Viswanathan Anand has set certain benchmarks for himself in chess which he first played at six. In a freewheeling chat at his residence in Collado Mediano near Madrid, the champion looks back at the years that have rolled by and defends some of his moves. Especially, that one move which experts feel cost him the World Championship in 1995 when he could have beaten Garry Kasparov. Anand is reluctant to name his successor but points out it could be either K. Sasikiran or P Harkrishna.
Excerpts from an interview:
You have been playing chess for more than two decades. What kind of difference do you see in the game since the time you started?
The general trend that I have noticed is the game has become faster. There are lot of IT innovations that have been incorporated by the players to enhance their game. Personally, I feel that experience plays a critical part.
Do you feel pressure each time you are on the chess board just as fans expect Sachin Tendulkar to score a century each time he walks out to bat?
When you are a top player, fans expect you to perform each time you play. It is normal for admirers to get excited.
Fans don´t want to hear, like I performed along the lines of my expectations or I fulfilled this technical goal. For fans it does not mean anything until I win. So yes, there is pressure on me too. But when you go to a tournament one has to block that out.
You came close to wining the World Championship in 1995. There was a draw offered to you. You did not take it. Observers say if you had taken it, probably you could have gone on to beat Garry Kasparov?
In long cycles you can never pick up one move. I turned down the draw because I was anyway one point down. I gambled and my deficit doubled. But to say this was a critical moment, I doubt it very much. Yes, it would have been a big chance to beat him in New York because he was on top the World. But I became the World Champion in 2000, so one should not isolate one moment.
For many years you did not have a second. Do you regret it?
When I was young, the issue was different. But, yes, a second could have guided me better. You had to find the right person. I did miss a second like many of the the Soviet players also missed the guidance of a structure of Soviet Chess Schools. I would say that not having a second gave me a lot of creativity. It was healthy to grow without this kind of a baggage till I was 20. Since 1991 I have a trainer. I do not regret not having one earlier.
You are brand ambassador only for NIIT and a few other products. Is it a deliberate strategy?
Yes, I think the idea is to find some people with whom you want to work with and assess what the brand represents and what you represent. I do not want to be all over the place.
But don't you think that sponsors are also not interested in chess?
The sport has to constantly sell itself. Chess is not something you watch on TV so you have to find other ways to promote it. I think now sponsors are coming, as they realise the potential that it is now being played in many countries and is popular on the internet. There have been major changes in the number of sponsors from what I had seen in the Eighties.
Who among the younger lot of Indian chess players do you think has the potential to make it as big as you?
Well, Sasikiran has done a good job to have gone beyond the 2700 barrier. It means, we will have two Indians in the top 25 bracket. I hope Harikrishna also break sthis barrier in a year. Koneru Humpy and Tanya Sachdev are very promising for Indian chess. Among the youngsters Srinath, Seturaman and Parimarjan Negi have a good future.
Who do you think is the one who reflects you?
Sasikiran is very talented though he still has a long way to go. Harikrishan too has the potential.