World chess champion Anand believes the game is more competitive than ever. He’s now helping athletes in other sports hone their competitive streak.
The list of distinguished gentlemen at the top of world ratings given by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) is an indicator of two phenomena Viswanathan Anand speaks of. There’s little separating the players in rating points and at least one player in the top five was born in each of the last four decades, giving the competition unique variety.
Anand (2817 rating), Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 2815), Levon Aronian (Armenia, 2808), Vladimir Kramnik (Russia, 2785) and Vassily Ivanchuk (Ukraine, 2779) occupy the first five slots in the March list. Anand and Ivanchuk are the oldest at 41; Kramnik was born in 1975, Aronian in 1982, and Carlsen in 1990.
Anand says it’s never been more competitive at the top, with players bringing in a range of skills that are a combination of the modern and the experienced.
“There are three people within 3-4 points of each other chasing the No. 1 spot,” says Anand, who will play the Melody Amber Chess in Monaco starting 11 March and the Leon Masters against Alexei Shirov in June. “Most tournaments are heavily contested, you have three- or four-way ties. When I go to tournaments, I am never the favourite—there is no single favourite. You are forced to fight for every game. That may be one of the big changes in chess.”
He calls it the “democratization” of chess, a sporting revolution, if you like, brought about by the Internet that ensures people don’t have to be born in Moscow to succeed, as used to be the case some years ago. It’s the second phenomenon Anand mentions. Players like him, Ivanchuk and Boris Gelfand (No. 16, 2733) come from a generation that was not born into computers; they had to adapt. “We had to start using them in our late teens and get on to the bandwagon,” says Anand. “Then you have Carlsen, who has never known chess without computers. So the perspective is different.”
“Gelfand once said our generation understood from experience and the knowledge from interacting with a great generation of chess players before us. Though we adapted to computers, we also bring some old knowledge and experience and we use that to stay competitive,” says Anand. “You have to keep up with this new technology, keep evolving as a chess player, and if that process is fascinating, it’s fun in itself. Overall, technology has been positive and helps spread the game. But every player has to learn how to handle this flood of information, which we are drowning into, like in every walk of life.”
Anand got his third world championship in Sofia, Bulgaria, last summer, beating Veselin Topalov 6.5 to 5.5 points for the €1.2 million (around Rs7.5 crore) winner’s prize. He earlier held the FIDE World Chess Championship from 2000 to 2002, when the world title was split. He became the undisputed world champion in 2007 and defended his title against Kramnik in 2008. Anand will next defend it in 2012 against a challenger chosen from a candidate tournament in May this year.
“I still enjoy playing and winning. I don’t feel like just because I won the world’s (title) that the well of motivation is drying up,” says Anand, of the kind of experience and expertise he hopes to bring to his new role as a mentor for the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ).
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