Even now, Viswanathan Anand seems shy and smiles a little awkwardly when a gathering gives him a standing ovation. It happened here on Monday before Anand inaugurated an NIIT MindChampion's Academy. As usual, the five-time world champion had reached before time.
It's just one of the qualities of a man who has for over two decades and more shown that nice guys don't always finish last. Excerpts.
Would you agree that it's been a sort of middling to bad year for you despite another world title?
My tournament results haven't been good. I need to pull myself together but I have also decided to not keep analysing to death what went wrong. Instead, I am trying to solve it next year when I will be playing a lot more tournaments. Sometimes, matches happen in quick succession and you find it difficult to deal with it.
There was Garry Kasparov, there is Viswanathan Anand and there will be Magnus Carlsen. Is that how you see chess being dominated?
Carlsen is already a legend. He has already got the highest rating in history (that will be ratified in January). The question is: can he qualify and win the world championship? I think the next Candidates field is fascinating. You have (Levon) Aronian, (Boris) Gelfand, (Vassily) Ivanchuk among others. Let's see who comes through. (Whoever does by March 2013 will take on Anand for the world title).
Does Carlsen not playing the world championship rob some sheen from your world title?
No. Not at all. Going through the qualifying cycle and winning a world championship is different. Redrawing the format and making it like another tournament would have a lot of people asking 'why have one in the first place.' Carlsen's tournament performance is legendary. Hopefully, he will come through the cycle.
As a country, we elevate champions and bring them down just as fast. Does that affect you?
Well, it's best not to think about it too much. Praise and criticism are fair game. It is important to separate public noise like, say, Sachin (Tendulkar), me and Brazil (their national football team) would and try playing better.
It's easier said than done. In Moscow (during the world championship title round match against Gelfand), a lot of public criticism made its way to the press conferences. I couldn't block it out completely but if you have to start thinking about how you will answer questions at press conferences, you will play horribly. In India, you are praised disproportionately and if you like that, you must be ready to take the criticism too.
What do you think were the highs in sport in 2012?
Of course, there will have to be Usain Bolt in London. In tennis, they pretty much distributed the Slams though (Novak) Djokovic winning the season-ending Masters was nice. In football, I think the German national team continues to do well and I think Bayern Munich were distinctly unlucky to have not won the Champions League.
You have said you would like to continue till 50. Have you thought of life after chess?
I will continue the relationship with NIIT because we need to build on spreading chess through schools. But once I give up chess, I would like to travel, more in the classical way rather than check in and out of hotels and airports. Sometimes, while transiting I have forgotten which country I was in. Also, I would like to focus more on astronomy, my hobby. Having said all this, I am not sure as an active sportsman you should let your mind wander.