Vishy Anand: in pursuit of excellence (2)

by Priyadarshan Banjan
11/27/2015 – Louis Philippe, a premier Indian men’s apparel brand, has a show hosted by an Indian tennis legend, Vijay Amritraj. In it famous personalities discuss their journey to reach the top of their profession. Last week we brought you part one of a very profound interview Vijay conducted with former World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand. Today you can enjoy the second part.

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Vishy Anand: in pursuit of excellence (2)

Louis Philippe presents an annual talk show ‘In Pursuit of Excellence’ that is into its second year. Louis Philippe is a premier Indian men’s apparel brand, and in this show it interviews Indian icons across a varied number of fields, discussing their journey to reach the top of their profession. Into its second season, the show hosted by Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj featured former World Champion Vishy Anand in the latest episode.

The host of the show, Vijay Amritraj, is a former World No. 16 in tennis. Amritraj has been an Indian legend in his own right – he has beaten names such as Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, among others. After retiring from tennis in 1993, Amritraj had a brief acting career as well. He played the role of an MI6 agent in the famous James Bond movie Octopussy, appeared in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as the starship captain, etc.

The first part of this interveiw was provided last week.

The video is 39 minutes long. We take up the interview at 20m 45s.

Anand is asked by Vijay Amritraj about his toughest opponents, the ones he has had most difficulties dealing with. Anand admits that in the recent past it has been Carlsen. “You can divide chess into the pre-computer era and the post-computer era, because the effect of chess has been that strong. The thing about a lot of modern players is that they have grown up with nothing but the computer. As a result, it heavily influences their style, whether they are trying to use it, or trying to avoid it. Carlsen represents this new way of playing chess. In that, he is tactically very accurate. Subconsciously, the computer’s accuracy has rubbed off a bit on him. It is important to see the right moves, but it is also important to know that you have seen the right moves and to stop – he combines that very well.”

1988: Anand working on an Atari with ChessBase, two years before Magnus Carlsen was born

Twenty years later, at the Rapid Chess World Championship in Mainz, 2008

When talking about players from his generation, Anand pointed out that Kasparov, followed by Kramnik and Topalov are the opponents he has had trouble dealing with. On Kasparov, Anand commented, “He knew how to organize his work, and work on it systematically. You could see this in both his preparation and at the board – he had his way to solve problems. He was straightforward, but hard to counter. The one person who drove him nuts was Kramnik.”

Teaming up with Kasparov, Carlsen, Kramnik during the World Championship 2010

“That was one of the strangest things I have experienced.” Anand says. “It wasn’t all arranged before, it kind of just happened there. I would say it is a mixture of motives – mixture of reasons why they did it. With Kasparov, as it turned out, he wanted me to help him with his elections, which he was going to be in later. He would call occasionally, usually on Skype, and then just ask if I needed any suggestions or directions. We would send him a list of problems and he would check against his notes and respond. It was definitely helpful and having an old rival on your side is a boost.”

Anand also revealed how his friendship with Kramnik has blossomed over the years. Last year, after Anand won the Candidates Tournament, it came to light that Kramnik played a role in motivating Anand to continue playing. However, as Anand spoke to Vijay, it became clearer that their friendship is not only to the extent of motivating each other. “The real surprise to me was Kramnik. I think there are three different reasons: One is he had slightly testy relations with Topalov, actually quite bad relations. I don’t think though that he was motivated by revenge only. I think that for him, it was a bonus. Second thing is we were good friends, but again I don't think that’s the full reason. What happened was that I started to play his repertoire against Topalov. For some reason, I decided that his match-strategy against Topalov was perfect, so I almost copied it. However, I was not doing it very well! I think, he just thought: ‘I am not going to take this anymore; I am going to call him and tell him how to do this properly!’ So, some of these endgames (in his repertoire), he saw that I had not picked up on all the details. So he called me and offered to help, and he gave us a couple of directions to work in for the first time. Then, we sent him back our impressions. Always, even in areas you are very good at, if you let other people have a look, they will have interesting impressions – you know if you are right or wrong, but they will point you in new directions. We started to look at them.”

Kramnik turned into a de facto second for Anand. “My routine was: I would sit with the team from the time my game finished till about 11.00 or 11.30, and then I would go to sleep, and come back the next morning to see the final results. The team would often work through the night, so they would work till all the problems are solved – this could be till 2 o’ clock, 3 o’clock, sometimes even till 5 o’clock in the morning, and then they would catch some sleep while I played. A couple of days later I would come and see that actually Kramnik had been skyping with us the whole night! Now, that is the level of commitment that is unheard of – I mean, I can very often imagine myself, if someone asked me for a bit of a help, I would stop by and spend a few minutes, but this… In fact, I have been so grateful to him that I would count him now as one of my closest friend in the world of chess. It is in fact the first time that we were interacting so deeply, and I got to know him well.

Even Carlsen played a role in helping Anand in the title match in 2010. “You can include even Carlsen a little bit into this – he was not working for us in the match, but before the match, he offered to be my sparring partner for a few days, just to train me. Unfortunately, this gave him more insights into me then I would have liked! But I also got some insights into him.”

