Aloha Vishy! The World Chess Champion visits Hawai'i
Report by Beau Mueller
Waikiki is known for its beautiful beaches, light ocean breezes, glamorous hotels, and abundant opportunities for rest and relaxation. Located on the south shore of the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, for many it is the very definition of paradise. Year round, an endless stream of visitors flock to this gorgeous part of Hawai'i to swim, surf, shop, and otherwise enjoy all it has to offer.
Waikiki was recently blessed to count among its visitors the World Chess Champion, Viswanathan Anand, his wife Aruna, and their sixteen-month-old son, Akhil. "Vishy" is the first male World Chess Champion to have visited Hawai'i since Alexander Alekhine (who came in the early 30s, on part of a whirlwind world tour).
Waikiki is associated with royalty, romance and surfing
Vishy’s family vacation was sponsored by the Halekulani Resort, renowned as one of the most luxurious and exclusive in Hawai'i. “Situated in the heart of Waikiki, the 455-room Halekulani is an oasis of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. You feel soothed from the moment you’re welcomed by the doorman at the hotel’s porte cochere. There, an ocean view appears like a framed painting.”
The Halekulani Resort in Waikiki
Lucky for me, I had the honor and privilege of conducting an interview with the World Champion at this extremely idyllic hotel. In our interview, we discussed many things, including his impressions of Hawai'i, a visit to a local scholastic tournament, his interest in astronomy and even the recent Pussy Riot incident.
Beau Mueller: I think I speak for most of us when I say that we are absolutely honored and delighted to have you here in the Islands. I am told this is your first time here. How did this trip come about?
Vishy Anand: Well, the Halekulani Hotel had gotten in touch about a year back, and it didn’t work out at that specific time. But we noted the possibility that I might be in L.A. this year, which obviously makes it a bit easier to come by to Hawai'i. And by coincidence they were also having that tournament yesterday. So a lot of things fell in place, and we were quite attracted to the idea of coming to Hawai'i. If it had happened last year, I wouldn’t have brought my son, of course. It would have been too early. But this time even that worked out perfectly.
Vishy in Hawai'i!
B.M.: How has your experience here been thus far?
V.A.: Well, wonderful. I mean, when they got in touch, we sort of looked at the hotel website and so on. It looked breathtaking, and I can confirm it is. We’ve had a wonderful stay. We haven’t done that much sightseeing because we have been waiting for Akhil to settle in. But, we managed to get a few nice dips in the sea. So, I got myself one of these floats and I’ve just been lounging around every morning and bobbing around in the waves. Akhil actually even took his first dip in the swimming pool here.
Aruna and Vishy Anand: “We were quite attracted to the idea of coming.”
"Actually it was your idea, wasn't it?"
Excellent. So you’ve taken Akhil in the swimming pool, have you taken him in to the ocean yet?
Yes! Well, he just wet his feet and came back. He seemed apprehensive on day one, but on day two he got to like it. Day three, a big wave rolled in and that scared him a bit, but he’s warming to the idea.
Have you been able to sample any of our local cuisine?
Hmm, I did try some Hawaiian fish the other day, so… I would guess yes? You would put me on the spot if you ask me the name. (Everyone laughs.)
Are you or Aruna planning to take surf lessons?
I considered it, but… we might still change our minds in the next few days, so we’ll see.
Duke Kahanamoku, surfer, Olympic gold medalist and Hawaiian cultural ambassador
View from the Waikiki chess tables: swimming, surfing, chess – Waikiki has it all
A particularly intimidating player stands over his opponent
What a typical day at the beach in Waikiki looks like
Traveling to play and promote chess aside, how often do you get to truly vacation?
Well, it’s just a question of scheduling. Generally, before the World Championship, we take a short break, and that’s also to disconnect a little bit after all the training. So we did that for each of the matches – before Bonn, before Sophia and before Moscow as well. That’s one thing. Then, for our tenth anniversary we actually took a two or three week vacation to South Africa. That was very nice as well. We were pretty much cut off from the World except for the World Cup soccer, the only thing we were watching on TV. Otherwise, we literally came back and said, “What happened?” That was very nice. I would say often enough. We manage one at least every six months. Even if it’s just a short three or four day break, it’s still nice.
On the set of PBS Hawaii’s Long Story Short, with local celebrity host Leslie Wilcox.
Vishy’s interview for the show should air in late October.
So are you able to keep your mind off of chess entirely during such vacations?
Very much, I leave my computer usually at home. That’s the biggest thing. And then the next thing is to stop checking your email and all of that. If you do that then, yes, I think maybe the first day you are still trying to figure out what’s happening, but by day two you sort of kind of cut yourself off. I actually think it’s very healthy to do this once in a while – spend a week where you’re just not in touch with anyone.
It is well known that astronomy is one of your passions. Please elaborate a bit on your specific astronomical interests or activities.
Well, it was something I was interested in as a kid. I read Carl Sagan’s books, watched some of his programs and so on. That’s kind of how I got the bug. Then, I came back to it about eight or nine years ago, and I finally found that it had become a lot easier in the meantime. Now, you just generate sky charts on the web. There’s so many resources, so many ideas that I found it easier to do. My wife bought me binoculars about six years back. So, for a while I was into going out and looking up. Then about a year and a half ago, John Nunn and a man called Christian Sasse from iTelescope, they hooked me onto the idea of using remote telescopes for astrophotography. So, that’s kind of where I am now.
A present for Vishy before the interview – “Stars Over Hawaii”
Digression: A couple of days after our interview, I had the privilege of accompanying Vishy to the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA), one of the world's leading astronomical research centers. Its broad-based program includes studies of the Sun, planets, and stars, as well as interstellar matter, galaxies, and cosmology. There we met with researchers from the IfA, who gave Vishy a tour of the facility.
In front of the IfA with Heather Flewelling, Postdoctoral Researcher
Heather, Vishy and IfA director Günther Hasinger
This is paradise! In the IfA’s “Moon Room”
Funny story: As an icebreaker before our interview, I had Vishy repeat ‘Humuhumunukunukuapua'a’ – the name of Hawaii’s state fish. Two days later, when I showed up at the Halekulani to pick him up to take him to the IfA, he walks up to me pointing to his shirt, saying something like, “Look, look! Humuhumunukunukuapua'a!”
“Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the Hawaiian triggerfish, is widely regarded as the
fish. In Hawaiian humuhumu means ‘to fit pieces together’ to its nest building habit,
Nukunukuapua'a means ‘nose like a pig’.”
– Part two to follow soon –
- Halekulani Hotel
- University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy
- Hawaii Chess Federation
- Facebook photo gallery with pictures from the Scholastic Event that Vishy attended
About the Author/Interviewer
Beau Mueller recently returned home to Hawai'i last year after spending two years in rural Japan as an English teacher on the Japanese government-sponsored JET Programme. An active (but average) tournament chess player, he is also a second dan in shogi, and while in Japan maintained a popular shogi blog.
Beau is also a father to an insane twenty-one month old, an active entrepreneur, a competitive bodyboarder (not bodybuilder!), an MBA student, and the Technology Chairman of the Hawaii Chess Federation.