Anand: I was outplayed by Carlsen

12/1/2013 – After a number of interviews by Magnus Carlsen, it was now the turn of now former World Champion Vishy Anand. In an extraordinarily frank and candid interview, conducted a week after his defeat at the hands of the Norwegian, Anand describes his opponent, the course of the match, his thoughts on retirement (spoiler: he's not going to!) and life after five world titles. Video and text transcript.

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This weekend former World Champion Viswanathan Anand gave his first interview after the loss of his title to Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen a week earlier. It was to CNN-IBN and is extraordinary in its frankness and clarity. You can watch it by clicking on the on the image below (unfortunately no embed available).

Click to go to the CNN-IBN page with the 20-minute video interview

To make things easier for the more impatient of you – and the video challenged – we bring you the full interview in text form. It was conducted by Rajdeep Sardesai, 48, an Indian journalist and news presenter, and the Editor-in-Chief of the IBN18 Network that includes CNN-IBN, IBN7 and IBN-Lokmat.

Rajdeep Sardesai: I know this last month hasn't been the easiest on you. But emotions after defeat, have you taken it in your stride or is it still hurting?

Viswanathan Anand: It still hurts, it is a bit of a phantom sensation – it will continue hurting for a while. But I feel much better now. At the closing ceremony I already got some closure, then coming back home, seeing my son again, just getting back to normal life – I feel much better now, thank you.

What was it that went wrong? Did Magnus Carlsen get under your skin?

As I see it right now, Magnus is a very different opponent, with a very different style from anything I had encountered. I think I simply didn't manage to figure him out. He went for a very radical approach, and somehow I was not able to find him. I developed a strategy where I thought that I should neutralize his strongest point, in the process somehow dealing with some of the weaknesses I myself have shown recently. But this proved harder than I expected and didn't really work out.

Would it be fair to say that in that sense you were outplayed?

Oh definitely. My strategy was a failure and I was not able to cope. He got everything he wanted, he totally deserved to win, there's no ambiguity here.

Would it be fair to say in hindsight that had you adopted a more attacking approach from the very beginning – were you too cautious against Carlsen, were you too defensive, did home pressure get to you?

Well, this is the one criticism that I feel really misses the mark, because I was of course delighted to get any aggressive position. But people have to understand that the one thing Magnus Carlsen specializes in is getting the position he likes, which is the driest dust, if you like slightly boring, technical positions. And he's very good at it. The last game I played a dynamic opening, he simply refused to let me have it. In every line he always steers the coast and that's what I meant: my game plan had to some how force him into an aggressive area. I thought I could do this by making dry positions less enjoyable for him than he would have liked. But I didn't succeed and I think that's where my strategy failed.

The reason I'm asking is because there were chess experts who felt that Anand was much too defensive.

Yes, arm-chair generals, especially with the benefit of hindsight, are invincible. But I really think it misses the point. Of course I would love to have played aggressive chess and drawn him out, but the point is how do you draw him out? He's made a career out of imposing his style of play, and he managed to do this very well. I think the reason he was able to deflect my attempts was because he's got so many resources. He's a very versatile, very diverse player. So you know, you block him in one area, he immediately shifts to the next, you block him there, he shifts somewhere else. He's got a lot of resources. I knew this before the match, that it would be difficult, but I had some hopes of forcing him into an aggressive position, but I didn't manage.

I read Garry Kasparov saying that after 40 it becomes difficult to maintain that same standard. Are we seeing the passing of a baton to a new generation, the Carlsen generation, the Anand generation coming to an end? Do you believe this was also about two generations in a sense of chess?

Yes, I think the match showed that we have very different outlooks, different ways of looking at the board. He's clearly the flag bearer for his generation. You can't start thinking about your age and his age. You have to try and force into what you think is appropriate at the chess board. When that didn't work out, then he left me in a bad position.

Are you coming to terms then with this age thing? How does that work? We had Sachin Tendulkar retire only a couple of weeks ago, at the age of 40. I see the two of you as the greatest Indian sportsmen that we produced since Independence. Do you believe that there comes a time, and are you considering it all, that maybe it's coming to and end of what's been a wonderful journey?

