Anand: 'Chess is alive and kicking'

1/12/2005 – Just before the tournament in Wijk aan Zee (14-30 January 2005) the world's number two player Vishy Anand spent a week in his native India. As a national superstar he was naturally hounded by the news media, to whom he spoke quite candidly. Amongst the many articles and interviews is a remarkable public flirt with wife Aruna.

In their Take Two column, where normally two celebrities quiz each other, one of India's largest newspapers, The Hindu, staged a tête-à-tête between Vishy Anand his wife Aruna. The chess superstar is "tall, impeccably attired in formal shirt and trousers, and measures his words like his moves on the chessboard," the staff writer Chitra Swaminathan notes. "His petite partner is vivacious and talks nineteen-to-the-dozen." She had the normal upbringing of a South Indian girl, where studies and the arts co-exist. A trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Aruna had a stint in advertising before becoming a perfect foil to her famous husband. "What strikes you most is the young couple have no airs about their celebrity status," says Chitra Swaminathan, who is treated to a witty account of their first meeting (girl seeing ceremony), traditional marriage, setting up home in Spain, her tryst with chess, his take on her innovative cooking, constant travelling around the world and tackling the ups and downs of the game. "Oh! There's so much to talk but I wonder where to begin," laughs Aruna (that's what she mostly did through the 60-minute chat) looking at Anand sitting quietly and allowing her to take the lead. Here are excerpts.

Aruna: Okay, tell me what did you think of me when we first met?

Anand: I don't know. Nothing in life prepares you to see a girl for a few minutes and decide whether you want to marry her. I really didn't know what was happening and felt relieved to leave the place but not before having a second cup of coffee.

Aruna: My mother was extremely impressed with you because you asked for some more of her special coffee. I always thought chess players are intellectual and serious people, I was floored by your down-to-earth behaviour. You seemed to be absolutely untouched by adulation. But wait a minute, you never actually said what you thought of me.

Anand: You kept giggling all the time even then. I fell for your child-like innocence and happy face. Remember our weird honeymoon destination? (And she breaks into laughter again)

Aruna: How can I ever forget that? I used to dream of going to places like Switzerland. But three days after our wedding you played a tournament at Dortmund, Germany. It was my first foreign trip so I kind of freaked out. But your tournament was quite an unnerving experience for me, as I had absolutely no clue about the game. In fact I started following chess only after we got engaged. I remember sitting in the last row of the big theatre, the venue of the tournament, to avoid being asked chess-related questions. And after some time would doze off only to be woken up by the sound of applause. Then I would run and hide near the ladies' loo and wait for you to come.

Anand: And respond with a blank look even when I would tell you the result. That was the only time in all these years when I have seen you at such a loss for words! (With a mischievous smile)

Aruna: However, the funniest thing was most people in your chess circuit thought I was a child bride because I looked tiny in front of you. Remember how they would try guessing my age. Fourteen? Fifteen? They even thought our wedding was some exotic affair with elephants and horses in attendance.

Anand: They are used to just 50 or 60 guests at their weddings. So when we said 2,000 invitees they imagined the entire town going to the hall. Those friends of mine from Europe, who had come down for the occasion, spent more time in the kitchen taking pictures of cooks cutting loads of vegetables and meals being cooked in huge vessels. Of course, I had warned them against taking pictures of me bare-chested. Anyway they did.

Indeed we did, Vishy. And of course there is no way we are going to hold back. So let's take a trip down memory lane, with some pictures of those memorable days in Madras.


Anand and Aruna at their wedding in July 1996


Food being prepared to serve 2000 guests


... who are served some of the finest meals we have ever had – on banana leaves!


Anand, bear-chested, with his new bride Aruna


During the rituals of a Hindu Brahmin wedding


And at last it is over, the two have taken the step, and everyone can relax.

Here's the rest of the "Take Two" interview


Shadows are beginning to stretch lazily on this clear Christmas afternoon in suburban Chennai, and the breeze, now wafting inward, is soaked in salt-spray. Anand sunning himself out on the porch and occupied with chewing his nails. Up close, our 36-year-old chess wizard looks like a chubbier, grown-up version of Harry Potter – he's got the same studious look, the glasses, that unruly mop of hair.

