You can’t ignore the credentials of a five-time world champion; one who has won the title across three formats and is a force to reckon with in world chess for over two decades. But even Viswanathan Anand’s most ardent fan would hesitate to pick the maestro from Chennai as the favourite for the Candidates Tournament, an eight-player qualifying tournament, the winner of which will challenge world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway in November 2016.
Anand endured a terrible 2015 and slumped from joint second in rankings, with a rating of 2816 in September, to eighth at 2784 in the live ratings maintained by 2700chess.com.
Anand managed to spring a surprise at the last Candidates in 2014 when he topped the field and met Carlsen in the final at Sochi, Russia. His fans expect the 46-year-old Grandmaster to set things right by the time of the Candidates in Moscow from March 10-20. Excerpts from an interview:
Are you satisfied with the way 2015 panned out?
I am not really satisfied. I had one or two good results but it is hard to look back at the year with any sort of positive frame of mind. Hopefully, next year will be better.
Is there any specific issue that is bothering you?
There are a lot of things to work on, I don’t want to get into the details and relive those moments, but there are issues that I have to look into and I am trying to solve them. I think in the second half of the year I was not able to dictate the direction of play and somehow my opponents were always catching me off-guard and things did not go very well.
It was also a year of emotional turmoil for you as your mother passed away a few months back. How did it affect your game?
You try not to look for too many excuses. I would say that it didn’t help of course. On the personal front, it was a very bad year. Also, my Spanish friend passed away, it was just like…I would say that 2015 was a bad year in almost every sense of the word.
Your mother had lot of involvement with your chess; she was the person who taught you the basics…
I think about her quite often, in fact very often. After a tournament I would call and tell her what all happened and she knew that already but I would speak to her. So it’s a bit strange to suddenly not have someone to call. But what could one say about such a thing, it is something that’s not going out of heart.
What are your plans for 2016? Will you play any tournaments before the Candidates?
I will be playing in Gibraltar (Jan 25-Feb 4) and then in Zurich (Feb 12-15) as well. My third event of the year would be the Candidates.
What do you think of the Candidates’ lineup?
Almost all the new generation is represented there, so it’s a mixture of old and those in transition. (Fabiano) Caruana, (Hikaru) Nakamura and (Anish) Giri are the new ones, all the others were there earlier. All these three people are in the top 10 and I would say it is as representative as the previous one. A lot of people have been waiting for a long time and they are finally in so it should be a very tough event.
India has done well in the age-group events (five gold, three silver and one bronze in Halkidiki, Greece recently) but when it comes to the senior level, apart from you and Harikrishna, others have not had a steady climb to the top. Is there any particular reason that hinders their growth from age-group champions to the senior level?
I could say they can all use some support, sponsorship. Something like that would really be helpful because probably what they need to do is keep on trying till they break through. It may not come in the first or second attempt but I think a lot of them are very strong, and sooner or later they will break through. Like it happened with Hari. He is 27 and among the top and maybe he will aim higher.
Have you planned for something after the Candidates? Till when do you want to continue playing chess?
No, not at all. I will first play the Candidates and I think it is better to focus on just playing good chess. After the tournament, I will play the Grand Tour next year as well. So let’s finish the Candidates and then I can plan my schedule beyond that.