Playing at home is considered a big advantage in every sport. By that logic, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand would start his title defence against Norway’s Magnus Carlsen with a sense of joy.
Yes, the match will be played in Chennai, Anand’s hometown, but there is nothing in the Indian’s bag to show that he would convert this into points against his challenger.
The Hyatt Regency, a five-star hotel located in Teynampet, is the venue for the match. The facility has enough room for both the teams, but Anand’s apartment is just a 15-minute drive away from the hotel.
Staying at home does not guarantee Anand victory because ultimately the battle has to be won on the board. “In the end, wherever you play, it comes down to making good moves on the chess board,” Anand said.
In fact, a cursory look at Anand’s career provides us with a striking statistic: none of his five world championship title matches was played in India. The first one, in the tournament format, was played in New Delhi in 2000. But the final was held in Tehran. He regained the title (tournament format) in Mexico in 2007. The world champion then played Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn (2008), Veselin Topalov in Sofia (2010) and Boris Gelfand in Moscow (2012).
Anand’s wife, Aruna, who had always managed the champion’s travel and stay schedules over the past 15 years, feels playing in Chennai would be a great relief for Team Anand. “In a way, it feels nice that you are a car ride away from the venue. Usually, it’s a flight and sometimes a 40-hour bus journey. It will be a different experience, no doubt,” she told dna.
In fact, if ‘home’ statistics are anything to go by, we can argue that Anand would be under as much pressure as Magnus Carlsen.
In 1993, Anand had had a forgettable world championship candidates quarterfinal against American Gata Kamsky in Sanghinagar (Hyderabad). That match taught him an important lesson — that of handling his ‘mindless’ supporters. He was sitting pretty with a 1.5-point lead with two games to go. Alas, he surrendered it and lost tamely in the speed-play tiebreakers.
This one incident may not be enough to argue that Anand won’t fare well in India. He had started his journey in world championships in 1991 in Chennai against Alexei Dreev of Russia, winning the first-round candidates clash convincingly. And again in 2000, he had gone through the qualifying tournament in New Delhi before crushing Spain’s Alexei Shirov in Tehran for his first title.
Having made a point and counter-point for the possible advantages of playing at home, it is interesting to weigh Carlsen’s chances in India. Curiously, the Norwegian would be more perturbed that he has to play in India because of the usual worries that accompany a European who has not travelled to this part of the world.
Food and weather are the two main deterrents, though in his heart of hearts, Carlsen wouldn’t be happy playing in Chennai. After all, thousands of Anand supporters would be offering the defending champion their indirect support. Grandmasters playing world championship matches, relying on endurance and mental intensity, would naturally look for clear minds and a good ambiance.
“It’s just that little bit of insecurity when you’re playing on your opponent’s home soil,” Carlsen said. Carlsen’s trip to Chennai in August would have helped the Norwegian dispel many of his concerns. Two Norwegian chefs would be travelling with Carlsen to attend to his culinary desires. “We have to be careful,” said Espen Agdestein, his manager, “to make sure he doesn’t risk getting sick”.