The ingredients of Anand’s success story

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The Viswanathan Anand juggernaut keeps rolling. His opponents have run out of ideas. The phone at his parents’ residence works overtime and the door gets a knock every half-an-hour. Journalists are in search of new superlatives. This man must be Sergei Bubka in disguise, as he keeps raising the bar.

What are the ingredients of the Anand’s success story? “I never tire of winning, but I’m really tired after winning my fourth title,” Anand told this newspaper from Sofia on Wednesday. His comment only highlighted the exacting demands of a seemingly simple game. Chess at the highest level is like heavyweight boxing without punches. Despite being a mind game, chess can leave its practitioners drained. After all, the brain is the most finicky part of the human body.
Age was on Veselin Topalov’s side. At 40, Anand was five years older than his challenger. The Bulgarian was higher rated and hungrier, reasoned some. Playing at his opponent’s home was a disadvantage, a few pundits pointed out. The volcanic ash at Iceland also played its part in making the job tougher for Anand. Cancellation of flights from Frankfurt forced him to opt for an adventurous 40-hour road trip to Sofia.
Nothing mattered in the end for the champion as he successfully defended his title with a cracking win in the final round. The fourth world crown was sealed in style. There is unanimity in the chess community that the 12th game was a thriller.
Where does Anand go from here? He has won world titles in all conceivable formats (knock-out, tournament and one-on-one series), held the No. 1 ranking, demonstrated his adeptness at classical/rapid and nailed six chess Oscars. The man who triggered the chess wave in India is in a league of his own. In a country where sportspersons fall in love with their achievements rather too easily and the fear of failure is rampant, Anand’s perpetual search for challenges is like a blast of fresh air.
Grandmaster R.B. Ramesh says Anand’s drive to excel is “extraordinary”. “I thought he would find it tough to beat Topalov because of the age difference. But he gained confidence as the series progressed to pull off a magnificent result. Anand’s achievements have remarkable lessons for chess players in India,” he adds.
According to Manuel Aaron, India’s first international master, Anand has his best years ahead of him. “If you ask me, a chess player reaches his peak in the age bracket of 40 to 45. Anand hasn’t lost his competitive edge even after playing chess at the top level for more than two decades. It proves his professional approach to the game,” he points out.
The world champion doesn’t believe in complaints and conspiracy theories. Anand’s father Viswanathan stresses the fact that his son is never afraid of taking on challenges. “If he is in a spot of bother, he will only try to find a solution. He loves challenges that look insurmountable at the outset,” he says.
V. Kameswaran, India’s first international arbiter, says Anand is driven by his love for the game. “Money and results don’t matter to Anand anymore. Both have saturation points. But his love for the game has no boundaries.
“Chess fascinates Anand. That is why I believe he will continue to play the game, if not competitively, even when he is 80 years old. Anand is blessed with unbelievable memory. He has got such an inquisitive and sharp mind that he would have excelled in any other field. India is lucky that chess is Anand’s calling,” he adds.
Kameswaran was Anand’s first official coach. “The signs of greatness were conspicuous even when he was 14 years old. I accompanied him to Finland for the world junior championship in 1983 and the probing questions Anand used to ask me then are fresh in my mind. I was with Anand when he won his maiden international title at London a few days later,” he recalls.
To say that Anand revolutionised chess in India is to bleed an already tottering cliché. No individual has had a similar impact on any other sport in the country. Not even Sachin Tendulkar who may be the most popular Indian sportsperson at the moment. Cricket had picked up steam in the country even before the arrival of Tendulkar. The emergence of Anand, on the other hand, is the defining moment in the history of Indian chess. Full stop.

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