Ode to a champion

2008 Dec 11 by DreamCricket

Anand had finished last in the Master's tournament at Bilbao, just a month before the World Championship. Whether this was done in order to prevent Kramnik from the direction in which Anand was likely to approach the match is an open question.

As is the norm, many a time, major uprisings are signalled by some minor, commonplace event.

For the boy, it was an afternoon TV show on chess in the Philippines in the late 70's, which ironically, he never had a chance to watch, the culprit being his school timings.

At the end of the show, the viewers were given some chess based puzzles to solve and the winner would receive a book for his/her mental exertions. In his absence his mother would note down all the games showed and the puzzles/questions asked and after his return from school, the two of them would diligently solve them, write the solution on a post card and mail it to the TV station.

It may seem ludicrous in today's age of SMS entries and heavy duty prizes, to compete for a book. Most probably the SMS today itself may cost more than that. But the mother and son duo kept on sending their postcards and winning the books. Not much is known about the books that were sent to them and whether those books lie on his shelf anymore. What is known though is that matters quickly came to a head. The channel came back to them and asked them to take as many books as they wanted, albeit with an assurance that the boy would not participate in their contest any more.

Philippines gave Vishwanathan Anand more sweet memories; the Junior World Champion title in 1987 and also the Manila Interzonals title in 1990, which qualified him for the candidates' cycle of the World Championships.

A normal middle class background, comprising of a strict father, a doting mother and a brother and a sister was an unimaginable breeding ground for a chess prodigy in that era of Russian champions manufactured by the dozens in special chess schools. His was a happy, if unexceptional childhood. He sometimes had to skip playing chess for months if his academic performance was not up to the mark. There was no special treatment meted out to him at home and he was never made to feel 'special' or 'better' than anybody else by word or deed. It wasn't that his parents were just passive spectators in his march towards glory.

His father sponsored his Junior World Championship at Manila. But it was just ingrained that success was not something to be advertised by shouting over the rooftops and failure was to be accepted as a part and parcel of life. Chess was not a 'be all and end all' of his life. He went and studied Business Economics after his high school because he was afraid that he was becoming a 'chess nut'. He loved and still loves listening to music, especially U2, loves Monty Python and Hitchcock movies and loves reading. His upbringing has been largely responsible for the person who we know today - The genial genius!

Anand's marriage to Aruna in 1996 gave him another source of strength. Aruna handles his appointments, schedules his interviews, looks after his travel arrangements and playing itinerary and, most importantly, is just 'there for him'.

Maybe it was the background that made a lot of people (especially the Russians) question his killer instinct. He himself has admitted that he doesn't like conflict and as a personality most comfortable in peaceful surroundings. But his genius remained unquestioned at any point in his career. His 5 chess Oscars stand testimony to this fact. It seems fitting for a person who loves travelling and has visited 49 countries at the last count, to win the Oscar bronze statuette titled 'The Fascinated Wanderer.'

The speed of his game has always given him an advantage over his opponents and has brought him success in all forms of Chess; classical, rapid and blitz. He is the first World Rapid Chess Champion, the first to win the World Blitz Chess championship and now the World Champion. What he has achieved can be compared to a cricket team being the champion in all three formats of the game and more. MSD and team, who are supposed to present Anand with a diamond ring in a ceremony organised by the Indian Chess Federation, should feel privileged to do so.

The story behind the preparation for the match against Kramnik is fascinating and intriguing at the same time. In an interview given just before the match Anand had come up with some stunning observations and a brief insight into his strategy. The 12 game match was not a straightforward 'go their and play your best game' situation. Both Anand and Kramnik had played against each other over the past 15 years and both knew each other's game pretty well. The player who could neutralise the other's strengths and who was well prepared for a similar strike from the other side would be better off in their exchanges.

For starters, Anand had been studying Kramnik since the end of April 2008. If shown a position from a Kramnik game played in the past 20 years, Anand was confident of identifying 90% of the games. He knew that Kramnik knew this as well and that Kramnik would try to surprise him by playing a bit differently. On the other hand Kramnik would be doing the same and Anand had to find an answer to it. Both were trying new paths with the computers and their seconds by which they could attack differently, defend the opponent's strengths and be ready for a surprise.

There were rumors before the match that Magnus Carlsen, the new star on the horizon was acting as Anand's second for the match. When quizzed about it, Anand declined to answer it, saying it was a part of the pre-match psychological games and it was for Kramnik to figure out if this were the case. It turned out finally that Carlsen was not his second.

Anand knew that Chess is as much about making one's moves right as about being emotionless on one's exterior. To show any emotion in a long drawn match was giving a glimpse into one's thinking to the opponent. He declared that he didn't look much at his opponent's face as most top players, sans Kasparov, didn't show their emotions openly while playing. He had an answer to it. He actually would concentrate on the opponent's breathing!!! The speed of breathing was a pointer for Anand on his opponent's state of nerves. Anand talked more about emotions, gestures and other softer aspects of the game before the World Championships. Maybe this was a strategy in itself.

Anand had finished last in the Master's tournament at Bilbao, just a month before the World Championship. Whether this was done in order to prevent Kramnik from the direction in which Anand was likely to approach the match is an open question.

Here is what Gary Kasparov had to say about the actual Match:

"It was a very well-played match by Vishy. Except for the loss of concentration in the tenth game he played consistently and managed to enforce his style. His choice to open with 1.d4 was excellent. He reached playable positions with life in them, so he could make Kramnik work at the board. Anand outprepared Kramnik completely. In this way it reminded me of my match with Kramnik in London 2000. Like I was then, Kramnik may have been very well prepared for this match, but we never saw it. I didn't expect the Berlin and ended up fighting on Kramnik's preferred terrain."

Anand was born on 11th December and this is our ode to the World Champion.

Anand's mother when asked about which game was her favourite had the following reply: "I like all his games. I always think he is going to be the winner! Like all mothers feel their children are the best in the world, I also feel the same for my son."

In Mrs. Susheela Vishwanathan's case one can't argue.