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Viswanathan Anand in “The Frontline”

What makes Viswanathan Anand stand out in the crowd of champion performers? Some attribute his towering presence to his amazing streak of consistent results among the elite of his sport. Some point to his discipline and commitment. But all agree that few sportspersons in the country can match his humble and grounded ways.

After firing the imagination of a nation 25 years ago, the country’s first grand master has scaled several new peaks. Perceptibly, there is very little left for Anand to achieve in terms of titles. But Anand’s continuous and methodical efforts to fine-tune his craft shows that he is as motivated as ever. At 42, he has categorically stated that his love for the game has not diminished one bit and hence there is no question of contemplating retirement.

On returning from Moscow after taming challenger Boris Gelfand for his third successive defence of the World Chess Championship title in a match format, the five-time world champion took time off to speak to Frontline.

Anand elaborated on several subjects – Gelfand, the preparations for the match, the seventh-round defeat to level the scores, the four-game rapid tie-breaker, Garry Kasparov’s criticism, the fear of losing, and much more.

Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand

Excerpts from the interview with the respected journalist Rakesh Rao for “The Frontline”, India’s National Fortnightly Magazine:

Is it fair to say that eventually your rapid chess skills helped you retain the World Classical title?

In general, while I kept on saying that my skills at rapid chess are not the determining factor in the rapid [games], that is not to say they are irrelevant. I do play faster overall and in rapid chess, I more or less expect to get some time advantage. I think nerves weigh more heavily in these rapid games for the world title than your rapid skills. Rapid skills are not irrelevant. I did benefit from them.

Gelfand earned the respect of the chess world with his gritty performance. What are your impressions of Gelfand, both as a player and a person?

Gelfand is a very tenacious player. We saw it several times in the match. Even when I got in a good idea, he would find a defensive resource over the board. Generally, he has a tough style of chess. I thought of him as a real professional, someone who has a certain way of working and is going to do it pretty well. That’s the impression I have of him.

His approach was more or less perceivable. We expected to be surprised. We did not know how well we would be surprised. And we did not guess the details, of course. Sometimes, let’s say, you prepare here and there for certain options of his, but he always managed to stay in an area where we could not get at him. The second thing is, it is important that your black colour holds well because during the match this is when you buy time to put pressure on the other colour. That was working well for both sides. Both of us were holding with black pieces, slowly trying to tweak white a bit better.

Then, when he beat me in the seventh game that was obviously the culmination of his strategy, but for me it was a crisis. Now that meant I had to do the same under pressure. Luckily I managed to equalise the very next day.

After Gelfand found it difficult to break through in your first three games with black pieces, what different happened the fourth time, in game seven?

I think in game seven, he finally managed to find a weak spot. This was slightly accidental, in the sense that I feel that this area could have been held by us. But, somehow, even when you look at the whole complex, you always neglect one or two things. I am speaking in a relative sense, of course. And this one line we had somehow not done carefully enough and it turned out to be very vulnerable. That is when we decided to go with our second opening for games nine and eleven. But here what he had done was just clever.

Tell me, how did you and your team deal with the defeat? What all happened between game seven and game eight that saw you draw level?

Well, you can imagine. It wasn’t very different from what you might imagine. It was a big blow. But at that moment the most important thing for everyone was not to state the obvious – which is we are in a bad shape! Everyone understands we are in a bad shape, but once you state it, and [are] wallowing in it, it just starts sapping everyone’s energies. So everyone knows that this is the moment to keep one’s mouth shut, everyone, including myself, because the team also looks at you to see how you are reacting. And so you are allowed a few moments to say, “Oh, it’s a pity, it happens.” Then you just get a grip on yourself and start to work.

Of course, for the first time I told [Peter Heine] Nielsen [one of Anand’s support team of four]: “Come on, let’s just go out. I just can’t take it. Let’s go for a walk outside.” He understood. There I had a one-on-one with him. We had a bit of a chat on how difficult it was. He tried to console me a bit and so on. And then the team said, “Look, we’ve made some progress [in the Grunfeld Defence] and we will continue with it the whole night. You got something to go for the next day. Don’t worry too much. Get back your confidence and we’ll take it from there.”

And the guys really worked hard. Many nights they would work like this, sometimes till 3 a.m. or something. That night, they went up to five in the morning. The idea was to stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Next morning, they had everything ready for me. I actually went to the game with a lot of confidence that at least I’ll pose him some problems.

The only question was what would happen if he deviates [from what Anand had prepared for]. He did, but he deviated into something we had not prepared for thoroughly. But we had a new, more unusual set-up in mind.

After I won the next day, I could sleep better. We all could relax a bit. It was again important not to say the obvious. It’s great we equalised but we still have a match to play. So, in these moments it’s important not to make a big deal about what everyone knows. Just keep on working and keep your focus there.


How do you react to the criticism from some players, including Garry Kasparov, that you lacked motivation, did not perform like a favourite and so on?

Surprisingly, a lot of people thought I was the favourite. I didn’t understand that because looking at our recent play and the resources we had shown, it was clear to me that I was not the favourite. I thought that I was playing an equal opponent. I didn’t think more of it, but a lot of criticism came from people who had predicted that I would be better in the match. And then found a need to explain why I was not leading in the match, rather than simply admitting that the initial call was wrong.

People like Kasparov and many others could have said that their initial assessment was wrong. The reason why Anand is not leading is because Gelfand has done a good job.

Your take on Kasparov’s remarks?

Of course, some people, like Kasparov, really wanted me to lose. He was even clearly trying to cause it. He was trying to come there, see if he could get under my skin and somehow negatively impact my play. For me, it was especially important not to give him that satisfaction.

I found Kasparov’s timing extremely surprising. He came during the sixth round. He was so clearly trying to stir something up about my play. I felt his sympathies were obvious.

Full article –

Read also:

Anand sharing about his journey to the fifth world title

Anand talking about all his World titles

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