Aloha Vishy! The World Chess Champion visits Hawaii (Part 2)

8/30/2012 – During his recent stay in Hawaii Vishy Anand visited a scholastic tournament, thrilling the pants off the local students. There was a motivational speech, prizes, autographs. Our reporter Beau Mueller used the occasion to discuss the subject of chess in schools with someone who has recruited one and a half million students in 16,000 schools to take up the game.

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Aloha Vishy! The World Chess Champion visits Hawaii (Part 2)

Report by Beau Mueller

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. 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. Part one was published here recently, we move on to part two...

Beau Mueller: Yesterday, you visited a local scholastic tournament. How was that?

Vishy Anand: It was good fun. I mean it brought some memories back. I’ve gone to school tournaments myself. You understand the rush – the parents are sitting anxiously, the ones who are finished are restless and running around, the ones that are still playing are sitting and concentrating, and so on. It was nice. Also, I get to see this fairly often nowadays because I am myself promoting chess in schools in India, so we have competitions like this reasonably often. So I get to see similar things.


A very excited crowd greets the Champ, who went on to treat attendees...


...to a bit of motivation and inspiration from a World Champion


Vishy handed out many trophies and medals – this one to Tristan Kaonohi, one of
Hawaii’s strongest scholastic players


With Likeke Aipa, winner of the K-12 tournament, and Shari Tapper from the Halekulani


With Hawaii Chess Federation (HCF) President Randy Prothero and Guy P. Ontai, Scholastic Director

Peter Shaindlin, COO of the Halekulani Hotel Corporation, also gave an inspired speech. Peter was one of the driving forces in getting Vishy and his family to Hawai'i, and Vishy had nothing but good things to say about him.

B.M.: How does the scholastic chess scene here compare with India’s or other places you have lived or visited?

V.A.: I thought the quality yesterday in the room was pretty decent. I don’t know the numbers. Obviously, India is a much bigger place, so the program I have with this company, NIIT, is about one and a half million students, spread out over 16,000 schools. We’ve been making quite some progress. We started it about ten years ago. I would say we’ve hit some pretty key milestones there. But yesterday, it seemed like a good sign. It looks like people here are pretty passionate and excited about it.

Do you have any specific recommendations on how to grow scholastic chess (and chess in general) in relatively small and isolated communities such as Hawai'i?

I find that chess in schools is pretty much a snowball thing – if there are a few people playing, others will become interested. The biggest thing to overcome is: a) having people find out that a game like chess exists, and b) getting them over the initial bit of learning how to play. Once they know the rules and they know where to play – and as long it’s not a lot of hassle to get to where you have to play – then it pretty much takes over by itself. This is what we found in India as well – you put it in a few schools and eventually momentum picks up. I would guess it’s the same here.

I don’t think isolation is a big issue any more, because you have the ability to communicate online, even if you are one of five people on an island these days. It’s not what it was thirty years ago, when you had to wait five years to maybe make your first trip somewhere else, where you could maybe go to a club, inquire and so on. Now, all that has changed a lot – you can just play on some server. I don’t see isolation as a handicap anymore, I don't see geographic isolation as a handicap.


NM Reynolds Takata, one of Hawaii’s most active and dedicated coaches


Dylan Marn, from the very strong Kamehameha team

If you had only a minute or two to spend with a talented junior player and had to give them only one piece of advice, what would that be?

I would … well, in fact a lot of the questions I get asked about this are simply about, “How do I learn?”, “How do I get as strong as you?”, and things like that. I think it all comes down to the question of how do you absorb all of this information? I would say … just practice. Practice often. Even if you are only playing blitz. I mean it’s very difficult to absorb information whilst reading it from a book. Unless you’ve played it out once or twice, the concepts don’t fall in to place in your head. So, just play, and (even if it’s blitz) it’s excellent. Just play a lot of blitz and you’ll get better.

Speaking of kids playing chess, are you planning to groom Akhil to be a chess player?

Well, at some point I will see if he is interested. I mean, I definitely expect at some point to put a board in front of him and see how he reacts. Beyond that, I don’t know. I don’t want to push him a lot in chess because, well, he’d be compared constantly to me, and it might be a bit of a nuisance for him. I would rather that he knows how to play chess and, whatever catches his fancy, we’ll take it from there.

I would personally be very interested to hear how you juggle fatherhood, travel and all that it entails in being World Champ. Even as a chess-addicted amateur, I find balance to be difficult.

Yeah, that’s very true. When I’m in India I try to spend as much time with him as possible. And then, I simply have my training and my playing schedule. So you just make sure that every day at least some time spent playing with your son. You can always find time to do that. Especially now that it’s the most fascinating part – they’re changing, they’re growing, they’re learning new and interesting things. So, that’s interesting. Otherwise, it’s just a career like before. You know you’ll have to block a certain amount of time for trainings and things, but that would be the case no matter what I did. It’s not unique to chess alone. If I was a doctor I’d have my patients, if I worked in a company I’d have to go to the offices. It’s not particularly different for anybody else.


The author/interviewer with his son, Finn, meeting Vishy at the tournament

In your view, what’s the most rewarding aspect of being a father?

I think just watching when they do something similar to you, and laughing at that. Like once we caught Akhil just standing like this, with his hands clasped behind his back. I like to do that a lot. It’s very funny to see him do that. (Everyone laughs.)

(My wife asks): Did your father do that too?

My father also likes to do this. Yeah. (More laughs.)

Now onto something topical that I’m sure the chess world is eager to get your opinion on: what are your thoughts on the recent Pussy Riot incident, where Kasparov was detained and beaten?

Well, obviously I was quite concerned for his health. I can’t make out everything that happened, but it seems to me that the police over-reacted. It’s very difficult to make out anything and, to be honest, I haven’t been spending a lot of time looking at the videos.

And Garry’s political activities in general?

That I don’t pay so much attention to. It’s not like something new has happened. He’s been on a fairly predictable path for about eight or nine years, so I can’t say I’ve really noticed anything new happen.

What about you, do you have any political aspirations?

(Laughs.) Nope. Zilch.


“Vishy the King” – King of the 64 squares, but no future in politics

Last question: If you were forced to retire and never play chess again, how do you think you would spend your time?

That would be a blow because… Well, I think the point is to retire from chess when you feel you’ve had enough, not to be forced to do it. That’s quite a different situation, of course. But assuming that it goes the normal way, and there comes the point where I feel I’ve had enough, then I’m sure I’d find other things to do. I’d pursue my interests. You know, it’d not be that I necessarily do something for a living – I’d just pursue my interests. I’d keep doing something with chess, you know, like try and promote chess in schools and things like that. But beyond that… I mean, you’re basically asking me if I stopped tomorrow. That I don’t know.

Links

About the Author/Interviewer

Beau Mueller recently returned home to Hawaii 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.

Copyright Mueller/ChessBase


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