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India now Grandmaster of chess, says Viswanathan Anand

'When I became the Grandmaster the scenario was different. Technology did not have that much of a presence. Now it has a huge impact'

By Angshuman Roy in Calcutta
  • Published 9.08.19, 2:21 AM
  • Updated 9.08.19, 2:21 AM
  • 3 mins read
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Viswanathan Anand Telegraph file picture

Sixtyfour. That’s the number of Grandmasters India now have in the game of sixtyfour squares. “It’s a sweet number if you ask me,” Viswanathan Anand, India’s first Grandmaster and the man who gave chess a new dimension, told The Telegraph on Thursday from Chennai.

“The fierce competition among these young kids like Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, D. Gukesh, Prithu Gupta to name a few is driving them to reach higher goals. For them the sky is the limit. Indian chess is seeing a revolution. It’s a good ecosystem we have now and that’s why we are reaping the benefits.

“When I became the Grandmaster the scenario was different. Technology did not have that much of a presence. Now it has a huge impact,” Anand said.

Anand spends time with his younger colleagues, sometimes inviting them to his house to play chess and discuss notes. “Well I try to interact with them whenever I find time. I won’t say I am the guiding figure but yes it gives a great feeling exchanging notes with these brilliant young minds. I do organise training camps for budding chess players,” he said.

Vladimir Kramnik recently said the strongest generation of players is coming from India. Anand sought to put that in perspective: “These days so many Indians send their entries for tournaments that players of other countries avoid those meets. This is a very significant development. It’s like those days after USSR got disintegrated… Suddenly there was a glut of players coming from there participating in tournaments. We are witnessing something similar now. Kramnik must have said keeping that in mind.”

Of the 64 Grandmasters, 23 are from Tamil Nadu — 10 from one school in Chennai. Is it because of the Anand effect? “Tamil Nadu has a history of producing chess players from the days of Manuel Aaron. In fact India had four International Masters at one point in time and all of them from Chennai. What has happened is there is a sort of revolution and it’s happening very fast. I feel very proud when I see so many youngsters taking up the game,” the five-time world champion said.

Anand has played both against Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen. How do the two superstars from two generations compare? “Carlsen is a classic case of where incredible talent can take you to. When it comes to endgames nobody of this generation is better than him. That’s giving him so much success now. His endgame has rattled everyone and nobody is being able to follow or copy that. He is in great form right now. He has kept on developing his game and his chess is expanding every hour. His opening preparation now is the best. And to think of it a couple of years back he was avoiding his opening game,” Anand said.

And Kasparov? “He is also someone similar to Carlsen. Exceptionally talented and a super mind reader. Actually it’s very difficult to compare two legends of two generations,” he said.

Bobby Fischer is someone Anand is a big fan of. “He came for a very short period. He realised his potential, fought his own demons.”

Anand, Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes. The 90s saw these three grabbing headlines day in and day out. “Okay in my case everything I was doing was a first. I was in a very good space and things were happening very fast. I was able to expand my horizon, constantly telling myself to rise above the script. Sachin also was doing something similar with Indian cricket. He was also part of a process. The hunger to succeed egged him on. Leander if you ask me was out of the world with his tennis. The bronze medal in Atlanta, his partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi and so many memorable Davis Cup matches. I think we three tried to redefine the idea of sport.”

And what about his favourite Real Madrid? “We must get Neymar... But I do not know what’s the status. Last season wasn’t good. Lost to Ajax in the Champions League. But that’s okay I think. I am not ready to lose my sleep over one bad season after three in row.”