I think that's jumping the gun a little bit. I certainly understand that this will perhaps be a negative but still the big milestone in my career, this defeat. Of course the loss of the world title has impacted me, but I'm not that keen to retire yet. I will make some changes to my approach to chess and what I'll try to achieve and so on. I need some time to come to terms with everything and then think clearly about what I want to achieve going forward. But I'm not retiring yet.

So you still want to be a six-time world champion? From what you're saying, you haven't given up on the dream of climbing the summit for the sixth time.

I believe that sometimes your brain also needs some time to rest. If you immediately start thinking of the next match – in fact the question started coming more or less within ten minutes of my losing this match – then you don't give yourself any time to heal. So I will take some time, I will go to London now in about ten days, then after London I will get some rest, for a month, before I have to play again. I hope to think about these issues, calm down, put this thing behind me and then take it step by step. I could decided to go forward in March [at the Candidates], but I think it's important to do this in the right order. You first come to terms with everything that has happened, both inside and outside, and then you start thinking about the next task. Otherwise you don't give yourself any chance to heal.

I presume it's taken a lot of time and energy even building up to this World Chess Championship on home turf, in Chennai. It's taken a lot of preparation. Are you more than anything else at this moment feeling a little bit exhausted?

Yes, I think the thing is for about three days after the match I could barely move a muscle. It felt that all that mental exertion almost took a physical manifestation. You never know how tired you are and what you're capable of right away. I think it's important to let the weeks pass and slowly recover. On top of that, clearly the accumulated efforts of the last six years – I played four matches and a tournament world championship in the last six years, that's five out of six. All this will take a toll. While I'm not inclined to go on about my age, definitely you have to see these things in a realistic perspective. So let me enjoy my rest and then I will see the direction forward. I think some time after the new year I can start thinking of what what comes next.

When we saw you and Carlsen at the press conferences, whether this was two generations in a sense, because I never saw the two of you really smiling at each other. There didn't seem to be the camaraderie that you might have when you are with someone in your own age group or someone you played with say for fifteen or twenty years. Is Carlsen someone who you get along with off the chess board?

He's someone I've gotten along with in phases. I mean, we used to get along quite well. Round about last year you could feel the rivalry thing. We both went kind of went cold on each other. No particular reason, I think this is quite normal. This happened to me with all my previous opponents as well, even the ones I was very friendly with. While you're both coveting the same thing it's hard. Inevitably there's been some cooling off. Let's say three years ago we got along just fine and clearly this year the match has dominated our thinking. You're right, even at the press conferences I felt that there was quite a distance between us.

Do you believe that this Carlsen era that people are talking of – Kasparov has talked of a Carlsen era – is it premature to suggest that there's a Carlsen era now in the world of chess? Do you believe that one needs to hold one's judgement on that till such time that he shows that he can win, like you and like the greats, more than one world title?

He's very, very good, he's the highest rated player in chess history, and now he's got the one title that was missing in his résumé: he's won the world title as well. He's very, very good. Certainly there's every chance to be a Carlsen era. It's up to someone else to prove otherwise.

Do you in hindsight believe that playing in Chennai was a mistake, that the home pressure actually worked against you? Or do you believe that was also the fulfillment of a lifetime dream, that the Chennai boy came back home to play the world title so that there is satisfaction also at one level, that you were able to bring the World Championship to Chennai?

There was a lot of satisfaction. I was very proud of the way it was organized here and the way chess seemed to fill the city for a couple of weeks. I was disappointed that I didn't give them a better match. As for the pressure, I don't think so. I really managed to get the same kind of vibes that I get in any hotel in any part of the world when I play a World Championship match, which is to somewhat isolate yourself and focus on the match. I managed that. I think my failings were at the chess board and I don't want to look for other excuses. Clearly I was not able to do what I would have liked to do, at the chess board, and that was my main problem.

If there was one thing that you would have liked to do differently in this match, if you had to do it all over again, what would that one thing be?

