Indian chess great Viswanathan Anand sees signs of greatness in Nihal Sarin but says it’s a long journey ahead for the impressive 14-year-old since there has been a trend of players struggling to replicate success as they age. Sarin did exceedingly well by forcing a draw with five-time World Champion Anand in the eighth round of the Tata Steel Chess Rapid tournament.
Currently ranked world number one in the U14 category, Sarin finished the rapid section of the tournament with just three points with six draws and three defeats but impressed with the calm manner in which he tackled the pressure of playing some of the biggest stars of the game.
“Going by the evidence so far, I would not rule it out (Nihal becoming a world champion in future). It’s a long journey forward,” Anand told PTI in an interview. “At the end, he is just 14. I felt that he would really struggle in this tournament and he would be a bit out of place. It seemed the opposite. He seemed quite comfortable here. Not fully there, but he’s a huge talent what I’ve seen of him.”
Sarin, who became the 12th-youngest GM in chess a few months back, has a rating of 2576 in classical chess. Impressed with India consistently churning out talented chess players, Anand said it seems there is a “movement” but was baffled what happens to them when they start maturing.
“The problem with young talents is that you have an impression but they outgrow it very fast. I have no idea about what happens 10 years down the line. Not everybody’s growth is going to be linear but we have got enormous depth of talents. Some of them will break through,” Anand said.
Apart from the Thrissur boy Sarin, India also have seen the rapid rise of Chennai’s 13-year-old R Praggnanandhaa who hit the headlines by becoming the second youngest Grandmaster in chess history this year. “I think what we have already is a movement. It’s steadily producing lots and lots of players, and slowly the movement is taking the game of chess forward in India. I’m very happy with the steady growth that we have had.”
Asked if a parallel can be drawn between Sarin and the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, Anand said, “Some results are comparable but Magnus was ahead at this stage. But his (Nihal’s) understand in everything seemed to very high at the moment. But it’s a long journey.” “Magnus was playing amazing things when he was 14. He won the C group when he was 13 and then progressed into the B group and so on.”
Playing white, Sarin opted to play safe and went for Catalan opening against Anand. After a series of exchanges, Sarin had a rook and bishop against Anand’s rook and knight. Anand used his vast experience and defensive skill to salvage a draw with great effort by sacrificing his knight.
“It should be noted that he did not lose a single game with the white pieces. In fact, I don’t even think anyone came close to beating him when he played with white. He impressed me a great deal here,” Anand, playing in India for the first time since losing to Magnus Carlsen in the world championship battle of 2013, said.
“Against me he played a line, which is as solid as it gets. There was not much space for me to try anything. It seemed to me he was dangerous enough and I could not gauge that and it did not work out well,” he recalled about their eighth round exchange on Sunday. “I should have played something else with black but the problem I was not feeling very comfortable. I didn’t know what to aim for.”
Anand, who won his second World Rapid Chess Championship last year, has been struggling for form in speed chess. he endured last-place finishes at St Louis Rapid and blitz meet. “My results have fluctuated much more than I would have liked. Over long stretches, it’s basically I like playing chess. I like studying chess. You just realise that a result here or there does not matter. You keep doing what you have always done — to keep working and to keep learning new things.”
“I’m disappointed but there there comes a time when you have to stop explaining and simply focus on playing chess. One loss you can try to explain it, but if it becomes a pattern, just keep playing hoping that you will comeback.”
Anand however is not giving up and said he still has hopes to fight for sixth world championship title by finishing in the top two of the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia from November 4-30, 2019. The top two finishers of the World Cup qualify for the Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship 2020.
“My focus will again shift to the World Cup. Because that would be the next big event to try to qualify for the Candidates (tournament),” he said.