endgames and puzzles. Both are very important. I think when you are young especially, you tend to neglect them. Besides the tactics and the openings, this is an important area to focus on. Then, we will move to the openings and the middle game. At last, we’ll try to have a summary and a quiz about what happened.

What do you think about the influence of artificial intelligence in the sport?

Well, of course, the computers have a profound impact on the game. I wouldn’t call it artificial intelligence, because that’s not what it is. But, yes, it’s revolutionary, and you simply cannot train anymore without using it.

Nowadays computer has become an inherent part of a person’s childhood. Do you think that impedes the ability of kids today to think for themselves?

Well, that is the big danger. I will try to emphasise that (in the workshop), especially with the endgames. Because computers play perfectly, and it’s very easy to just see the computer and look at the position. But I hope when I give the positions for them to solve, they will see how difficult it is to do, without someone keeping an evaluation that you can see. It’s not a question of understanding as such, because when someone tells you the right answer, it looks like the right answer. But when no one is telling you anything, can you still find the right answer? Because then you have various concepts, and I will try to show them that. A computer is an unbelievably effective tool. But you cannot completely rely on it. It’s something important to emphasise on—that at the board, when you’re alone solving things, it’s very difficult. That’s part of the focus in this camp. I will try to show how mistakes happen in over-the-board play.

Are performance-enhancing drugs prevalent in chess?

There is not much substance abuse in chess. I’ve occasionally heard stories but it’s not a big problem. First of all, the performance boost that it gives is not very significant, and it’s hard to isolate. Anyway, for the record, we do have drug testing for the World championship. Electronic cheating, on the other hand, is a big problem. It requires very little assistance. So, at a critical moment in a game, the only piece of information that needs to be processed is if the move is good or bad. With that little piece of information alone, the help is enormous; because looking at the same position knowing the conclusion makes everything easier.

How does psychology play a part in a game?

Well, the opponents always trouble you. In chess, it’s very important that all the psychology is backed up by good moves. I mean, there are guys who have tried to wind me up, but ended up making bad moves. So, the most important thing, I think, is to focus on playing well. But if you play well, then it’s a good thing to amplify how you feel with mind games and try annoying your opponent. There are legitimate ways of doing this; like, you can look confident, you can play confident, you can play fast, and those are legitimate ways of conveying your confidence. There are bad ways as well; like, making face, and hitting the clock hard. So, we have gamesmanship, and we have legitimate ways of doing things. But, most importantly each one has to find a way to not be affected by these.

Results-wise, you had a mixed last year. What is your plan for this year, and who do you think will dominate this year?

I have two main objectives. I will play the Grand Chess Tour—that is one circuit. The other is the World championship cycle in which I will play the World Cup in September. If I qualify in the World Cup, then I have to get ready for the (World Chess) Candidates tournament, and the Grand tour is five tournaments. I will take Zurich (Chess Challenge) very seriously—that’s my next commitment and it starts from April 12. As for the last year, I was happy with my performance in the tour, and had a great result at the Candidates though I missed qualification. I will retain similar focus for this year and keep improving. As it is, of course, Carlsen remains No.1. But the gap is now closer than it had been for a long time. And, generally you can see that the youngest players are the ones making up a lot of ground. Wesley So is the guy everyone’s keeping an eye on at the moment.

In terms of the average age of the players playing at the top-level, is chess getting any younger?

I would say that the sport is getting younger, but not in the last two or three years. If you look over large time scales, then let’s say some time in the 80s, when I once looked at the average age for the World’s top-10, it was 36. Then, when I looked at it some 20 years later, it had dropped to 26. And it was 26 since (Veselin) Topalov, and (Vladimir) Kramnik were somehow pushing it up. Otherwise, it would been even lower. But not much has changed in the last three or four years. So that computer effect has happened. It’ll keep happening, I don’t know if the top-10, necessarily, will move into the teens. Anyway, it’s not something I think about a lot. It is just an effect you notice.

What do you think is the ideal age to start playing chess?

I will give the example of my own son. I kept a chess-board in front of him. We taught him what the rules of the game are, and how to set a game up. Now, I’m going to just wait till he thinks he wants to try, and starts enjoying it. Probably, the ideal age is when they (the children) want to do it. I don’t think it’s something you should impose from outside, at least as a parent.