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Anand: India's chess hero with waning powers

Dethroned world chess champion Viswanathan Anand who held the title for six years is regarded as one of India's finest sportsmen even though cricket remains the dominant sport in the country.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2013 23:10 IST

Dethroned world chess champion Viswanathan Anand who held the title for six years is regarded as one of India's finest sportsmen even though cricket remains the dominant sport in the country.

But doubts remain if Anand, 43, who lost the defence of his crown against Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen at home in Chennai on Friday, will carry on in a sport that has been his life for almost two decades.

"I know India and Anand's fans are mourning, but this is also a time to celebrate him as a great champion. He lost but he is not dead!" wrote Russian legend Garry Kasparov after the game.

British grandmaster Nigel Short had tweeted before the game that, hard as it was to come to terms with for Indians, it was probably the "end of an era".

In his post-match press conference, he conceded that mistakes had begun creeping into his game during long matches, though he had the humility to accept the pressure exerted by his rival.

"I think its fair enough to just congratulate him. My mistakes didn't happen by themselves. He managed to provoke them and full credit to him," he said.

The key to a comeback would lie in his taking part in the Candidates tournament in Russia in March next year where the winner of the eight-player round-robin meet will challenge Carlsen for the world crown.

Anand's longevity and perseverance -- he won his first world title in 2000 -- has often been compared with that of cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar, the world's batting record-holder who ended a brilliant 24-year career last week.

Anand showed remarkable promise at an early age and went on to win until there was no one else left to beat.

The soft-spoken family man, who lives in Spain with wife Aruna and three-year-old son Akhil, is far removed from his temperamental predecessors like Bobby Fischer, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Kasparov.

While Kasparov has become a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Anand is more at home musing about subjects such as his pride in India's space programme and his love of Barcelona football club.

"If there is anyone close to perfection in chess, it is him," said Indian grandmaster Surya Shekhar Ganguly. "He is also one of the nicest human beings to know, a humble man despite his enormous achievements."

Born in a small town in the southern tip of India, Anand became an international master at 15, was crowned Indian champion at 16, won the world junior title at 17 and became the country's first grandmaster at 18.

The Indian government, taking note of the young man's rapid rise, conferred on him the country's fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, a few months short of his 19th birthday.

It is significant that when India's highest sporting honour -- the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna -- was introduced in 1992, Anand was its first recipient ahead of such cricket luminaries as Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev.

Anand was just 23 then and the honour came almost eight years before he won the first of his five world titles by beating Russian Alexei Shirov in Tehran in 2000.

However, more losses than wins in the past year had seen him slip to number eight, with Carlsen, 22, assuming the top ranking with 2,870 rating points, 95 more than Anand.