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Saturday, Jan 18, 2020
Home / Other Sports / Anand the ‘Mind Master’ recalls his vintage moves

Anand the ‘Mind Master’ recalls his vintage moves

Anand said he remembers Grandmasters referring to books with annotations before games and him spinning yarns in the media centre after a quick draw because the journalists couldn’t counter.

other-sports Updated: Dec 14, 2019 22:50 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Five- time world champion Viswanathan Anand.
Five- time world champion Viswanathan Anand.(PTI)

Playing on a loop barely audible over the chatter in the hall before the evening began, the video opened with a self- introduction. “Hi! I am Viswanathan Anand,” he said, looking into the camera and sat in front of a chessboard.

No one in the audience here needed one, no one in the world of chess would and few outside it for when N Ram, chairman of The Hindu Publishing Group, said, “Anand clearly stands alone in India’s sports graph,” it was a statement that had “no exaggeration.” Confirmation came from the applause that rippled through the audience.

The video briefly told Anand’s chess story, one he called “a little boy’s fantasy of a job”. It is a story that has endured even as the five-time world champion and the only one to have done it in three formats steps into his sixth decade. “A fulfilling career,” Anand said.

What began as a habit encouraged his mother Sushila – “friend, teacher, ally,” he says of her —has helped shape his book ‘Mind Master’, co-authored by journalist Susan Ninan, which was launched here on Friday. The habit of reconstructing games in notebooks, his memory, conversations with seconds and with wife Aruna shaped the book, said Anand.

It is a habit that didn’t get off to the best of starts. Once after losing a game, Anand said he wrote about being an “idiot”, describing all his moves as bad and praising his opponent to the sky. “Obviously, it wasn’t that way; you make one or two mistakes in a game and the opponent wasn’t perfect,” he said. Later, Anand said, a Grandmaster told him the importance of chronicling his early life and games saying, “Vishy boy, keep a diary because streams are interesting when they start and not when they meet the ocean.”

Those memories informed your view of the game later, said Anand. It is also a habit that helps him let off steam, “to scream at myself after a game by sitting at a computer.”

That is how it is now for the man who calls himself a “digital migrant”, one who at 50, isn’t doing too badly against “digital natives” —which is what he calls the players of today—by being the world No 15. A man who played Mikhail Tal, Vassily Smyslov, Boris Spassky and now squares off against Magnus Carlsen, Wesly So, Anish Giri, Fabiano Caruana who are nearly half his age.

Anand said he remembers Grandmasters referring to books with annotations before games and him spinning yarns in the media centre after a quick draw because the journalists couldn’t counter. “Now, the technology available makes the two players in the middle the least informed about the game. Now, my first question at the media centre usually is ‘what happened,’” he said.

Computers have ensured that being born near a chess club or a library is no longer the huge advantage it was, he said. If someone in an island in the Pacific is interested in chess, in two days he would be part of an online club now, he said. “Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have predicted a Norwegian would be the world champion,” said Anand, referring to Carlsen.

That said, Russia is still the world’s top chess country though the gap has narrowed and there is more diversity than ever among the world’s top players, according to Anand who was recently conferred the Order Of Friendship, the highest honour Russia accords to foreigners. Ram said Anand was once described by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a problem the country bought upon itself given that he honed his skills at the Tal Chess Club here.

Anand also spoke about how being the “Lightning Kid” who always had time for his moves often cost him. “I was giving the opponent my time to think.” To check that, he developed the habit of getting up, taking a walk and even making tea during games. “I did that even last week,” he said.

As the evening that began with Anand introducing himself wound to a close, he accepted having played a “tiny part” is ushering a chess revolution in India which now has 65 Grandmasters 31 years after he became the first.