Vishwanathan Anand on the two C’s in his life: Chess and Carlsen
by Ashish Magotra Dec 29, 2014 10:22 IST

A year ago, it seemed as if Magnus Carlsen might be the reason for Viswanathan Anand to stop playing chess. Carlsen beat him… no, he trashed Anand so soundly in the World Championship match in Chennai that it took the Indian Grandmaster the best part of a month to get over it.

Now, it ironically seems like Carlsen is the reason for Anand to keep playing. The 45-year-old may not say it but for any top player to stay motivated, he needs a challenge and a goal.

The Sochi defeat notwithstanding, Carlsen is that man for Anand.

Firstpost caught up with Anand to discuss among other things the two C’s in his life: chess and Carlsen.

It didn’t seem to hurt as much this time… you recovered well, even went on to win the London Chess Classic after Sochi.

On the chess side, I am really enjoying myself. I had a lot more fun this year than last and I guess that carried forward into Sochi as well. Emotionally, having gone through Chennai — I think I was better prepared in that sense. I had gone through it. Also, at some level there was some satisfaction. I know it could have gone either way – it came down to moments; moments I got wrong. But then I spent quite a lot of time after Chennai… thinking about what I wanted to do. So, in that sense… I was pretty clear that I did not want to sit and dwell too much over this.

Would you say you are a better player now than say in 2008? Is there a hint of nostalgia?

No idea. I would say I had brilliant years in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2005, 2003, 2004 — in that order. But am I better now? It’s hard to say. I am a different player now for sure. Over time, you tend to lose some skills and you compensate in other areas. Maybe in the old days, I was a bit sharper; maybe I would not have made some of the mistakes that I made in Sochi.

Does Carlsen match up well against you? For example, he mentioned it in the press conferences, that he plays well against Berlin and that is an opening you played a lot. Do you get the feeling that he isn’t someone you can beat?

Right now, he is just astounding. I mean he is not just difficult for me. There is no player in the world who can claim to dominate Carlsen and that is a very real assessment. He wins against everyone. So it isn’t just me.

Judit Polgar told the Financial Times, “When I played him, it felt like I was drowning.” Would you agree with that assessment?

Well, it is alright for Judit to say that – she has retired – and that is probably how she feels. But I still hope to beat him, I know I can. There is no point in me getting psychologically beat up. Chennai was tough, Sochi was better. That counts as improvement in my book and for the moment, I want to only look at things from that perspective.

He sleeps, he yawns, he stretches, he fidgets, he makes faces… and he still wins. How intimidating is it to play Carlsen?

I also close my eyes during matches — I have done it many times in the match. I have yawned too — sometimes when you are concentrating very hard for a while, you yawn. The tension is high and all of that happens. But all of that… doesn’t matter. What matters is that at the end of all that, he makes good moves. His mannerisms don’t amount to much and they are certainly not his weapons. Intimidation doesn’t matter if you can’t back it up with the right moves. That is what Carlsen does. There are no big mistakes and to do that consistently is very difficult.

The record is unbelievable. He has been at over 2860 plus ELO rating points for a long time now and he has maintained that rating with ease. It is the kind of rating that many people will never achieve and even in this lot, it is only Caruana who is close. So is he the most formidable player ever? That is hard to answer but in the current generation no one comes close.

What is it like to sit opposite Carlsen? What goes through your mind at that point?

Well, it is only in the last two years that he has started to win against me. I had a score of 6-1 against him earlier. So my recollection of those meetings was not too much; not too difficult. But now against him, I just get the feeling that I play much worse than I can — for no real reason. I come away thinking I could have won that. I get close and then the result hinges on a particular move or two. It is probably the worst feeling you can walk away with. And that is how I felt after Sochi too.

What is the future for Berlin Opening? Will you persist with it?

Well, the Berlin Opening is a very popular opening at the moment and to be fair, it did work. Most of the times, I was in a good position after the opening but it went away after that. It might sound like the wrong thing to say but some of the losses were unnecessary; avoidable. I still think about the 2nd and 11th game and can’t believe how I played.

This is slightly off tangent. But during the World Championship, a lot of people following the match were doing so with the help of an engine. Is that good or is that bad?

It’s great at one level. It gives you some insight and an idea of what the GM may be looking to do. But if you are someone who has played a few tournaments and plays chess well, he should try to experience the tensions that the players are under. And for that you need to follow without the computer. It’s like watching a tennis match on television. We watch the players make a mistake and go ‘I could have done that as well.’ But the moment you try and hit one of the shots yourself, you realise that it isn’t as easy as it looks. That different perspective can help. But I am not complaining — follow it as you will as long as you will follow it.

What plans for 2015? The world championship is only going to take place in 2016 now. That is a long time away

Well for starters, I am not thinking about retirement. I have been going around the country and in every press conference, they have asked me whether I am retiring. It is almost as if they have all gone and googled the question. But they haven’t googled my answer. I am not going anywhere. I am feeling good about my chess and in the next year, I am going to play a lot of chess. There are other tournaments than the World Championship and I want to go out there and enjoy myself. That is my plan… my only plan for now.


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