Anand and Aruna are in town to spend some time with family and friends ahead of the Corus tournament in Wijk aan Zee, which begins on January 14 (and where, incidentally, he is the defending champion). The couple has lived in Spain for nearly a decade now for logistical reasons; Anand plays a lot of tournaments in Europe.

For someone on the verge of winning his fourth chess Osca Anand appears dangerously sane. Yes, he admits to having vivid dreams in technicolor, in which bishops and knights advise him on his moves. On the other hand, we all have our quirks. The past two and a half years have been magnificent; he has never played so consistently well. He's currently ranked number two, and could soon become only the second player, after Garry Kasparov, to cross 2800 Elo rating points.

"I don't feel trapped by fame. I mean, nobody would want to live in a fishbowl, but this is fine," Anand shrugs. "I suppose I was a catalyst of sorts: after me, India has had several GMs. Sasikaran and Harikrishna are currently in the top hundred. It's wonderful, but also a little intimidating at times, when people say you've had a major influence on future generations. Chess is getting to be a mass sport."

Here are some of the thing Anand discusses in the Sportstar article

  • On the influence of computers and preparation: Over the past 15 years, advanced computing has impacted significantly on productivity. "That's a good thing, because it's opened up several new options for variations which, we thought, had been explored to the fullest. Matches are getting shorter because players analyse each other's games and copy great moves; consequently styles converge. Back in the 30s Capablanca complained chess was dying; look how it's turned out. Today, our knowledge might appear saturated. In theory, chess should be dead, but in practice, it's alive and kicking."

  • On the world championship: "A game like chess depends acutely on the notion of a world champion, but the term is devalued when you have splinter groups. For nearly ten years now we've had two world champions, which effectively means you have none, really. The reunification plan isn't really working out at the moment; Kasparov isn't hugely comfortable with the Prague agreement. He and FIDE have to reach a common meeting point."

  • On ratings and rankings: Anand strongly believes there is a need to introduce a rating system to evaluate performance in a calendar year, like the ones employed in Formula One or tennis. "I'm not saying this simply because it would favour me. You need a ranking system that rewards winning. Kasparov hasn't played in a while. Under the current system his rating won't drop; he doesn't need to play. I also think he's trying to conserve himself for the reunification, whenever that happens." So, is it true that things are a little strained between him and Kasparov? "Let's put it this way: we've occasionally expressed diametrically opposite views in print; but when we meet we don't really discuss contentious issues, so we get along okay, I guess."

  • On photo-shoots: "It's a little irritating when your grin begins to droop a little, as the photographer fiddles with the camera, and then he tells you to smile. It ends up looking forced. Happens all the time."

  • Here's the full article in Sportstar

Kasparov enjoying privileges because of name, thunders Anand

By Amit Karmarkar/TNN

Before going Dutch (for a Super Grand Master event in Wijk aan Zee from January 14) Anand spent more than a week in India, mostly with the family. Then came the tsunami which forced the 35-year-old World No. 2 to put life in perspective. “It’s a tragedy. I hope the fishermen would find a decent place to live and that we are better prepared next time to deal with such situations,’’ he said.

The most active player among the Super GMs and an undisputed king of rapid chess, also spoke on the Linares event and had a dig at his great rival Garry Kasparov. Excerpts:

  • On Wijk aan Zee and Linares: Linares is no longer the undisputed top chess event. But Wijk aan Zee and Linares are different. The former is more of a festival with a large field while the latter is limited to only seven participants. It’s important to win Wijk aan Zee. But I don’t attach too much significance to a result in one event. I take it round by round. It’s best not to get ahead of yourself. Of course, it will be great to win a third consecutive title and fifth overall at Wijk.

  • On Kasparov: He needed to play and win the Russian championship to get some confidence. He is scheduled to play his World championship match against Rustam Kasimdzhanov sometime next year without having to qualify for it. He is getting these things because of his name. About his projects, he does whatever catches his fancy.

  • Here's the full interview in the Times

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