Age, physical stamina and thinking process

Anand feels that age is always a factor in the background. The things he was able to do easily before suddenly become relatively tough. He does a lot a physical training, which he feels is very important. Anand said, “When you are sitting there, you need clarity, and for that, you need your brain to be working well without tiring. Everything is muddled the moment you tire out as you start to have doubts.

All that said and done, Anand feels that the most important thing about playing good chess is the familiarity with the game. “You think you may rely on all the stuff you have learnt so far. What I have discovered is that, in a problem which used to be solved in a certain way, even if I solved it effortlessly before, if the way you solved it has evolved a bit and there are a couple of new twists, that unsettles you, and you would have to go through that drill again. I am not learning something I have never heard about before, there are enough tweaks that I have to apply my mind to and get familiar with. Our understanding of the game is also changing and improving. The way we do things keeps evolving, and we need to constantly brush up on that because you don’t want to waste time at the board solving problems that have already been solved. You want to keep your head as fresh as possible for problems that you might have not solved before where you need to apply your full creativity.”

Vishy receiving the winner's trophy for winning the Palani Tournament in 1985

Chennai, 2013

It was a big moment for India when the World Championship Match came to Chennai in 2013. For the most part of Anand’s career, he has always been playing outside India, in the crucial tournaments. When the match was allotted to Chennai, Anand was thrilled – he wanted his hometown to see one big event to understand what chess is.

However, he expressed displeasure over his form during the match. “It is one of the worst matches I have played, it coincided with difficulties with my form,” Anand said to Vijay Amritraj. After the match, he worked hard to get over the phase and recover his zing. “I was working very hard before too, but somehow, it seemed to be misdirected – I was not benefiting from it. Subsequently, it has gone a bit smoother. It is a bit of regret that when the big moment came to Chennai, I was not able to play the way I would have liked,” Anand said.

4538 vishyanand

Vishy has been an astronomy buff since childhood. In the interview, he says that he caught the bug after reading Carl Sagan’s book Cosmos, and the interest grew steadily over time as he discussed the possibilities that abound in the universe with his parents and siblings.

Vishy talked about his love for astrophotography where he briefly explained his hobby of using the ‘I-telescope’ to have a look at astronomical images of the night sky.

As reported earlier this year, Vishy said he was pleasantly surprised when it came to light that he has a planet named after him! Michael Rudenko, who is a committee member at the Minor Planets Center, was invited to propose a name for the unnamed planet. Rudenko, who is a chess buff, immediately thought of Vishy and proposed the name, which was accepted by the committee. The story went viral after we published it.

A message to the young chess players

Vijay Amritraj concluded the talk by asking Vishy to give a message to aspiring chessplayers and sportsmen on making sports a career. Vishy has an objective view of the subject. He said, “Don’t rush that thought too much. I mean, it is very nice to dream of being a professional, but there is no need to make the decision early. Just play your sport for fun, try to get better at it. Try to attain targets just for the fun of it. There is deep satisfaction in setting a goal and attaining it after a while. Don’t give up school or take harsh decisions very early. A point will come when you can make it in a more relaxed manner.”

Insightfully, he added, “The titles and the fame might be glamorous, but the actual grind might not be. Something that you enjoy thoroughly as a hobby might not be something you are obliged to do.”

Defining moment in the pursuit of excellence

Sport is a pursuit of excellence and a chess player is akin to a boxer – only the punches are felt in the inside, rather than on the outside. For Anand, the defining moment in the pursuit of excellence is the moment when he gets to the board. “The whole morning before a game, I often am tense and worried the whole time. I think of all the things that could happen, etc. That is when I don’t have much control. However, I keep reminding myself, when I get to the board, I will calm down. Funnily enough, when I get to the board, I do calm down, because there is no way back. This is the moment the game starts and I start to relax. The whole morning has worn me down, and it is just liberating to get to the board and realize that I might stop worrying about all the things that might happen and deal with the one that does.

According to Vishy, that moment is very important. “For me, the pursuit of excellence is about staying calm and knowing that most of the things you worry about won’t happen.”

My Career vol. 1+2

by Viswanathan Anand

born in 1969, acclaimed as the fastest brain in the world, is the fifteenth World Champion. Experts rate him as one of the biggest natural talents in the history of the game. In March 2007 he reached the number one spot on the world ranking lists. In September 2007 Anand won the World Championship for the second time in his career when in Mexico he became the undisputed World Chess Champion, ending a schism in the chess world which had lasted for many years. He defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008 and also against Veselin Topalov in 2010. If his talent as a rapid chess player is legendary, his records in classical chess have been superlative. In January 2006 he became the only player in the tournament's 70-year history to win the Corus Chess event five times (1989, 1998, 2003, 2004 and 2006). He has won the Linares Super Tournament twice (1998 and 2007), the Dortmund GM three times (1996, 2000 and 2004), and countless other important events like, Madrid Masters, Biel, etc.

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Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.


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