There was no real change in Eric van Reem’s demeanour barring the smile being slightly shorter than usual. “After Tendulkar, this, India will need some adjusting to the going of two sporting heroes,” van Reem, the most visible and accessible member of Viswanathan Anand’s entourage, told HT not entirely in jest. This is the first time the Frankfurter’s been on the losing side since “Aruna and Vishy” surprised him with an invitation to the A-Team in 2010.
“I accepted because you don’t get such offers every day. A chance to look behind the scenes of a World Championship. Now I think, my wife and I are like family... sometimes more than family to the Anands. ”
From July to now barring a brief break, van Reem and leader of the delegation Hans Walter Schmitt have been part of Anand’s preparations for a sixth world title. It’s a journey that started in Bad Soden, “a small town near Frankfurt that has everything and where Anand has an apartment”, one which involved ticking all the boxes that would keep Anand in the bubble he desires before and during the sport’s biggest contest.
For six days a week, eight hours a day sometimes even more, Anand would train with his seconds at the Chess Tigers Training Camp run by Schmitt in Bad Soden, said van Reem.
“The Anands stayed in their apartment but the seconds were in hotels,” he said. From making flight bookings, listing good Italian restaurants for Anand, catering to his seconds’ culinary preferences, storing cartons of films and providing tickets for Eintracht Frankfurt’s games, which found no takers, van Reem has been the go-to man since preparations for the title defence in Sofia began. He even took a 30-hour course in Russian ahead of the 2012 match to understand road signs.
“Aruna and Vishy talk money to the seconds but for almost everything else, I am responsible,” said the former chess writer and photographer who bonded with Anand during the Mainz Chess Classic.
The bond strengthened when van Reem arranged for a bus to help Anand travel 40 hours and 2000km from Frankfurt to Sofia and reach in time for Veselin Topalov’s challenge in 2010.
“We couldn’t fly because of the fly ash situation and we had too much luggage (you need super computers among other things to mount a serious challenge in this sport) to go by train. A friend who drove for VIPs suggested the bus and nine of us including four seconds, two drivers and the Anands travelled to Sofia with an overnight stop in Budapest,” he said.
Van Reem gets back to his other life on December 3. He may not have to thank his wife and family anymore for putting up with such long periods of absence but the Anands know that he is just a phone call away.