Devil's Advocate: Viswanathan Anand on mind games

5/13/2008 – World chess champion Viswanathan Anand is set for his title-defending match against challenger Vladimir Kramnik in October. Anand says Kramnik's challenge and taunts don't bother him because he believes "the main thing" is to win. "My own tendency is to just ignore him," Anand told Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate in CNN-IBN Live. Videos and transcripts.

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Devil's Advocate: Viswanathan Anand on mind games

World Champion Viswanathan Anand is currently in his home town of Chennai (Madras), preparing for this October match against Vladimir Kramnik, zipping up to New Delhi to meet the President, bearing the sweltering heat, enjoying the delicious food (and cruelly taunting us with emails vividly describing the hot dosas and wife Aruna's aubergine curry. And, did we mention, talking to the press? The following interview was conducted by Karan Thapar of CNN-IBN as part of his series Devil's Advocate. A full transcript can be found here.


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Anand on what the World Championship means to him

Anand: It is the end of a long journey for me; it is the realisation of a dream. When I started out playing chess as a kid I thought I should be world champion. As a kid you have no idea what that means and you only sort of picture it. It is hard to imagine that I waited all those years and it happened in a late stage of my career.

I think in India cricket is a fact of life. You have to accept that but my reception when I became World Champion was spectacular—both times. In 2000 as well we had a parade in Chennai. In 2007, I was received in Delhi at the airport by what seemed to me a huge mob of people. The same happened in Chennai a few days later. I don’t feel neglected in any way. I think you can always try to promote your sport better. I don’t feel neglected or badly treated in any way.

Note: in the interview Karan Thapar mentions that Anand was given Rs 25 lakh by the Tamil Nadu government when you became the World Champion and got Rs 10 lakh more from the chess federation. In contrast, almost at the same time, cricketeer Yuvraj Singh got Rs 1 crore from the BCCI and another Rs 80 lakh as part of the winning team. Actually Anand got a total of Rs 35 lakh from the Central and State Governments, and Rs 10 lakh from the chess federation. The Indian numerals "lakh" and "crore" denote a hundred thousand and ten million respectively. This means that the cricketer Yuvraj Singh received 10.8 million Rupees (= 165,000 Euro or US $255,000) for his victory, while Anand got 4,500,000 Rupees (69,000 Euro or US $106,000) from the State Government for his World Championship win.


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Anand: If you compare chess when I started out and what it is today then you can see the sea change that has taken place. I am pretty proud that in some way I have contributed to that, but it is up to me to build that up from where we are. You have to build chess as a mass sport in India. That is why we are very keen to get the Mind Champions Academies into more and more states. We have already some 5,000 schools; last year about 115,000 students took part in this competition. But you have to build these numbers; success just won’t appear. You have got to build these numbers, and potentially we are building a huge chess fan base.

Do Indians have a special affinity for chess?

I think so. If you look at our sporting performance it is really in very few areas but chess is one sport which we have taken to naturally. I think when India takes to something it really goes into it big time. The numbers have gone up 10-15 times in school and college competition since the time I started to a decade later.

A lot of people are intimidated by chess but once they come into contact with it they realise that it is just a game like any other. You play it; you try to outfox your opponent. That is what you do in every sport. It is a fairly simple game; of course there is lot of complexity behind it but it is basically a simple game. It is something, which people of any age can pick up very easily and in fact kids tend to pick it up very easily.


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Anand: Psychology plays a big part but I always say psychology will only be a differentiator when the players are of equal technical strength. Things like nervousness, cracking under pressure, all that—you have to build up the pressure both off the board and on it.

Kramnik has spent a lot of time taunting you. He says publicly that he has only allowed you to borrow, or he has lent you the World Championship.

Anand: He went down this road for a week, I replied and the matter just died. As far as I know neither of us has spoken much about that. I think it will probably surface again in July-August.

There is a difference between winning a championship at a tournament and winning it in a match. Will that make it difficult for you?

Anand: My own tendency is to just ignore him and to think well, that is what he would say. Once the match starts you have to make sure that these sort of things don’t affect you. My own response to that is: the winner can say anything he wants after the match and the loser would have lost interest in this topic. So the main thing is to win. If I win it hardly matters what my opinion is or what his opinion is. Let’s just win.

It is important that you don’t let your opponent impose his style of play on you. A part of that begins mentally. At the chessboard if you start blinking every time he challenges you then in a certain sense you are withdrawing. That is very important to avoid.


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Anand: It is very funny for me to compare myself with Karpov and Kasparov, because in the nineties they were my contemporaries but in the eighties they were people I looked up to. I could not associate myself with them in any way. I grew up studying Karpov’s games. I think it is very difficult to see yourself objectively. I hardly ever compare myself directly.

In 1995 I played a match against [Kasparov] but it is amazing that in the next ten years I was second or third in the rankings—most of the times second and he was first for this entire period—and we just never played each other. I think it would be very interesting.


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You are 38 today and chess world is getting younger and younger. You have grandmasters at 12 and 13. How do you get the motivation to keep carrying on?

Anand: It is basically I would say I enjoy chess. I enjoy the tournament circuit, the challenges of going to a tournament but also because I am just curious. I am curious to know how long it can go on. Chess is getting more and more interesting. It is a challenge when you can keep competing at the highest level and keep the No. 1 ranking. It is an obligation as well, you have to work hard.

And what happens if you lose in October? Will that fire you with the determination to come back and win it again?

Anand: I think we will deal with it when we get there. Before a match you shouldn’t prepare for those kinds of scenarios. If it happens it happens but I am going to give it my best shot and make sure it doesn’t happen.

Kasparov went into politics. Might you consider politics yourself?

Anand: No. Politics, I think, you can count me out of right now.

Writing books?

Anand: Perhaps. I think it is very difficult to imagine these things. I cannot see my life without chess being a very, very big part of it. What would I do the whole year without being able to prepare for the next tournament? I really don’t know how to deal with that.


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