|Viswanathan Anand in the final round of the World Chess Championship in Mexico on Saturday. (AFP)
Sept. 30: Viswanathan Anand last night became the world’s first undisputed chess champion since Garri Kasparov 14 years ago, but appeared to wonder if his countrymen realised how big the achievement was.
The world No. 1, who had just won his second world championship in seven years, was asked if he expected the same reception in India as the one given to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Twenty20 team.
“Yes, I heard about it. It would be interesting to see what kind of reception I get when I come to India by the end of October,” PTI quoted the Chennai-born player as saying at the tournament venue, Mexico City.
“But my friends from chess would certainly be there as always. Here (in Mexico) everyone understood the importance of this event…. You can imagine how I feel.”
Anand, 37, had won his first world championship in 2000, but the chess world had already been split by Kasparov who walked out of the official body, Fide, in 1993 and formed a rebel association. The two rival bodies unified last year, enhancing the value of this year’s title.
“Being the undisputed world champion is a relief…. I am the absolute world champion,” Anand said.
Indian Chess Federation secretary D.V. Sundar said the reception for Anand was yet to be planned, but it should be similar to the welcome he had received after his first world title.
An open carriage, drawn by a decked-out horse, had driven him the last few hundred yards to his home in Chennai before cheering fans — a far cry from the cricketers’ airport-to-stadium victory parade on Wednesday.
“Vishy (rang us) at 1.20am,” mother Susheela said in Chennai. “In a choked voice, he said ‘Amma, I have won’.”
Anand, who retains his No. 1 ranking achieved in April, has now crossed the prestigious Elo rating of 2800 for the second time in his career.
Just three other players — Russia’s Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik and Bulgarian Veselin Topalov — have ever crossed 2800, with the retired Kasparov holding the record of 2851, achieved in 1999-2000.
The Indian replaces Kramnik as world champion, winning the tournament on points after tying with Hungarian Peter Leko on the 14th day of a contest he dominated from the start.
He was the only undefeated player in the tournament, scoring four wins and 10 draws, and with three rounds remaining needed only draws to lay his hands on the $390,000 (Rs 1.55 crore) winner’s cheque.
“As my win was quite sure with three rounds to go, people were already coming to me and congratulating me, which was making me uncomfortable, a kind of jinx,” he said while it was still Saturday in Mexico.
“It came quite easy, obviously…. It dawned on me yesterday that I was going to win it, but still I had to come and finish the work today.”
His father Viswanathan said: “We are very happy. It is a proud moment for us and India.”
Anand became the country’s first grandmaster at 16 and won the world junior title in 1989. “He has been our one-man army,” national chess body secretary Sundar said.
The country has showered him with official awards. Anand won the first Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna — India’s highest sporting honour — in 1991. At 17, he became the youngest ever Padma Shri and then received the Padma Bhushan, too.
Some other non-cricketing champions, however, have been left feeling bitter by the “discrimination” in favour of cricketers.
Yesterday, world billiards title-holder Pankaj Advani refused the Karnataka government’s Ekalavya sports award, given to 82 men and women, saying it was “too little, too late”.
Earlier this week, Asia Cup-winning hockey players had threatened a hunger-strike against what they saw as the government’s bias in rewarding cricketers and ignoring the rest.