Peter Svidler - A Russian Grandmaster who loves cricket and Sachin Tendulkar!
When you try to mix famous Russian sportspersons and cricket together, the reaction is quite volatile, don’t you think? Maria Sharapova might have faced a lot of flak for failing to recognize Sachin Tendulkar, but let us look at the other side of the coin and learn more about Peter Svidler, a seven-time Russian chess champion who is a dedicated Sachin fan and absolutely adores the Little Master's game.
Svidler will be facing off against seven other Grandmasters, including India’s Viswanathan Anand, in next year’s Candidates Tournament, by virtue of a runner-up finish in the World Cup a month ago. He lost that final to compatriot Sergey Karjakin in dramatic fashion.
Svidler is quite a unique personality. Perfectly fluent in Russian and English, he harbours an obsession towards cricket that could have been described as unhealthy at one point of time. He loves British comedy as much as cricket and is of the opinion that the Beatles are still better than any form of music today.
His Twitter feed is quite interesting, filled with delightful witticisms and a lot of cricket-related anecdotes. Fond of the longest format of the game, he takes an ardent interest in all its nuances and subtleties. He has attended many Test matches, including a few at the home of cricket – Lord’s, and follows the game as much as possible.
To top it all, he even played chess online on the Internet Chess Club website under the name ‘Tendulkar’.
When asked why, he told reporters that he was a “long-time Andrew Strauss fan, but if it had to be an Indian, it had to be (Sachin) Tendulkar. I like him and Rahul Dravid a lot. I admire them not only as players but for the persons they are.”
Cricket is not popular in Russia at all, and it is intriguing to see a Russian chess player, with absolutely no connection to the Indian subcontinent or any other Test cricket nation, having such a fascination towards cricket. Let’s take a look at how Svidler was introduced to the game.
How it all began
The year was 1999 and Svidler was in Athens, studying chess with the British Grandmaster Nigel Short, who is a huge cricket fanatic himself. Taking a break, Short decided to take Svidler to the port of Pireaus, where they went to a Pakistani restaurant and watched the India-Pakistan game in the ongoing World Cup (yes, the one where Venkatesh Prasad took a fifer and won the match for India!).
Svidler was fascinated by the game and took to it like a fish to water. Short explained the rules to him as they watched and Svidler was captivated by the intensity of the game and the players.
That was a time of great political turmoil between India and Pakistan, and the Russian could not help but fall in love with the game as he saw the Indian bowling skittle the Pakistan batting lineup, in a restaurant filled to the brim with passionate Indian and Pakistani supporters. It was a perfect setting and match to introduce someone to cricket.
Well played, Mr. Short!
A true obsession
Cricket soon turned from a sport that Svidler followed into almost an obsession, something most readers can surely relate to! He was truly gripped by the game and as Nigel Short admits, he knew the names of all active Test cricketers and followed the game passionately.
Svidler is a self-confessed supporter of the English cricket team, loves Andrew Strauss, and sleep takes a backseat for him whenever the Ashes are on. He follows all games regularly and tweets about them too. Here’s one after he missed Chris Gayle’s double ton against Zimbabwe in the World Cup.
Decided to go for breakfast and a walk after Gayle hit a leisurely ton. Now he's 205* (139). This has NOT been my week.— Peter Svidler (@polborta) February 24, 2015
From 2007 to 2009, he maintained Excel files for all international players and results of all the series which took place during that period. He maintained proper records and statistics for each player and spent most of his time analyzing them, and stopped only after his wife intervened!
Absolutely anything for cricket
If you think maintaining and logging statistics was obsessive enough, you’ll be amazed at learning what he did in January 2009.
Svidler was invited to the prestigious Tata Steel Chess Tournament, which is one of the most important tournaments in the chess calendar and features the top players from all over the world. But he declined the invitation and instead chose to play in a relatively obscure tournament in Gibraltar.
And the reason for that? The organizer of the tournament was Australian and had promised Svidler a cricket session in the nets if he played in Gibraltar. That was all it took to convince the Russian to come. He happily participated in the Gibraltar Chess festival and duly won it.
If he had to pick the highlight of his stay in the island nation, we’re pretty sure he would choose cricket over chess!
Here’s Svidler in an England ODI jersey displaying his straight drives and pull shots: