Calcutta: On Saturday, just over a week after losing the world title to Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, a five-time champion, spoke to The Telegraph from his Chennai residence for over half-an-hour.
Anand sounded pretty relaxed and didn’t make excuses.
Q Is the defeat a thing of the past or does it continue to gnaw at you?
A The process of getting over it is underway... It already feels much more than a week or so and I’m grateful to so many who sent messages of encouragement, tried to lift my spirits... That helped enormously.
But it must be tough for somebody not used to losing. Your thoughts?
(Emotionally) It definitely hurts... To lose the world title hurts a lot, really. In a way, the Chennai final will remain a milestone in my career, though not a positive one.
I assume you’ve fallen back on the family support system, particularly wife Aruna...
Most definitely... It already feels so much better than November 22 (when Carlsen dethroned him). I’ve been spending a lot of time with my son, Akhil, and that has taken my mind off the defeat. After weeks and months, the tension is over.
You apologised to fans. Was it a spontaneous gesture?
I couldn’t have just walked away, after all the support. I’d been touched by the fans’ affection and good wishes and I owed them something. The best that I could do, in the circumstances, was to apologise.
Is there an easy answer to what went wrong against Carlsen?
I don’t think you or I will ever completely know what went wrong, so there’s no easy answer... I’d prepared hard, but my strategy didn’t work, that’s the simple truth. I didn’t get a grasp on Carlsen... In the lead-up, I had a picture of the person I’d be up against, but the person across the board turned out to be very different. You could say I overestimated my ability to cope with Carlsen or that I underestimated him. Depends how you look at it. Having said that, I’m still happy that India hosted a world championship final.
So, some years down the line, you may not have unpleasant memories...
The event itself was very well organised and I must thank the Tamil Nadu government and chief minister Jayalalithaa... It was great to see parents come with their young ones... I remembered the times my mother would take me around... Who knows, a future world champion may have watched it live... The result notwithstanding, the world championship final was a big deal for chess in India.
Chennai as the venue... Was it an advantage or were there distractions for obvious reasons?
I’m not making excuses and I’m certainly not blaming Chennai. Carlsen’s strategy worked and he deserves to be complimented... Looking back, I managed myself quite well and was in my zone... I wasn’t disturbed (at a Hyatt Regency property) and I quite liked the atmosphere. It was at the press conferences that I probably felt a little awkward.
Many believe you weren’t as aggressive as you could have been. Is that a fair criticism?
I couldn’t draw out Carlsen, which is a fact... It’s not that I didn’t have a strategy, but it wasn’t up to scratch or my execution wasn’t right... Over the years, some issues have come up with my game... People have said I should have been more aggressive, well, I’d like to know how.
Is chess all about tactics only or the psychological element is significant too?
But tactics and psychology are inter-connected, you can’t separate the two.
Chess isn’t a physical game. Yet, can age be a factor, with a younger opponent enjoying an advantage?
Age is undoubtedly a factor. I didn’t make it an issue, for I couldn’t change my age (43)! Increasingly, the average age in chess is dropping. In the present times, you won’t have a situation like in 1981, when Viktor Korchnoi was 50-plus when he challenged Anatoly Karpov for the world title in Merano, Italy... Computers and data bases have all been playing their part.
How do you rate Carlsen, who is no older than 23?
Carlsen holds the highest-ever rating (2872 Elo points) and his record speaks for itself. There’s not much for me to add. It’s up to him where he goes from here.
The vibes between the two of you seemed rather cold. Any particular reason why?
I guess the pressure of a world championship final changed our body language... We’d been fine till about a year or so back, but with both coveting the same title, we distanced ourselves (from each other).
Garry Kasparov was there in Chennai. Did his presence irk you?
I didn’t pay much attention.
[Kasparov had been rather unkind towards Anand in the midst of his 2012 world championship final, in Moscow, against Boris Gelfand.]
Going forward, what are your plans?
I’ll be off to London in a few days, for a rapid event (Super Sixteen, at the London Chess Classic). Getting back on the board will help erase memories of the loss to Carlsen quicker. After that, I’ll take a break and give the future some thought. However, I have no plans to retire.
After five world titles, are you still hungry? Haven’t you achieved just about everything?
I’ll have to find that something to look forward to, but after a break, which will be used to assess things. There are times when one needs to get away.
A contemporary from another discipline, Sachin Tendulkar, has retired. Did you, even remotely, keep track of his last Test?
I was very focused on the final, but I’m aware Sachin got the send-off he deserved... It’s nice that he left on his terms and in front of his home crowd. What more would a sportsman ask for? I’ve always admired Sachin for having kept the flame alive for so long (24 years).
What have the wins and the defeats taught you?
Both teach you humility... After putting in the hard work, it’s nice to get the result you want. If you don’t, you’ve to remember that you’ve only been playing chess. Indeed, that there’s more to life than wins and defeats.
To what extent does destiny come into play?
I’m aware that there are a few things beyond my control.
When do we see you next in Calcutta?
(Laughs) Next year, definitely.
The final one... Did you sleep well on the night of November 22?
I did sleep reasonably well and woke up thinking that there are other things in life... That life has to go on... Actually, it was after the fifth game, which I lost, that I didn’t sleep well that night... That win put Carlsen ahead and he won two more games. Hard as it was, I was mentally somewhat prepared that it could get over... The trend was known (after the fifth game).