Chennai boy Viswanathan Anand talks to G.C. Shekhar about the game, the city and the future
Most chess players and enthusiasts from Chennai cite you becoming India’s first GM in 1988 as the main inspiration for their taking to chess and pursuing it as a passion. How do you see this?
Well, I was the first one. When I started playing, there wasn’t a clear path as to what to do to become a GM. I think that was a big moment for Indian chess in general, as many of us were close to the title.
Your winning the World Championship six times has kept the momentum going?
Definitely. My first win was partly in India. When you have someone win a world championship, it definitely helps the sport. People have someone to cheer. Even now, I get people saying they study my games in Bonn, or that my game against Gelfand fascinated them.
How was the chess infrastructure in Chennai during your younger days, and what has changed in the decades since?
We mainly played blitz among ourselves. There were many weekend events. The first prize guaranteed me an ice cream and dosa on the way home. It was all friendly and casual. Now, everything is more systematic and measurable. Chess has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of technology and the internet. Chess training has changed so much. A six-year-old will approach chess more systematically now than when I was playing.
What advantages does a chess player enjoy by training in Chennai? Do the city’s environs pack something special?
As they say, Chennai is an emotion! Many people play, so you can always get together to play or study chess. In fact, we realised that within Chennai itself, Anna Nagar has the highest proportion of Elo ratings.
Is there any aspect where you would like to see some improvement? Like chess being part of school programmes?
Chess in schools is becoming a reality—the effects of which we are slowly noting.
When do you see another world chess champion emerging from India? Are there any promising players you see?
Chess is in one of its best phases in India. I could say there are at least five contenders who could take a shot at the title.