King of the Castle

King of the Castle
The chess master, Viswanathan Anand,

Viswanathan Anand talks about his new book, the early days of chess, his passion for wildlife and the game of life

Roshni Subramanian
March 03 , 2020
05 Min Read

In your long and illustrious career, there have been quite a few publications. Where would you place your latest release?
Instead of writing an autobiography, we’ve used a different format where we took the moments that were most significant in my life; the ones that have left an impact on me. I think this format is very interesting because I like the idea of saying this is what happened, this is what I’ve become today and this is what influenced me. I believe it gives people a good insight into the world of chess. I hope the book will be interesting both to chess players (because there’ll be a lot of details they might not know), and for people who don’t know much about chess (it will still give them a window into the world of chess).

How much does the Mind Master reveal about Anand the person and Anand the chess player?
I’ve tried to be very frank and open. There are times when you simply want to speak your mind and not hold back. It was nice to get a chance to set the record straight on a lot of things and how things felt from my perspective. The person I am today is reflected in the book. If you see my interviews from a decade ago, you’ll see that I have a lot more insights today, than I had back then.

His book Mind Master

You’ve revolutionised the game of chess in this country. How have you enjoyed this position of leadership?
I feel very lucky. One of the dreams, if you play a sport is that you want people to appreciate and enjoy it. The fact that so many Indians follow me and so many of them have taken to the game (so many youngsters are playing these days); it feels great that I’ve stimulated that process.

Coming to your travels, you’ve moved from city to city, especially in the 1980s and 90s. How was it living out of a suitcase?
I started travelling abroad, around the time I was 11. Initially it was exciting, you’re going somewhere new, there are things to try. But the biggest difference between travelling, say 35 or 40 years ago and now is the amount of information that’s available to you. Back then when I’d go to a new city, it was really a journey into the unknown. If you went to a new country, all you could do is note down some useful phone numbers and really hope that the organisers would meet you at the airport. It was serendipitous and unpredictable. It doesn't seem that way now.

When it comes to fitness, you were the first Indian chess player to start working out. What was the inspiration behind that?
In my 20s I found that certain problems were creeping in. I was getting tired at the end of games and was losing a point here and there. I had even started to put on a little weight. That’s when I started working on my fitness. The fitter I was, the better I played. It was a chance to clear my mind and relax.

Since you’ve travelled around a lot, especially for tournaments, do you have any favourite destinations reserved for family holidays?
Right now we are doing a lot of city breaks. Recently we went to Rajasthan for the summer holidays. We were in Ranthambhore and spent a few days in Jaipur too. Right afterwards, we went to Karwar, off the coast of Karnataka, near the Goa border. Last year we got this invitation to go to Kenya where we visited Maasai Mara. We’ve gone for some nice long trips, but at the moment we are doing shorter holidays.

Which is your favourite city in the world, apart from Chennai, of course?
I can’t say I have one favourite city. I’ve enjoyed different things in different cities. There’s no one city which I’d keep on visiting. I like to try out new places. But, I guess, we obviously have a connection with Madrid. That’s one place, we’d like to return to more.

Since you’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Spain, what advice would you give a first timer?
It depends on what you’re looking for—culture or the beach. The coasts are, of course, very nice. If you want a dose of culture, the east and south have some really good options. There’s Madrid and Barcelona in the centre. There are a lot of options. to explore. I’d say pick one and do it.

Madrid, the city he loves

We hear you enjoy wildlife. Is there a sanctuary that you go to repeatedly?
I like South Africa. Kenya and Botswana are beautiful as well. Even India is fantastic in that sense. I’ve been to Bandhavgarh and Ranthambhore. There are a few more that I’d like to go to

You talk about how your memory isn’t that great when it comes to things outside chess. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
My memory is reasonable. As I explain in the book, your memory is connected to what you want to remember and what you’d rather forget. My sense of navigation is atrocious—I get lost quite a lot in unknown cities. But it’s not so bad now since you have your phone with you at all times. Aruna, my wife, decided early on that she’s had enough of getting lost with me.

You also share a great love for astronomy and even have a planet named after you. What are your thoughts on that?
This was a very nice compliment. Someone was kind enough to propose to NASA that they name a planet after me. It was a huge honour.

What does your 2020 tournament schedule look like?
In January 2020 I’ll be playing in the Netherlands at a Tata Steel event. After that, my calendar isn’t confirmed yet.


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