The Delhi Interview with Viswanathan Anand – Part one

6/8/2010 – Back in December 2009 Mint – a collaboration between the Hindustan Times and the Wall Street Journal – commissioned their journalist Jaideep Unudurti to do an indepth interview with World Champion Vishy Anand. The discussion lasted for an hour, and only a small section landed in the journal. Jaideep has thankfully transcribed the entire contents, which we will publish in three sections.

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Delhi Interview with Viswanathan Anand

Conducted by Jaideep Unudurti

This interview was conducted in December 2009. Anand had returned from Moscow after the Tal Memorial and was soon leaving for Corus. He was on a whistle-stop tour of India promoting NIIT's MindChampion Academy, giving prizes to the winners, conducting simul displays. I caught up with him in Delhi – the interview was conducted late afternoon on the top floor of the Sheraton in the Mezzanine Boardroom. Backlit by a fantastic sunset over the city, the Q&A went on for an hour. I was on assignment for Mint, a collaboration between the Hindustan Times and the Wall Street Journal. They wanted a curtain-raiser of sorts for the world championship match. I had interviewed him almost exactly a year earlier. That interview, at his residence in Chennai saw a relaxed and introspective Anand going over his triumph in Bonn. This time it was different, there was a spring in his step and he answered all questions carefully, measuring his words.


Anand and Jaideep – partners in this discussion

Jaideep Unudurti: In April, you will be taking on Topalov in Sofia. Several of your colleagues, including GM Kramnik and GM Gelfand have gone on record saying that your chances would be much higher in a neutral venue. What is your take on that?

Viswanathan Anand: I am aware it is his home ground. Me and my team will try and control everything we can. Ultimately it simply comes down to playing good chess. In that sense I really meant when I said I have no issues of playing in Sofia. Obviously I will expect FIDE to keep a very high standard. It's my job to play chess well.

This concern is because of the events during the match in Elista. You are not worried about what happened there?

I would say you have to be mentally ready for lots of stuff. Even things like psychological warfare, people winding you up. It just comes with the territory. From now on they will be trying to get inside my head. You have to be adult about it and just deal with it. There is no point in harking to some innocent era. That's how it is and has been for a while. Beyond that the main thing is to take all the precautions you have to. I hope it will be well organized and everything will go smoothly.

Has FIDE given you some assurances that there won't be a repeat of the incidents in Elista?

What incidents, every protest can go this way or that way. There are rules, FIDE will follow them and we have lots of guarantees in the contract. If you mean, will I expect that there will be no unpleasantness at all, who knows? My job is to go there and play well. You have to mentally get ready for stuff but I think its simply comes down to going there and not losing focus on the chess. Besides, if you psych yourself before the match then it doesn't help you at all. You can do even without your opponent.

You are going in there expecting a state of war?

I'm going to go there expecting anything. You have to be prepared for everything. I'm not expecting bad, I'm not expecting good. World championships are traditionally about bad-mouthing your opponent a few months before, press interviews, stuff we have seen for several matches already. That simply comes with the territory. Beyond that I don't want to focus on whether its going to be dirty or its going to be clean. We will be ready for anything but there are good rules and I expect FIDE to uphold them.

Topalov's manager IM Danailov had made some comments about you in the press, what is your response?

I don't want to respond to his rubbish.

You had played several matches in the 90s - there was a time when you were playing a match every year. And now after a very long gap, you are back to matches. Have you been able to take any learnings from your previous experiences?

You don't forget these experiences completely. But its true, its such a long gap. Maybe its different if you play matches regularly. And here I played a match after literally thirteen years. That's a huge gap. It didn't feel unfamiliar in Bonn. Perhaps if you study other matches, then in some sense you also you can experience what a match will be like. First of all, what is special about a match is simply this one-on-one focus. Your attention doesn't get diverted at all. That's one feature of the match that really stands out, with regard to a tournament or a Knock-Out. Beyond that I don't really feel it's that special. I think if you prepare and read about other people's experiences, it's more than enough, you have the sense. During a match if you have played a lot of them, then at a certain moment it helps you to calm down or step it up depending on which situation you find yourself in. But even this comes down to your mental state rather than match experience.

There are some unique features in matches. Like rest-days for example, how do you handle the tension, are you able to sleep easily?

I think rest-days are a mix. Probably the night before the rest-day you sleep, knowing you have a day's cushion, in case something turns up but the rest day itself you can't rest that much. You end up doing a lot of work, and invariably if you finish the work for one game you start on the next game because we play two and rest. I think it allows you to recharge some batteries, get a grip on yourself but not more. In terms of work you still have to do a fair amount. At least that was my experience in Bonn, that you couldn't completely switch off. I think one rest-day I didn't do anything till noon and started working.

On an average, how many hours a day do you work, in the run-up to the match?

