Viswanathan Anand: When Aamir Khan comes to play chess, it helps the sport a lot
For the past three decades, one sportsman whose name has been synonymous with excellence and dignity is Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand. A five-time World Champion, Anand scored a stunning victory over the reigning No. 1, Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, in the FIDE World Rapid Chess Championship 2017, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December. He has also received the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award and Padma Vibhushan. Still, he feels, he has miles to go.
“There are certainly a lot of things I want to do — I want to keep improving chess,” says Anand, in a chat with us on the sidelines of an event. “It’s not like I had a list that I was ticking off. It’s more that I honestly am still at a stage where every win makes me happy. So, there’s always something to look forward to.”
His achievements make headlines all the time, so can we expect a biopic soon? Has Bollywood approached him? “Well, there’s been some interest, but I don’t know yet what will happen. We’ll see,” says Anand, without divulging further details. Asked which actor would he want to see playing Viswanathan Anand on the big screen, he replies with a short laugh, “Umm... it [would be] nice to have a chess-playing actor, if that got to happen. I always say Aamir Khan. That ’s the name I usually give out.”
Board game bonding
Aamir and Anand have played a few chess matches in the past, and the latter has seen most of the actor’s films. There was a 2015 public event in Mumbai where the actor and the grandmaster played chess for about 30 minutes. They first met in 2001, and their acquaintance has developed over the years.
“Yes, he’s quite a chess fan, and comes a couple of times to play chess. Obviously that helps the sport a lot,” says Anand about Aamir. “I have seen Dangal (2016)... that was very nice, and yeah I’ve seen a fair amount of his [other] films.”
The promise of poker
In Delhi recently to support the Poker Sports League (PSL), Anand remembers how his fellow chess players took to poker. “About 14-15 years ago, there was this sudden rush of chess players taking to poker. I didn’t do so myself — I mean, I didn’t play it, but started to follow the game, and I enjoy it as a spectator,” he says. “The sport has kind of intrigued me… and you know when somebody gives you a chance to be the ambassador, and then you’re going to get a ringside view of the sport... well, I was definitely intrigued. I mean I was curious about the game, and this gives me a very nice opportunity to learn more about it.”
“And,” he adds, “I’m happy to help promote the game. PSL is a unique experiment, the first franchise-based league for poker. It allows a lot of amateur participation along with the professional, and I think it’ll be very interesting. Poker is a game of skill. So, I hope to try and get a little bit better at my poker as well, by watching this league.”
‘A lot of heartening stories’
The chess champ takes an interest in a wide range of sports: “I like watching football, tennis, and then I might dabble a bit in other stuff as well. You know… I’ll watch a bit of table tennis, badminton, whatever comes on.” So, did he follow the recent Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, where India finished third on the medal tally? “Ooo yes,” replies Anand, sounding excited. “It’s a very good thing. A good performance like this will give a lot of the [CWG] athletes confidence. So when they go on to the next stage, the Asian Games and the Olympics, this, I hope, will give them the boost necessary. It’s a very good result. A lot of heartening stories, and a morale-booster for the country, for sure.”
Chess, strangely, is not included in the Olympic Games — it’s seen as a mind sport and not a truly hardcore sport. However, chess and bridge, two such mind games, have applied for inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Asked if he misses playing at the Olympics, Anand says, “A bit. It would be very nice if chess were part of the Olympic games [too], but it isn’t. And yeah... what can I say,” replies Anand, without saying more.
We mention that people at times argue that chess isn’t a sport, which is why it’s not part of the Olympics and such like, and Anand counters, “Chess has always been a sport. I think it’s how you experience it, and my experience of playing chess is not different from... you know, the thoughts that I go through, the emotions that I overcome, the efforts I put in [are] very similar to people in football or tennis or any other sport. Now, we can keep defining this game, sport — whatever you wanna call it — but our experience of the event is the same.”
What keeps Anand going, even after being at the top of his game for three decades, is his ambition to play and focus only on the game. “I try to play as well as I can and you always hope that due to your efforts, more people feel like taking up the game. So I try to show what an enjoyable game chess can be. And I’m happy to say that a lot of youngsters are taking up chess and that’s very, very heartening to see,” says Anand. “Nowadays, in most international tournaments, the number one country, in terms of the number of participants, is India. It’s nice to see that a lot of Indians are taking to [chess], and it makes me feel happy.”
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