Even as the whole of India is preparing for Sachin Tendulkar’s final hurrah, the country’s mind champion is quietly going through the last stretch of his training regime ahead of the match of his life.
Viswanathan Anand, quite certainly the greatest sportsman India has produced besides Tendulkar and Dhyan Chand, will be back in Chennai next week after training abroad for his world chess championship match against Magnus Carlsen of Norway. There is, however, a lot of uncertainty over where the 43-year-old five-time world champion is camped or who he is training with.
The match, as such, has broken all records for prize money (in excess of Rs20 crore) for such a chess event and would, in all probability, create firsts in preparation, guarding secrets and all such elements.
However, if you watch the pace of the run-up to Anand’s first world title contest in his hometown, you would be surprised to know there is very little that is being written or talked about his present status: every report dwells on what he did as a boy or as a challenger or as the world champion.
It’s all aboutthe past.
Anand has been training with his mates in Europe for over three months now. World No 1 Carlsen, too, has been out of Norway for a month now. In modern-day chess preparation, these are well-kept secrets, especially the names of their trainers. Two decades ago, the world knew who the Kasparovs and Karpovs trained with months in advance; today, the level of preparation is in a different league as even those names (of the ‘seconds’) are believed to give away some kind of your homework.
The organisers are not even sure if Anand would stay at the official hotel (Hyatt Regency), though Carlsen has no other option in ‘enemy’ territory. The Indian Grandmaster might as well choose to stay at home or in another hotel away from public glare during the championship.
A word on the physical aspect of the players’ training plans and most world champions, except Bobby Fischer, took this seriously. Anatoly Karpov used to swim regularly for an hour to keep himself fit; Boris Spassky always believed in staying fit by taking long walks. The fittest world champion in recent history is Garry Kasparov, who ran admirably fast for a chess champion and played football to keep himself fit. The fact that he ran a distance of 100 metres in 10.8 seconds — the time clocked by sprint champions in India until recently — speaks volumes for his athleticism. Anand is known to go on long walks whenever he plays or prepares for big tournaments. More on this later in the week.
The organisers, the Tamil Nadu State Chess Association (TNSCA) or the All India Chess Federation (AICF), do not seem too bothered about what Anand and Carlsen are doing, but they have a more serious job at hand: to handle Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa who will take part in the inaugural ceremony on November 7.
Already, the Nehru Stadium located near the Chennai Central railway station, has been spruced up to accommodate about 30,000 guests for the ceremony in which the Tamil Nadu chief minister will pick the colour for Anand and Carlsen in the first game to be played on November 9.
The details of the ceremony are not out yet and it is changing by the minute as the organisers are in a huddle to find ways to please the chief minister and probably the world chess fraternity with a breathtaking and expensive opening ceremony. For them, the match is secondary because their performance would be rated according to how well it began and how well it ended. They would not worry too much about who won or who lost the world championship!
However, a loss for Anand would probably end one of the most successful chess careers because he is going on 44 and it is difficult to see him go back to the qualifying cycle and come back through the ladder like he always did in the 1990s. If that happens, it will be a double blow for India in almost two weeks as Tendulkar will have left the scene a week before Anand’s last game against Carlsen, 21 years his junior.
Still, the good part is, if he succeeds, Anand’s name would be etched in history as the greatest world champion in modern chess.