Somewhere between 8 and 10 hours. Then you can add the physical training, maybe a couple of walks, things like that. So it's 8 to 10 hours.

For a match of this magnitude it would take 6-8 months of lead-time?

I think here again work expands to fill the time. If you have more time you can chortle away. You have to get the right discipline. When the match comes you stop worrying about whether you done enough and get on with what you have done. You can always feel incomplete and work more. I think there it depends on how much time you have for these things. In the 90s and so on match experience counted for more. And maybe having played earlier matches counted for more as you tended to have a lot of background material. A bank of ideas you used then. That you had for the match, didn't get to use and carried over. For instance, Kasparov when he was playing Short or me, he had notebooks full of ideas that he could draw on. Nowadays that cushion is vanishing much faster. Almost all the variations played in matches people soon explore in tournaments and catch up. You can't sit on that cushion any more. That has changed a lot. Maybe computers are one explanation but maybe the cycle of chess is just going faster. You use an idea, everybody looks around, find the relevant things and start playing it themselves. In that sense I don't think drawing on these previous matches is very easy.

You mentioned that cushion, you adopted 1.d4 in the match against Kramnik. It has been noticed that you continue to employ it. How has the experience been, were you able to find the "feel" for queen-pawn openings?

[Now we know that Anand invested plenty of time and energy in honing this, as evident in his practice games against Carlsen and Giri.]

Basically yes. I had played d4 couple of times before. Between 1996 and 2000 I was not just an e4 player. Somewhere around 2000 I became a complete e4 player for many, many years. It wasn't unfamiliar. In general, now the amount of work has expanded so much, if you don't constantly keep at it then you lose the ability to play certain lines very fast. You can always put in a session and get that back. The amount of work you have to do has really exploded.

You had players like Ivanchuk and Timman who could play anything. And there were certain players like you who would stick to one opening. Can it be said that now computers favour players who switch openings? By playing just one opening you are becoming a bigger target for your opponent's preparation.

[Anand stuck to 1.d4 consistently. "In matches...there it simply comes down to nerves". A "flash-forward" of what was to come in Game 12?]

I think there is a very strong case for that. These things go in cycles, so maybe it will reverse itself. Certainly at this stage you feel that those who are comfortable doing everything tend to do much better than those who are in a much narrower area. But whether that holds for matches is another story. In tournaments, that is clearly the case. The more flexible you are, the more opponents you can deal with. In matches it might not matter. There it simply comes down to nerves and things like that. In fact in all matches at some point it comes down to - I mean the tension, the daily work and sooner or later everything builds up and something interesting starts to happen.

You have played a 20 game match. Now it's down to 12 games. What are your thoughts on that?

I find it hard to imagine how people once upon a time played even 24 games. Not to speak of the ones which went to 32 and 48. I find them completely absurd. In our modern era that you can spend 4 months on something - it's beyond belief. I think, already, 12 games is the maximum. It shouldn't get any longer. In that era, especially between two Soviet opponents, they didn't really have to worry about spectators. Then again, interest in their country was very high so they managed. Nowadays to get two teams and put them in a city for months on end doesn't make sense to me.

The number of games has gone down, but the intensity has increased?

I would say the intensity is shorter. Even in a 24 game match once you get to G/16 it becomes very intense. And the same thing happens here. I think it's more realistic. Also with the amount of computers involved in preparation, to play 24 games I think is madness. So in our modern era we should be trying to make it shorter. 8 games is pushing it, for already the effect of one defeat becomes much higher. You fall a little bit behind and suddenly there are only so many games you can reverse it. You don't want a situation where one early game sets the course too strongly. So maybe 12 is an ideal compromise. I don't feel it should go any longer.

The one important difference is that earlier the champion retained the title in the event of a tie. The challenger had to at least win one game more. Now you have rapid tiebreaks. How have the dynamics changed?

I think this system is fairer. Essentially the old system kept perpetuating itself on the basis that it was once unfair for the challenger so he should be compensated when he is champion. Almost all the privileges you could justify this way. Once upon a time they justified a rematch on the basis that since I endured one, you'll endure one. At some point you'll have to punish someone unfairly and say you are the first one who will be forced to switch-over. Luckily with the chaos in the world championship which we endured from 1993 to 2006 that system got a bit solved so when everything was reunified you could honestly say, well, end of privileges, you play tiebreaks and it just stayed that way. I think this is essentially a much fairer system. This whole thing of the challenger having to prove that he is superior to the champion, you can argue on the basis of tradition. But tradition also had a first time, and that first time the champion found it hugely convenient.

You mentioned the era of chaos. Do you have any regrets that the bulk of your playing years was in this era?

