Anand: I never really thought of chess as a career

by ChessBase
9/5/2007 – Thirty years ago, in the south Indian city of Chennai (Madras), a young boy showed an unusual talent for chess. But in spite of the general perception that it was a game for old fogies, the family of Vishy Anand spent time, money and effort to fuel the ambitions of their son – who is now the highest ranked player on the planet. Anand talks candidly about the beginnings in this charming Sify interview.

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Anand: I never really thought of chess as a career

In the seventies, chess was considered a game for old fogies with little prize money. In that era, very few people would have dared to allow their child to pursue chess. Schoolboy Anand of Chennai, India, was lucky in that his parents Susheela and Viswanathan not only encouraged him, but also spent time, money and effort to fuel the ambitions of their son.

Anand went on to win all possible prestigious events, bagged four Chess Oscars, won the World Championship and World Cups. All his exploits have been greeted with banner headlines, but very little has been written about his early days and the struggles he had to undergo before he went on to make his mark.

In a candid conversation with Manisha Mohite, Anand recalls his struggles and successes and gives us a rare glimpse of how he got to the very top.

Who were the Indian players you looked up to as a beginner and did anyone encourage you?

I am not sure whether I looked up to anyone. We were all in this race to be India's first Grandmaster. So for me they were all rivals. At every stage, you just had new rivals and some were even troublesome for me. I remember that a player had this habit of spinning his key chain, which used to irritate me a lot. Then a person, who worked with my dad and used to take care of me, decided I had to wear a cap and that is how I started playing with a cap. Since I was the youngest player, at times I found it difficult to fit in with the older generation. One player went to my father and told him that I didn't have any talent and my playing fast wouldn't take me anywhere. At that time, I remember we were all quite angry, but now when I think of it, I can smile it off.

Any particular memories about playing in Age Category events?

In 1984, I played the World Sub junior. I was down with jaundice and throughout the event I would play looking downwards so that my yellow eyes would not be seen. Funnily, it was there I met Alexey Dreev, Jeron Piket and Vassily Ivanchuk for the first time.

When you began your career, chess was not very popular and there was hardly any money in it. Did you at any point of time feel any hesitation in pursuing it?

I never really thought of chess as a career. I just enjoyed it, especially these weekend blitz games at the Tal Club. When I started travelling abroad, we noticed the problems. My dad would typically go to Delhi, present the papers in all the ministries and then mom and I would go to Delhi and wait. If all the necessary permits had come, I would be taken immediately to the airport. That was a completely different era. Today everything is just much easier.

India was your base. How did you manage the frequent trips to Europe and stays there initially?

It was difficult initially as we had to make the foreign exchange last. Mom and I would stay with friends or relatives. Once we stayed with someone and I was doing well in that event. Every morning, the man would ask: “So how many days is your tournament?” After a few days, we got used to this and would just reply one week and smile. Now when I meet the same people, they say, you know Anand stayed at my house. It is cute in a way. I was extremely lucky to make good friends abroad and may be this made it easy. Till 1991, I was on my own. I won a few pounds at the Lloyds Bank tournament and was able to buy my mother a bag. From 1991, I became a candidate and as a World Junior Champion, started getting invitations to major events. After my match with Karpov, I had become one of the pack and was able to play abroad without much problems. In 1991, I met a couple, Maurice and Nieves based in Spain and after that never had to worry about travelling in Europe. I always had a house with friends where I could stay. You can say that Maurice adopted me instantly and then Nieves couldn't resist the ‘Little Indian boy’. But I never really worried about the food or hotels. I had a walkman and my sister used to send me some cassettes which I would plug in and listen for hours.

A major turning point in your life was your marriage to Aruna. I remember that a bunch of prominent players sent you a special message on your wedding predicting a loss of form. But Aruna’s presence in your life actually went on to make you an even better player and brought out your best chess?

Indian journalist Manisha Mohite
conducted this charming interview

In 1996, the players at the VSB tournament in Amsterdam sent me a card for my wedding with this dedication “Anand congrats on your wedding. You were a great player, now be ready to lose 50 points”. When I showed it to Aruna, she was really scared. When we went to Dortmund, our honeymoon event, she had no idea about chess and would be scared to even ask the result. Both of us never really sat down and decided how our marriage would be. From the first moment, she seemed to adjust completely. There have been times when she is in the room and you will never even notice her and for someone who is so vivacious, it is really striking. In tournaments, I may not be the nicest person to have around but Aruna will tiptoe around. The joke is that at tournaments I can say anything and will get away with it, but the day the event finishes, Aruna will let go and then I am really in trouble. Somehow we go through the good days and bad days knowing there is someone there who is with you 100 percent. It gives you that extra confidence.

Any anecdote from you childhood days that you would like to recall?

When I was in class five, I was fairly well known for my chess and used to win local events. When we had inter-house events, my housemates would boast that there was no way we would lose in chess. One day when we went to a birthday party, everyone asked me: “Hey Anand, you must have crushed the other guys”. I said: “Yes, I will when the event is played.” Then I realised that the event had already been held and I had got the dates wrong! Everyone was very annoyed with me . Even now, when we meet, they say “Anand , you are world number one, but remember that our house didn't win the tournament”.

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