From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.28 :: Jul. 11, 2009

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CHESS / INTERVIEW/VISWANATHAN ANAND

‘I try to be who I really am’

Viswanathan Anand’s chess philosophy is very simple. “Enjoy what you do. Always experiment a lot and have a fresh perspective. Never be afraid of challenges,” the world champion says in a chat with A. Joseph Antony.

Pics:P. V. SIVAKUMAR

V. Anand hands over the NIIT MindChampions Academy kit to D. Manikya Vara Prasad, the AP Minister for Secondary and Intermediate Education, in Hyderabad.

The air-conditioners at the Nobel Hall of the Birla Science Centre worked overtime. And there was excitement in the air. Scores of children waited for Viswanathan Anand’s autograph, some getting his famous scrawl on their palms, others on slips of paper, on pads and notebooks. The world champion obliged each of them with a smile and when the numbers showed no signs of decreasing, he simply put his head down to the task of signing autographs at a frenetic pace.

The chess mastermind was in Hyderabad to extend the NIIT MindChampions Academy (MCA) programme to 2005 more government schools across Andhra Pradesh. The MCA kits containing computer-based tutorial material were handed over to principals of the institutions. The event offered children the opportunity to play with Anand, the world champion and the NIIT MindChampion, at regular intervals.

Amidst the throng of admirers, Anand took time out to talk to Sportstar.

Excerpts from the interview:

Question: As the brand ambassador of NIIT did you come across any interesting incidents?

Answer: At Nice airport, seeing me sport an NIIT logo, an Indian came up and wished to know which branch of the computer academy I’d graduated from. When I told him I wasn’t a product of the institution, he wasn’t convinced. Sure that NIIT didn’t dole out freebie sweaters, he probed which batch I belonged to! (Anand endorses NIIT and AMD).

Why did you choose Spain as your base of operations?

A base in Europe gives one easy access to the world chess circuit. I live in Collado and am quite fluent in Spanish too.

Now that you’ve been there and seen it all, what are the new frontiers to conquer?

I’ve no wish list as such, but would like to continue as long as I enjoy playing and the competition.

Have you ever contemplated quitting the sport?

Several times. Fatigue comes, say when there are three tournaments close to each other. Then I take three weeks or a month off. The idea is not to overdose on chess.

What upsets you? You never seem to lose your cool?

I keep a cool exterior, not as any strategy but more so because opponents won’t find it easy to read me. I am happy and disappointed with results, but I prefer to keep my emotions to myself.

What are your links with Hyderabad? Can you trace your evolution from the World quarterfinals at Sanghinagar?

I’ve had some good times in this city. After the World Cup here, there was a slump in 2001. My play became better and my form more convincing. The big milestones have come mostly after 2007.

Your all-time high and all-time low?

The more recent achievements come to mind quicker when it comes to my all-time high. The display at Dortmund in 2001 could come closest as regards the low.



World champion Anand signs autographs during the launch of the NIIT MindChampions Academy in Hyderabad.

How is your focus on chess so unflinching?

I concentrate on the game and take breaks too from it. I take care to stay clear of controversies.

How do you take a break from chess?

I don’t switch on the computer, and I avoid chess. I go for a vacation.

Who is your second?

Peter Nielsen of Denmark. He’s been with me since 2005.

Who has influenced your game the most?

Although I like the games of Tal and Fischer, they didn’t influence mine as such. I didn’t model my game on anyone.

Do children pose a bigger challenge to you than adults?

Not really, since my game is position driven. Nonetheless kids today are up to date with the game’s advancements, forcing me to constantly work and innovate.

Are you nervous before a big event? Are you among those sports greats who believe nervousness actually helps in performing well?

Yes in a way. You have that fire in the belly sensation. That’s when your mind is most active and searching for deficiencies in your preparation. When you feel everything is under control you sometimes miss the obvious. I do find myself nervous before a game but once I make the first move I completely relax. After that there is no place for hesitation or going back.

Do you follow any special diet?

I try not to eat a heavy meal before playing. I generally eat pasta or maybe a light grilled fish and salad before a game. Normally I eat two hours before a game. While playing I like to have a hot chocolate drink, or coffee or tea and maybe some sandwich. If the game is too long I may even chew a chocolate. Dinner is by far the heaviest meal as after a game you suddenly have a release of tension and feel hungry. Breakfast is the most balanced meal where I eat cereal, fruit and an egg. The time of play determines the meal too. If the game starts in the afternoon then I just have a soup, a chocolate shake and a banana.

Do you have a chess philosophy?

Very simple. Enjoy what you do. Always experiment a lot and have a fresh perspective. Never be afraid of challenges.

Any punch line or catch-line/slogan that drives you in the regular and rapid versions?

Being concentrated so as to not make a mistake takes up all the energy. Don’t have time for catch lines.

Chess being a largely cerebral game, how do you unwind apart from doing some physical exercise?

I like listening to music, watching TV. I enjoy ‘Fawlty Towers’, ‘Yes Minister’ a lot. We love travelling and try to do a wildlife safari whenever time permits.

What’s the kind of music or movies you like? Does music soothe your senses, improve your game, focus etc.?

I work with music. In fact, everyone on my team kind of knows my taste in music. We can remember tournaments by the music. Cold Play is Bonn and the preparation for that. I love Cold Play. Lots of Queen, Pet shop Boys. Terminator is my favourite movie. Strangely when I watch the movie I always win the next day!

Are you more of an introvert? Would increased socialising sharpen your game?

We do have a large circle of friends outside chess. In India we love visiting friends, restaurants and music concerts. As a sportsperson you have to focus on staying on top, especially when any small change can have a big impact. I try to be disciplined but you need to relax to be able to increase the work load later.

Sobriety is the trademark of your personality, and aggression on the chess board. How do you reconcile the two? Has anything made you angry enough or tempted you to violence?

I don’t think I have had any extreme outbursts. Ok after a loss you do feel empty and it hurts a lot. But generally I tend to be fatalistic and move on to the next game. I try to be who I really am. This is what I am comfortable with and works best for me.

Do you plan to give back to the game, especially to the gurus/mentors/officials? International arbiter Nasiruddin Ghalib in Hyderabad is in very bad shape — health-wise and financially?

I do try and raise the profile in any way I can. The NIIT MindChampions Academy is my personal endeavour along with NIIT to see that each school has chess as part of its curriculum and a child is given a chance to play chess or introduced to it. We have 6351 schools with 750,000 children and we hope to take that to a million soon. On a personal level I try to help people, especially people who selflessly have tried to improve the game. We try and involve ourselves with diverse chess initiatives in any way possible.



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