The person who first spotted my curiosity for chess is my mother. When I wanted to learn the game after seeing my elder siblings play it, she patiently taught me the rules. She noticed that I was learning very fast and was eager to improve, impatient to get better and beat everyone. That is when she enrolled me in a chess club.
A level head
Sometimes you cannot see if you have it in you to be a champion; others see it much faster. At the same time, I am very cautious about people showering me with compliments as it can lead to complacence. I enjoy this public persona in small doses, but then like to get back to the discipline of chess training.
When I became the most talented player from my state, I was treated very specially at the chess club. Many of the players were much older and I had suddenly leapfrogged ahead of them, playing blitz games, making people take notice. At this point, my parents realised that I would need to make a lot of decisions for myself. They just told me one thing: never to let the stardom go to my head and to treat elders with respect, irrespective of who they are. That has helped me right through my career.
In school and college, I was very lucky to have had supportive principals and professors. I think once when I won a junior event and my name appeared in the papers, the school principal announced my name during assembly and invited me on stage. As luck would have it, I was absent that day. Nevertheless, it was a proud moment, and after that my classmates treated me as someone very special. This made me feel I was actually achieving something that meant a lot to people.
Another cherished moment was when I came to Kolkata after winning the Reggio Emilia tournament in 1991. There was a cavalcade from the airport till the city! I felt like a king.
Then there were the world championship wins in 2000, 2007 and 2008. I worked very hard for them, and they all came at very crucial moments when I had to win to excel. My critics were proved wrong each time. My family stood by me, and when I am home, I am Anand, not a chess champion. That, for me, is the best feeling in my personal life.
You never get used to dealing with a victory or a defeat. Of victory, you can never have enough; a defeat you want to forget. When I have a tough moment during a tournament, I try to put things in perspective and learn why I played badly. If I can find that out, it makes me feel better.
It is very difficult to play the day after a bad result. But somehow you need to find that extra energy. After a tournament, I like to relax and forget about the result. Sometimes you have to switch off that part of your mind and come back to it later. In 2002, I was having very mediocre results, so I decided to learn a new language and picked up German.
Normally, after a few days’ rest, you can approach a problem better and more rationally. Many of my hobbies — astronomy, wildlife, travel — have helped me forget a bad result and come back fresh and ready to fight.
Before a game, I like to close my eyes and listen to music. At this point, it feels like I am floating and the mind races through hundreds of problems. Then, when I make the first move, I feel completely relaxed.
Every time you try to reach a new level in your game, you have to cross an obstacle. Sometimes the barrier is beyond your control; sometimes it is one you have created for yourself. It is important to understand who or what the obstacle is.
In chess, we have had a lot of politicking. During those years, I worked very hard to improve my game. When the chess world was going through a schism, we had no world championships. When I look back, I played some of my best games then and won the Chess Oscars twice. My philosophy is to try and maximise what you can control. It is no use complaining about things that are unfair. When you start complaining, you end up trying to get attention rather than improving yourself. Things are not always fair and equitable, but you have to excel in spite of it.
My success mantra
Enjoy what you do and never do anything because someone wants you to. Always be curious and learn. Never feel you have learnt enough.
Viswanathan Anand, chess champion As told to Sanchita Guha