No, it doesn't get you anywhere. In the years of chaos, I got onto other things, I had some good years. I got on with enjoying chess. In a non-clichéd way I think that's what really it's all about. Maybe that's why my desire in 2007 was so strong. In 2005 also I was motivated but it doesn't always have to happen ia the first instance. But in 2007 I was very motivated and I had a very good year. Maybe there was some pent-up hunger and you just leave it at that. I wouldn't say I never resented it. Maybe in 2002 I resented it a bit. But at some point it stops being an issue, you get used to it and you move on. Maybe a year or so it bothered me.

In an odd sense, you are also a late bloomer. You became unified champion at an age quite different from your predecessors.

It's unusual but then again everything is. Yes, between 2002 and 2005 there was no real chance to play for the title. Even before, 1995 to 1999 there wasn't a convenient way. Groningen – but you had Karpov with all these ridiculous privileges. So there was some time you lost. It pushed me. The second time I became world champion I was 37, which is late. It's just the way it is. I wouldn't say I am a late bloomer. Clearly I came very close to the world title at a much earlier age. That was simply the way it worked out. I became world champion at 30 which isn't too late.

While there has been a lot of attention to the Karjakins and the Caruanas, at the other end of the spectrum you have Ivanchuk and Gelfand. I mean Gelfand won the WorldCup recently beating much younger opponents. Is this just a statistical blip?

I think we are onto something because there is no question that chess is getting very young and that career spans have shortened. I mean already for me, you can safely rule out Korchnoi. There is no question that careers have shortened. Therefore automatically the idea that youth will sweep everything aside is silly. You can see with Ivanchuk, Gelfand and myself that when we are strongly motivated, we are in there with a shot at most things. Also it depends. Do you consider Kramnik, Leko, Topalov to be which generation? They are all in their 30s. If you take all six or seven of us, instead of just three, if you take another group then it's about even between us and all the 20 year olds. I think it's a very interesting period. No doubt the trend is going the other way. Soon careers like Korchnoi, or even players playing upto their 50s is going to become very unusual.

Korchnoi was just playing Spassky. Do you see yourself playing at that age?

I can imagine myself playing for sure. I don't give it too much thought so what kind of event I'll be playing is not clear (laughs). I certainly don't see why I shouldn't play. It should be well within my grounds to play a game of chess. At some point your relationship with the game will evolve also.

In the blitz at Tal, you finished behind Carlsen but took off on the first day, scoring 12/14 without dropping a single game. Were you expecting that?

I would say I was much more pessimistic on the first day, quite optimistic on the second and moderately so on the third. All in all, it seems pessimism is not a bad strategy (laughs). Especially after the last round in Tal, the first day surprised me, that I played so well. After that, there were a couple of stretches where I just lost two or three in a row, then recover a bit, then another two or three in a row. It's clear that its taking a toll on you even if you don't perceive it as such. During the event, I was quite surprised on the 1st day actually, I was much more pessimistic.

In the next part, Anand talks about his match preparation, his assessment of Topalov,
whether he uses psychological tricks, and of course the old question about that "killer instinct".

Copyright Jaideep/ChessBase

Viswanathan Anand: King of Chess on DD TV

Doordarshan, India’s largest television network, will telecast a special documentary on the World Chess Champion, entitled Viswanathan Anand: King of Chess, containing all his major wins including the four World Championship titles which he won in Tehran in 2000, Mexico City 2007, Bonn Germany in 2008 and recently in Sofia in May 2010 where he defeated his challenger GM Veselin Topalov in a grueling 12-game Championship.

DD TV will telecast this documentary, produced by Vijay Kumar, on its various channels, including DD National, DD India, DD Sports and DD Bharati. The first telecast will be on DD National on Thursday 10th June at 09:00hrs, followed by DD Sports Channel on Friday 11th June from 21:30 hrs.

Telecast on DD Sports and DD India will also be available on Free to Air on the PAS 10 satellite in 48 countries of Europe, Middle East and South East Asia.

Download Frequencies on PAS 10 satellite
1. FRE : 4034 Mhz
2. POL : V [ vertical ]
3. FEC : 3/4
4. SR 19.5590 MSPS


NIIT MindChampions’ Academy

The NIIT MindChampions’ Academy (MCA), a not-for-profit initiative has been set up as a joint initiative with Grand Master Viswanathan Anand and NIIT Ltd, with the objective of promoting Chess in schools to enable development of young minds. Studies have shown that Chess improves concentration and diligence, thus helping students perform better academically.

Established in 2002, the Academy has fostered over 7000 Chess clubs with over 8,50,000 students as its members, in schools across the country. GM Viswanathan Anand has personally traveled to Agartala, Guwahati, Hyderbad, Mumbai, New Delhi, Jaipur, Patna, Raipur, Chennai, Hyderbad, Kolkata, Pune and other cities across India, spreading the message and motivating the school students to start playing Chess. NIIT Mind Champions’ Academy conducts an Annual Event around the month of December and January, known as Chess Master for these school children across India in the NIIT network.


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