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‘I am still learning’

He became India’s first Grandmaster way back in 1988 at the age of 18. Now,at 39,he is perhaps India’s one genuine world champion no one can criticise.


June 17, 2009 1:19:46 am

He became India’s first Grandmaster way back in 1988 at the age of 18. Now,at 39,he is perhaps India’s one genuine world champion no one can criticise. He has won the World Championships in every format,defeated every player he’s played against in world chess,been the world number one for almost two years and stubbornly remained among the top three in the world for an amazing 12 years — from 1996 to September 2008.

He’s also won every possible award— the Arjuna,the Padma Shri,the Padma Vibhushan,the Khel Ratna,the chess Oscars (five times).

Viswanathan Anand,though,considers himself still a work in progress. “I am trying several new things this year,I am still working on them,learning new things — it’s all still a work in progress,” he said on the sidelines of a function in the Capital where he simultaneously played against eight kids across six cities,shortlisted from over 7000.

Playing eight games at the same time may be kid’s play for Anand,who once played against more than 30 people simultaneously,but the soft-spoken champion is all grit when it comes to his passion. And he admits it with nonchalance.

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“I am absolutely paranoid of the fact that my mind may go wandering and that affects concentration and your game. I am fanatical about it and that’s why I usually isolate myself with my chess before a major tournament,like I did before the world championship in Bonn (in 2008). It’s absolutely essential to be completely focused,” he said.

It is this focus and passion for his game that continues to make him,not only stand out in a growing crowd of chess players world over,but also compete successfully against much younger opponents. Contrary to popular perception,chess is not just a mind game but also a test of your physical conditioning. But Anand feels age has nothing to do with performance in chess.

“I find it strange that I can be the best at 38 and then at 39,I am close to my downslide,” he laughed,when asked to react to former rival Russian GM Gary Kasparov’s comments that Anand would not be able to hold on to the world title for long due to advancing age.

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He also has his sense of humour intact. Asked if he preferred playing longer games or short ones,he said it was relative. “If you are in a good position,you don’t mind a game going into 30-40 moves. If you are struggling,you just want it to get over,either way,” he said with a laugh.

There was more to come. Anand recounted an interesting incident during his recent rapid chess match Hungarian Peter Leko (which he won). “Leko was Kramnik’s second at Bonn,so I was kind of continuing from there. I had prepared the Grunfeld opening against him and thought it would be a new thing but we were both shocked to realise that Leko also had prepared the same openings for me,with either colour. It was an absolute coincidence that rarely happens. In fact,I late found out that he had planned for that move at the same time when I was thinking of it at home. Absolute coincidence!”

Anand next plays in Mainz,followed by the world championships in Zurich,the Tal memorial in Moscow and Corsica masters.

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First published on: 17-06-2009 at 01:19:46 am

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