He looks in control. Knuckles pressed lightly to his cheeks, his chin resting in between, as he incisively scans the chessboard. His mind might be racing at the speed of light, but the expression on his face is unblemished. One can even see the hint of a smile! This is our very own World Chess Champion, at play. Opponents might go weak in the knees as he makes one move after another, but his calmness is extraordinary.
We know him as Viswanathan Anand. Anand is his first name, Viswanathan, his father’s. But the man prefers the name as we know it. Fans endearingly call him Vishy Anand or simply Vishy.
His early days laid the foundation of his illustrious career. Anand’s mother played the most significant role in his life by introducing him to the game of chess when he was only six years old. She probably had the insightful understanding of her child’s talent and thus, trained him diligently in logic and mind games. The time and place were also fortuitous for a chess aficionado. Chennai had a thriving chess culture at that time, due to the presence of Manuel Aaron and Ravi Kumar, India’s first two International Masters. Anand joined the Mikhail Tal Chess Club of the Russian Embassy and thus, when most children were still learning the alphabets, Anand spent his time solving obscure puzzles and learning chess.
Anand was clearly a child prodigy. He would spend the whole day at the chess club and dismissed every opponent. The ‘Lightning Kid’ of Madras rose in the field of chess at a lightning speed. He was the youngest Indian to become the International Master in Chess at the age of 15, the youngest National Chess Champion at the age of 16, and he then went on to become the Grandmaster at the age of 18. He was soon the star of Indian Chess and everyone adored him.
His game, however, was not the only reason why he was unanimously lauded. His humility roused affection in the hearts of people everywhere. Tall and bespeckled and slightly oblivious of all the attention, Anand redefined simplicity.
Anand was also the one who surpassed the Russian dominance in the game. By the age of 21, he had already won the prestigious tournament of Reggio Emilia ahead of Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. In the early 90s, Anand won numerous matches against established chess players like Oleg Romanishin and Michael Adams in the FIDE and PCA championships, missing the titles only by narrow margins. Grand victory came to him in 2000 finally, when he won the FIDE World Chess Championship. He held the title for two years (2000-02).
Speed is truly Anand’s forte. He won the 629 player World Blitz Championship in 2000. He also defeated the world’s top ten players, including Kramnik, and won the World Rapid Chess Championship in 2003. He has held numerous titles in rapid chess playing, like Chess Classic for nine consecutive years and Melody Amber for seven consecutive years. 64, the chess magazine has awarded the famed “Chess Oscar” to Anand five times. It proves the fact that Anand’s genius has been acknowledged by his peers and critics. In April 2007, Anand was ranked 1 in the FIDE ratings for the first time.
His excellence in the game is undeniable. His genius cannot be doubted. Yet the man is free of any kind of ostentation or pretence. His simple lifestyle reflects upon his cultured upbringing. National honors like the Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan and International titles have, in fact, made him more humble. He is completely dedicated towards the game which gave him so much. He wants to take Chess to greater heights in India. Anand regularly collaborates with young Indian chess players to help them improve their skills.
Today, he is the undisputed World Champion in Chess and is a chess legend, but nothing has changed for his fans. For them, he will continue to be Vishy Anand, the boy who mastered the game of sixty four squares that only few can play.