Roger Federer has been an inspiration, says Viswanathan Anand after World Championships win
At a time, when most of his peers, even juniors, have announced retirement and enjoying the leisurely time of their lives, maybe in a farmhouse or taking up a coaching job, multiple-time former world champion Viswanathan Anand was busy doing what he is best at -- playing chess and winning World Championships.
At 48, Anand seemed to be turning back the clock as he won the World Rapid Chess Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a stunning fashion, besides claiming the bronze in the Blitz event. En route to his Rapid title, Anand even exacted revenge of his 2013 Worlds title loss against old nemesis Margus Carlsen of Norway, defeating the World No. 1 in the ninth match.
The title, his second in the format after 2003, was sort of a hit back at his critics, who have clamoured for his retirement following his poor form. However, Anand said he doesn’t think of his critics all the time.
"I am just happy for myself," was the honest reply.
"I played well, didn’t commit unnecessary mistakes. But my results surprised me. My expectations were more moral coming into the event here,” elaborated Anand, when asked if his title win surprised him.
Anand’s last World title came in 2012 when he defeated Boris Gelfand before Carlsen dethroned him the following year. Thus the Riyadh title was 'special', very much like his Candidates tournament title in 2014, which earned him a rematch against the reigning world champion Carlsen.
The past few months have been kind of frustrating for Anand with disappointing finishes when he even missed out on challenging Carlsen yet again at the Candidates tournament.
“Emotionally, I would rate the Candidates title win in 2014 on top. In fact, both wins came at a time when I was feeling low and my confidence was sort of zero. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong and was wondering when I would step out of it. And you get these fantastic results.
“The hard work you're going to do; you have to do it anyway. But it’s always nice to do it with some wins in your kitty,” remarked the chess genius from Chennai.
In an interview with Sportskeeda, Anand spoke on a wide range of topics including his emotional win in Riyadh, Roger Federer, wife Aruna and his target for 2018.
Here are some excerpts from the our conversation with him:
Q: A Worlds title after 2012, how does it feel?
A: It’s amazing, first of all, because the time it took and secondly in many high-profile rapid events, I struggled recently. In fact, I was quite shocked. I kept on asking myself that how could a format which I once used to dominate, how come I have forgotten to play.
When I went there because of my recent form, I wasn’t that confident. I was hopeful for a good result but to win the competition, that too beating (Magnus) Carlsen and be unbeaten, it was too good.
Q: Where would you rate this title in your glittering cabinet of Worlds titles?
A: After winning and losing titles, I strongly feel I should treasure all of them. I have learned not to take these things for granted. When you have failures, you realize that you don’t have any choice.
You have to feel grateful for every success you have achieved in your career. Having said that, this win came at such an unexpected moment and in a pleasant way, this one will be special for some time.
Q: What did you try differently or do during the course of the Riyadh tournament?
A: I remember in my previous events, I was losing my focus during the waiting time in between my rounds. I wanted to use the break doing something productive. So I carried my computer with me, which I normally don’t do. I don’t like to carry anything with me and then worry about it. But this time, I decided to carry it and study my moves, be in the rhythm. I just didn’t want to sit around and wait for someone to talk to. I think this worked.
Q: What was the key to your win?
A: I think being able to defeat (Alexander) Grischuk was the key. He is very good in this format and the win over him, took me to tied first place. But of course, you can’t dismiss the result (win) against the highest-rated player in the world (Magnus) Carlsen. He was more than 100 points above me, so the win was important. It boosted my confidence.
Q: What has been your inspiration all these years that kept you going and still winning?
A: Basically what kept me in chess is that I like playing the sport. I find it challenging. Of course sometimes you look for other inspiration, like when your fans are there cheering and are happy because you did well. When you understand that what you're doing means a lot to the people, your family, and friends, it helps.
Also, you see parallels like Roger Federer, whom people were predicting that he is growing old and he can’t win again. But then he went on to win two Grand Slams. You understand that life is full of surprises. It makes the impossible slightly less impossible.
Also, I have noticed how they do it. Whenever these players win tournaments, in their explanation they say ‘we decided to do something new’ -- new strokes or tactics. You realize that part of it and think that you can do the same.
Q: Your target for 2018?
A: Broadly speaking, I like to do well in tournaments I take part in. I have got a calendar of tournaments coming up, like in about 10 days. I am playing in Holland, then the Grenke Classic in Germany and Norway. My ratings have fallen a bit behind, but now that my ratings in Rapid and Blitz have gone up, I am motivated to do well in Classic also.
Q: On Magnus Carlsen, what makes him so invincible?
A: He is definitely a good player and his style is unique, so people occasionally come close to figuring it ou,t but it’s really very difficult. In rapid, we are able to contain but in Blitz, he breaks free.
He is very strong psychologically. So even if he has fallen behind in tournaments, he comes back strong, pushes hard. And that’s why I am happy to beat him in Rapid. For me. I have always been quite fond of Rapid Chess.
Q. What role has your wife Aruna played in your success?
A: We are like a team. She used to travel with me for every tournament like a manager. She used to take care of everything, so that I am not distracted by anything, and could just focus on chess.
Plus she is someone with whom I could unburden myself when I am tense; you go through a lot of emotion during a tournament and it’s always nice to have someone who understands you and you don’t have to explain anything. She still does these roles, but she doesn’t travel that frequently as she has to be home with my son. But we are in touch everyday wherever I am, we communicate a lot.
Q. On the current bunch of Indian chess players, who do you think can make it close to what you have won?
A: We have a couple of breakthrough players this year. (Bhaskaran) Adhiban, (S.P.) Sethuraman and Vidit (Gujrathi) have had interesting results this year. Amongst the juniors we have Nihal Sarin, Praggnanandha and Arvind Chidambaram. So we have a lot of talents, the best bench-strength we ever had and even the older guys are still going strong, like me, Sasikiran and P. Hari Krishna (though they are 10-12 years younger than me).
Q. Does it hurt not playing the Candidates tournament?
A: It’s past now and I have moved on. I should be ready for the next one.
Q. You have won almost everything in chess. Is there any dream left for you to chase?
A: I don’t think there is anything left. I don’t think of any specific target but I feel as long as I am able to play well and keep playing interesting chess, it’s nice to keep doing it.