Viswanathan Anand on evolution of chess, his major career clashes and more

Viswanathan Anand came up with candid insights about his career so far, revealing his 'invention' during his successful world championship match against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, and emotional outpouring to his wife after losing a crucial game in his world championship match with Boris Gelfand in 2012. Such surprisingly frank revelations and in-depth observations of how computers and internet have changed chess, especially in preparation for openings, formed the gist of his interaction with the guests of the Chennai International Centre (CIC) on 8 February.

CIC is a think-tank of intellectuals of Chennai, the patrons and the trustees of the body comprising some of the most eminent personalities of the city. It functions from the campus of the Chennai School of Economics (CSE) at Kotturpuram, Chennai.

Anand is a member of the CIC himself, and the six-time former world champion had a chat show early last week, moderated by international master Venkatachalam Saravanan at the CSE premises. For the evening, Anand chose 'Chess: Evolution from Mind to Machine', as the topic, though he covered various aspects of his life and career, reminiscing about some of the most memorable events and turning points, in his usual witty and engaging manner, revealing aspects of his personality and incidents from major career clashes which he has never talked about before.

Viswanathan Anand speaks about the transition from mind to the machine with the host of the show, and the author of this article V Saravanan.

Viswanathan Anand speaks about the transition from mind to the machine with the host of the show, and the author of this article V Saravanan.

Anand started off from the Tal Chess Club in Chennai in the early 1980s. The club functioned from the Soviet Cultural Centre at that time. It was where the teenage Anand's talent was nurtured. He emphasised the format of 'Winner Stays' where about 10 people gather on a board and play blitz chess of five minutes each on the clock, the winner staying on to play on the loop. He opined that the need to play fast and win as much as possible, so as to stay at the board, was probably the main reason how he came to play fast throughout the early phases of his career.

The first lesson on the pitfalls of such a style came up when Anand trained with the famed Russian trainer and grandmaster Mikhail Gurevich, before he took on the mighty Anatoly Karpov in the Candidates quarter-finals in 1991, in the cycle for the World Championship for the first time.

Reminiscing about the significance of the interaction, Anand compared Gurevich's concept of arriving at the depth of a position to an onion - one needed to understand that the first impression was only the outer layer, and one needed to spend more time to comprehend the layers of concepts to arrive at the core of the position. "Thus, instead of playing the very first move which came to my mind – which was my habit until then - Gurevich emphasised the need to sit with the position for sometime to get a better understanding," Anand said. The Indian chess legend also revealed how Gurevich had asked him to hand over the remote control of the television, ruling out watching his favourite Star Trek serial on the television during preparation!

Viswanathan Anand: a big fan of Star trek!

Viswanathan Anand: a big fan of Star trek!

Recalling involving computers in his preparations from the very early days from the late 1980s, Anand gave a detailed, in-depth commentary on how preparing with computers and databases has changed the way players study and play the game. "Earlier, even if you have prepared the same position as your opponent just before the game, there was no certainty that both the preparations would be the same and both the players would have arrived at the same conclusions - that depended on the accuracy of preparation. However, now you just need to give your computer enough time to work the position out completely and give you the same conclusions that your opponent would have, too!" Thus, the uncertainty of mastering a position was reduced, but the charm of surprising an opponent was reduced to a large extent too, which Anand felt was the biggest effect of computers on modern chess.

Anand pointed out that his ability to work with computers has definitely given him an edge over his competitors, as during his world championship match with Kramnik in Bonn in 2008. He revealed that before the match, he found a software which would enable him to use enormous computers - which cannot be carried around - through the internet, thus giving him a direct boost in preparation for openings. Though he was not certain if that was the main reason for the 'ambush' he sprang on Kramnik in the third and fifth games with black pieces, the technology gave his team a huge belief that they were in possession of a 'secret' weapon which didn't exist in the public domain before the time.

The evening was not bereft of its emotional moments either, as Anand revealed his special relationship with the Spanish couple, Maurice and Nieves Perea, who enabled him to find his footing while living in Europe in the 1990s, as they virtually became his godparents in Europe, and ultimately to establish a base at Collado Mediano in the outskirts of Madrid, Spain where the couple lived.

Viswanathan Anand with Mauricio Perea (picture from article in Forbes India).

Viswanathan Anand with Mauricio Perea (picture from article in Forbes India).

Anand also spoke of difficult moments from his matches for the world title. There was an occasion when he told his wife Aruna, "I am an ex-world champion now!" after losing the seventh game to Gelfand at the Moscow World Championship in 2012, before immediately going for a long stroll with his then second Peter Heine Nielsen in the streets of Moscow. "I could not get any edge over him till then, and when I ultimately lost this game with black pieces, I felt hopeless about the prospect of breaching Gelfand's preparation in the remaining five games," Anand said. But of course, his comeback in the very next game, and ultimately the triumph through tie-break are part of chess folklore now.

The seventh game against Boris Gelfand that Viswanathan Anand lost.

The seventh game against Boris Gelfand that Viswanathan Anand lost.

Thus to a pointed question whether Anand was an emotional person, Anand came up with the brilliant answer. "All chess players are emotional over the board, and your ability to keep the balance helps you produce the best moves as the game goes on. But when the emotions get the better of you, that is the point when either of the players produces mistakes and thus a full-fledged fight ensues, which produces a result on the scoreboard!" the chess icon said.

He mentioned his difficult match with Veselin Topalov in 2010 in the latter's home territory of Bulgaria, when he had trouble in reaching the venue in time after an arduous 40-hour journey owing to volcanic ashes of Iceland causing his travel plans to go haywire. He lost the very first game of that match just out of the opening. "I just forgot at the crucial moment whether to move my king or the rook as demanded by my preparation," clarified Anand. However, in spite of that, he kept his nerve to immediately bounce back in the very next game and dominate the match.

The evening concluded with Anand taking questions from the enthralled audience. But honestly, an hour-and-a-half was definitely not enough for a complete glimpse into the personality of one of the brightest sporting talents of our times.

Venkatachalam Saravanan is an international master, and author for ChessBase India.


Published Date: Feb 14, 2017 12:55 pm | Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 12:56 pm