If there was one game I could take back it would be the fifth. Psychologically I felt that if I could neutralize his strongest point, I mean this is what he's gotten everything that he's achieved, which is to go on playing long games without taking any real risk, I mean he makes the position first very dry, and then he goes on and on and on, waiting for mistakes, it's a very peculiar style to deal with. I felt that if I could develop the confidence to neutralize that, then I would force him out of his comfort zone, and I could take him on. The fifth game was a blow at many levels, not only at the chess board, also in terms of my strategy, in terms of psychology, everything. I could still have put up a better show after that, but sometimes you take these blows very hard. In fact it's quite humbling that after so many matches you watch yourself implode almost. It teaches you some humility.

Anand, do you believe that Indian chess is in good hands? Let's look at the larger picture. You've lost this final, you've been our one shining star. Do you believe there's a new generation now emerging, of chess players in this country? You've done a lot of work with NIIT to push the game, do you see a revolution in this country in chess also?

Yes, I have every reason to believe that India is not a flash in the pan as far as chess is concerned. There are many, many good long-term things happening. First, in the competitive arena we have lots and lots of talent and they're doing very well in all sorts of competitions. I definitely think we can build on that. Then, in the broader goal of getting chess a bigger place in society if you like, that's going very well as well. I intend to dedicated a lot of time to that, along with NIIT and the NIIT MindChampions Academy, to develop a broad base of people who know the game, who benefit from the game, who enjoy the educational benefits of the game. Inevitably I think these two streams will complement each other.

What you're telling me is that you will continue to mentor, to promote players in this country, through NIIT. Viswanathan Anand's engagement in chess will now extend. Even if you retire you will continue to be involved in this game?

I'm not retiring yet. Clearly I will recalibrate the kind of schedule, the time I spend with chess. I will have to see what are the right goals to aim for at this point and how to go about it. I will continue to work on both these streams and I imagine I will be able to dedicate more time now to the NIIT MindChampions Academy.

The other thing you probably want to dedicate yourself to is family. I'm told that the only time you took a break from the seriousness of this match is when your son ran into the mind room. I presuming that he's growing up and you would like to spend more time at home in a sense.

Yes, definitely. This is one of the joys of life. The last couple of days at home have been very nice, playing with him. He's really enjoyed having us back. He clearly missed us for a couple of weeks. Yesterday he went for his first school dance. He's been practicing for days, and then yesterday all these kids had their first school dance, and that was very, very nice to go and watch. I was very proud.

Vishy, when you speak so fondly about your son, I was just wondering whether finally you are going to discover a life beyond chess, because for the last forty years I guess this has almost obsessed you. Do you believe that it is now almost a release and you're really going to make an effort to explore the other things in life that you've missed out, because your single-minded dedication to the sport?

Definitely. I think one of the things that will happen from now on is a kind of rebalancing. Chess will cease to be the thing that completely dominates my thoughts, and I think it will one part of many other facets. I think when you are a professional player vying for the highest title, all the other aspects of your life somehow get pushed to the background. Now I will be able to enjoy more time with my family, pursue my hobbies, do other things as well and so on. I think chess will find a new place in my life. But I still look forward to enjoying several years of playing chess, and doing the things about chess that I used to enjoy and love. So I'll try to focus on that.

Let me ask you in conclusion about legacy. It is important for every sportsman to belive that there is a legacy that you leave behind. For years you were seen as the one player who broke the Russian monopoly. In fact the Russians took some time to recognize that. If you were to look back at what's been a remarkable career, what would you like to leave as your abiding legacy to the sport?

One of the things I would like to leave as my legacy would be laying the foundation for chess in India. By this I mean principally the NIIT MindChampions Academy, but also all the kids who are playing the game today, who are competing. The whole fact that chess now has a new place amongst our sports in the public consciousness, I would like to have done that. And whenever I was able to do some things for my country and for the flag, those are moments I will treasure.

Vishy, it's ironic that both you and Sachin Tendulkar have been making the headlines in the last months because as I said, the two of you have been iconic sports persons. Maybe you should pick up a phone to Sachin one of these days and just share thoughts and memories of great sportsmen. Both of you have been remarkable ambassadors for sport in this country and both made India very, very proud. You've been both great world champions. So Anand, get that smile back, and get back on the board and do all the things that you wanted to do. Thank you very much for joining us.

Thank you so much.


The games were broadcast live on the official web site, with special coverage on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.


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