Going viral with planetoid Vishyanand

by ChessBase
4/5/2015 – We had heard about an asteroid being named after the 15th World Champion some months ago. But with inherent devious cunning we decided to hold back the news, which was an ideal "fake April Fool's joke". It left many readers, thinking it was made – even Anand has his doubts. After we confirmed that it was genuine, Indian newspapers picked it up and turned it into a media storm.

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4538 Vishyanand in the news

By Frederic Friedel

Let us start with telling you a well-known secret. In a time when you can find any kind of information anywhere in the world instantly, April Fool's pranks are becoming more and more difficult. People just invest a few seconds for an Internet search and bang, they know whether report is true or not. So instead of just publishing some obscure made-up news to circumvent the problem, we decided to stick to the main point of good April Fool's pranks: they should be well though out, plausible and, above all, funny. It's this final quality that many writers miss – "Magnus Carlsen to visit North Korea" is not easy to verify or disprove, but it will not really have you ROTFL.

But funny often means easy to check (damn you, Google!). So we have taken to publishing fake April Fool's jokes – stories that are fairly outlandish but perfectly true – to lead people astray. At least for a few hours. This year it was the 200,000 machine hours that Timo Immonen had invested in an attempt to refute the English Opening – perfectly true, although the conclusion has not yet been verified. And then we published the Minor Planet story.

The report said that Michael Rudenko, a staff member of the International Astronomical Union Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and also a chess fan, had named an asteroid after the 15th World Champion Viswanathan Anand. Acutally this had come to our attention some months earlier, but it became clear at the time that this was a perfect fake April Fool's joke. So we contacted Rudenko and asked him if we could go ahead with our somewhat dubious plan. He wrote back immediately: "What a clever idea – by all means, go with it! I'd be happy to do a little followup story, including listing all of the names and citations of minor planets associated with chess players. It might stimulate some reader feedback to solicit suggestions for other chess players who should be so honored, though I doubt I'd be able to get the committee to approve 'minor planet Chucky'."

So we published the report, which was perfectly true in every detail, on April 1st, nine hours after the "English Opening busted?" story – incidentally Timo Immonen had also sportingly agreed to let us delay it to April 1st. Readers who had assumed this story was the April 1 joke quickly switched to the asteriod report. And they did so in droves, although the facts were quite easy to google. We published a few feedback letters in our follow-up report. Some readers were quite annoyed, and wished pox on our house. But others defended us, as for example IM Nisha Mohota from India.

Nisha, who last September won the Indian National Women Challengers in Goa (9.5/11, gaining 23 Elo points) sent in the following supportive lines: "I love reading the ChessBase articles of 1st April and really look forward to it every year! I completely disagree with the reader 'Ed' that they are unprofessional. I think ChessBase really takes a lot of pain and does a lot of research to publish the three articles every year. They are fun to read and also very informative. After the ChessBase revelation about about a minor planet named after Vishy, this news went viral in India and people came to know about it and felt proud."

We checked it out: yep, viral is the word. As reported in the previous article Anand had been skeptical about the veracity of the report ("I'm hedging my reactions – it's a joke, right?", he Skyped me). I had to point him to the relevant Minor Planet pages to convince him that I wasn't pulling one of my tricks. After that he tweeted:

That – and the fact that a large number of Indian news outlets religiously read our news page – brought on the news storm. Naturally the fact that the story had broken on the 1st of April, and Anand himself had been fooled, made for a nice journalistic twist. Here are some of the articles that appeared on the 3rd and 4th of April:

The Indian Express was one of the first to pick up the story.

The New Indian Express followed suit. They interviewed Michael Rudenko who said:
"The idea of naming a minor planet for Anand was entirely my own. "After careful consideration I selected
him because in addition to being a great chess player he is also a gentlemen and astronomy enthusiast."

The Huffington Post reports that Anand was happy and amused by the news: "Aruna, my wife,
jokes sometimes that I seem to be from some other planet. And now it turns out to be actually true."

PC/tablet is a New Delhi magazine devoted to, well PC tablets

The Deccan Chronicle, which always follows chess happenings, of course picked up the story

The Indian DNA news portal also picked up the story

The India Today article lists five things you must know about 4538 Vishyanand

Live Mint has an extensive background report. Like many of his generation and thereafter, Anand’s curiosity about space was piqued at a very young age reading Carl Sagan’s iconic book Cosmos. Anand also followed the televised version of the book buying compact discs of the programme and started taking cosmology seriously. “I remember the original Carl Sagan book,", he says, "the revelation that how interesting the moons were, when for the first time people saw them. In the 1970s, they thought all these moons were dead and we thought only the earth has the critical geology. Everything below the size of the earth would be dead planet because they wouldn’t have internal heat or power. There were mechanism that people never thought about. For example, Jupiter supplies the heat on Io (its moon) through tidal forces, and suddenly, you find very interesting features. And now they have started saying that there’s huge liquid water oceans in some of the Jupiter’s moons!”

Anand is fascinated about the geological activities in Neptune’s moon Triton, and the possibility of finding a frigid hydrocarbon ocean there. “I don’t know how much of it is confirmed but certainly we get to read about them and everyday more stuff keeps coming. Of course, we are very far from knowing anything with certainty because a lot of these are inferences of radar, etc. Nevertheless, it is very interesting.”

For now, astronomy is just something that he is fascinated about. But it is chess he loves. And his aim is firmly fixed on playing the Candidates Tournament next year, which will determine the challenger for the current world champion Magnus Carlsen. Anand could not wrest the honour from Carlsen in Sochi, Russia in November 2014.

This article appeared in a news outlet in the country's capital

This one is in Hindi, which Google Translate handles perfectly: "Space 'Vichy pleasure', are thought to enjoy 'April Fool'" is the headline, and "The naming of the planet came on April 1, the same day he was being Congratulations. He felt like an April Fool them are friends. But when he saw the NASA website can not believe he was even once. But it was true." You've got to appreciate this wonderful technology. Here's another Patrika Minor Planet report – they really couldn't get enough of Vishyanand Similarly APB News and WebDunia, both also in Hindi.

This report is in Marathi, a language close to Hindi, and spoken by a number of our friends in India. Again Google translate tackles it bravely: "Viswanathan Anand in the name of space 'specific-ha' a planet named."

This one is in Anand's native Tamil, a Dravidian language spoken in southern India.

It is a remarkable fact that there is a closer connection between Hindi or Marathi and English than the connection between Hindi and Marathi to Tamil, any of the languages spoken in the Dravidian states. For us Europeans it is possible to catch phrases in spoken Hindi, but you cannot understand a syllable in pure Tamil or Telugu. See our World Championship 2013 article Languages of India, languages of chess for more details.

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