Happy Birthday Anand – in lockdown

by Frederic Friedel
12/11/2020 – Earlier this year five-time World Champion Vishy Anand spent three months stranded in Germany, waiting for a flight back to India. Now he is with his family – in lockdown in his apartment in Chennai. But "chess has enjoyed a surprise boom during the pandemic," he said in an Economic Times interview yesterday. "And it has been helped by the runaway success of 'The Queen's Gambit'. People sitting at home seem to have discovered the game of chess."

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Indeed, chess has become more popular than ever, in the world and especially in India. First of all the game was invented there, secondly they have a vast population (1.3 billion!) – and unlike China have only one version of chess. So everyone who is interested in this sort of strategic game lands on the version we know – and not on Xiangqi, which is what a vast majority of Chinese play.

But there is a third reason for the unprecedented rise in popularity in recent years: India has a chess god. Anand has changed a country that was lagging in chess (I have described that in my interview below) to one that is poised to lead the world in the game, to become a super-power that can only be compared to the Soviet Union of past decades. I have predicted that in ten years at least twenty percent of players in the top hundred will be Indian, and at least thirty percent of the top ten will be GMs from that country. And they have all been inspired by the unassuming champion now locked in his flat by a virus. How has this effected chess?

In an Economic Times interview Anand says:

"There are now 13 million people playing online. Just like other sports have TV audiences, our audiences are principally online. So all that happened was that the chess players moved online to join the spectators. I was the crossover generation. I was 17 when the first chess database came along. I have pretty much worked with computers from that time onwards till today. I think computers have changed the way you study the game. Every person no matter how weak, how isolated, has the world's strongest chess player sitting in the room with them always willing to answer any question. That's been the impact of chess computers."

There are now 13 million people playing online. And then during the pandemic there was also a Netflix show about chess, 'The Queen's Gambit', and that is also a bit spectacular."
 
"There are now 13 million people playing online. And then during the pandemic there was also a Netflix show about chess, 'The Queen's Gambit', and that is also a bit spectacular."
 
"There are now 13 million people playing online. And then during the pandemic there was also a Netflix show about chess, 'The Queen's Gambit', and that is also a bit spectacular."
 
"There are now 13 million people playing online. And then during the pandemic there was also a Netflix show about chess, 'The Queen's Gambit', and that is also a bit spectacular."
 

Happy Birthday, Anand!

In any case today is Anand's 51st birthday. It always comes as a shock to me: he was a cute young kid when I first met him. That was, I realize, over 30 years ago. In April 1988 he came to stay in our house in Germany, after I had invited him to visit us between tournaments. He stayed for a week, and this is what he entered in our guest book the first time:

The "happy Fred?" comment needs explanation. Like all well brought up Indian boys he kept calling me "Uncle Frederic", or "Frederic Sir" – and my wife was "Mrs. Friedel" or "Aunty Ingrid". It took a few days and harsh reprimands to get him to use our first names.

After that came over 30 visits, usually for a week, but sometimes longer. The whole story of Anand joining my family clan has been told multiple times – in fact, I was forced by Sagar Shah to do it on video earlier this year:

In fact Sagar, who is the CEO of ChessBase India, had the entire interview transcribed and published this report on our news page. We did a similar First Post interview a couple of years earlier.

I should mention that Anand has recorded two biographical DVDs for ChessBase:

The first DVD with videos from Anand's chess career reflects the very beginning of that career and goes as far as 1999. It starts with his memories of how he first learned chess and shows his first great games (including those from the 1984 WCh for juniors). The high point of his early developmental phase was the winning of the 1987 WCh for juniors. After that, things continue in quick succession: the first victories over Kasparov, WCh candidate in both the FIDE and PCA cycles and the high point of the WCh match against Kasparov in 1995. 3:48 hours playing time. Order by download

The second DVD begins in 2000, when Anand became FIDE World Champion, and it ends with his victory in the 2007 World Championship in Mexico. Anand not only analyses his best games, but casts a look back at the World Championship in Delhi/Tehran in 2000 and the years before, he discusses the situation in the Bundesliga and Kasparov's retirement from tournament chess. 4:28 hours playing time. Order by download

Master Class Vol. 12:
Viswanathan Anand

by  Dr. Karsten MüllerMihail MarinOliver ReehYannick Pelletier

When Viswanathan Anand appeared on the European chess stage, he had already achieved a number of successes in India, such as winning the Indian Junior Championships and the National Indian Championship while still being a junior. Anand was only 14 years old when he was invited to play for the Indian National team at the Chess Olympiad 1984. In 1987 he became World Junior Champion and in 1988 the 19-year-old became India’s first grandmaster.

 Order by download


Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.

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