The word anand means joy, and certainly one Anand has consistently brought joy to the Indians. Viswanathan Anand has done it again by winning the World Chess Championship crown for the fifth time overall and fourth in a row by defeating Israeli Boris Gelfend.
The victory also meant that the King of Chess will keep the crown till 2014, when the next World Championship will be held. Anand has won the World Chess Championship five times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), and has been the undisputed World Champion since 2007.
He held the World Chess Championship from 2000 to 2002; at a time when the world title was split between FIDE (the World Chess Federation) and the Gary Kasparov faction. He became the undisputed World Champion in 2007 and defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008. He then successfully defended his title in the World Chess Championship 2010 against Veselin Topalov and now against Boris Gelfand.
In 1998, FIDE granted the then champion Anatoly Karpov direct seeding into the final against the winner of the seven-round single elimination Candidates Tournament.
The psychological and physical advantage gained by Karpov from that decision caused significant controversy, leading to the withdrawal of the future World Champion Vladimir Kramnik from the Candidates Tournament.
However, a determined Anand faced a well-rested Karpov for the championship and, despite all odds, was able to draw the regular matches 3-3, forcing a rapid playoff. However, in the rapid playoff he lost 0-2 against Karpov.
Back in 2010, prior to the World Chess Championship match with Veselin Topalov, Anand was stranded on the way to Sofia (Bulgaria) due to the cancellation of all flights following a sudden eruption of volcano ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull (Iceland).
Subsequently Anand had to take an exhausting 40-hour road journey to reach Sofia and play the game which was delayed by one day. He lost the first game but came back strongly and after 11 games the scores were tied at 5½-5½.
Anand won game 12 and retain the World Championship. In game 12, after Topalov’s dubious 31st and 32nd moves, Anand was able to achieve a strong attack against Topalov’s relatively exposed king. Topalov subsequently resigned.
Mental Strength and Speed
Contrary to the popular perception that chess doesn’t require much of a physical fitness, it requires tremendous mental and physical strength.
In 2008, against Kramnik, Anand played 390 moves in 11 games averaging over 35 moves a game while against Topalov it was substantially higher at over 60 moves per game in 12 games lasting 627 moves.
Though this year Anand played less moves compare to 2008 and 2010 (only 351 moves in 12 classical games, before they headed for Rapid Chess), the matches were still very gruelling.
The intensity of the matches was no less than the previous two occasions. After six drawn games where in some games Anand held advantageous position to win but squandered the opportunity and vice-versa, in the seventh game he lost after 38th move.
Notwithstanding the demoralizing defeat, Anand came back strongly in the 8th game and defeated Gelfend only in 17 moves, winning the shortest World Championship game in history.
Later, he conceded that the 7th game was a dark day and he couldn’t sleep after that game. However, known to be a friend with the clock when it comes to rapid chess, Anand held on to his nerve in the tiebreaker even though Gelfend enjoyed favourable positions in as many as three matches but failed to push through the defence of Anand.
Undoubtedly, mental strength and speed under pressure makes Anand the most feared player in the Chess world.
An Indian amid Russians
Like the contemporary woman’s tennis where out of the top 30 female tennis players in the world, almost one-third of them are Russian, chess, too, is traditionally dominated by the Russians.
From Nikolai Krylenko (Father of Soviet Chess) to Gary Kasparov, Russians have always excelled in this sport, so much so that since 1948, the world individual championship has been held exclusively by Soviet players, except for the years 1972-1975, when Bobby Fischer, an American, won the championship.
In Russia, they used to say that the qualities that make a good chess player are the same qualities that make a good communist.
Russians are still producing good chess players, if not good communists, but the chess world order changed dramatically after the arrival of an Indian, breakdown of the Soviet Union and the retirement of Gary Kasparov.
While the Russians had dozens of chess clubs almost in every city and boasts of excellent infrastructure, Viswanathan Anand had to fight alone. But it is the genius and consistency of Anand that he single-handedly took India to the pinnacle of chess world, outsmarting the Russians.
In the Reckoning for Bharat Ratna?
A debate over honouring Anand with Bharat Ratna has already started. Some pundits are even saying he is ahead of Sachin Tendukar in terms sporting achievements. However, it is foolish to compare the two, who play two completely different games. While cricket is a visually appealing game, chess requires the highest of concentration and mind power.
Yet, Vishy has been the most consistent player for more than half-a-decade now. He has inspired so many talents to pursue chess and has been a great ambassador for the game. Like Tendulkar, he, too, deserves the highest award, and the fifth World Chess Championship crown has definitely made him a strong contender for the highest civilian award in the country.
Looking beyond Bharat Ratna
We Indians are emotional when it comes to hero worship. Recently, we have lost our sense of honour over a cartoon on Ambedkar. So, are we missing few things while celebrating Anand’s victory and the Bharat Ratna issue?
Let us wind back when Anand started playing chess. He had very little technical support such as computers while his counterparts from Europe and Russia enjoyed technical aides.
India never had the kind of chess culture Russians had, although we invented the game. Hence Vishy never had strong support stuff and thus had to fly to Russia frequently, which he admitted in the post-match interviews.
Compare this with Russia, where chess is compulsory in schools, and chess academies are plenty. While the erstwhile Soviet Union aided chess teams and academies, post 1991 they failed to sustain economic support to these institutions.
Today, India may be allergic to communist ideas, but if we have to promote chess and produce many more Anand-like stories, we definitely can seek help from our once beloved ally.
India needs to take sports seriously. Our performances in the world events such as Olympics are pathetic. This year the Youth Affairs and Sports Ministry has been allocated Rs 1,121 crore in the annual budget for 2011-12, which is nearly one-third of last year’s Rs 3,315.67 crore. It sums up the whole story.
Bharat Ratna for Viswanathan Anand is justified but we have to think beyond Bharat Ratna. Vishy’s success story needs to be repeated, and it can be done by promoting sports culture in the country.
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)