Twenty seven years after he became the youngest Indian International Master, thirteen years after he won his maiden World Championship, five years after he became the world number one and a year after he attached his fifth world champions crown, Viswanathan Anand would finally defend a title at home.
Previously, Chennaiites celebrated his homecoming, either when he came for his customary breaks or after annexing a trophy of precious merit, the latter ever so regularly. Now, they can savour the five-time reigning champion in their city, when he faces world number one Magnus Carlsen of Norway from November 6 to 26 in 12 rounds.
Even sweeter is that Chennai had missed the opportunity to host last year’s championship match by a whisker. Anand’s wife Aruna is overwhelmed. “ It is wonderful for the chief minister to have agreed to host the championship in Chennai. We are lucky to have it here, for we were unlucky to miss it by a whisker last year,” she beamed.
Anand and his horde of well-wishers would wish the home advantage would prove decisive in his title-retention bid against an opponent, who at least numerically is the most prolific player in the game’s history. Though Norway’s 22-year-old world number has a massive advantage over Anand, the home factor should impel him. “ He will definitely enjoy the home advantage. When he knows the whole state and the chief minister is backing him, it gives you a very positive feeling and I am sure he will do well,” said Aruna.
Understandably, the chess-fraternity is jubilant though they foresee a tough battle ahead for Anand. “ No. Anand will not enjoy the home advantage. There will be lot of distractions. Many people, in particular the media, will want to talk to him. So there is chance of his concentration being affected. But knowing Vishy from the time he was a child, I am sure he will overcome all this and retain the title,” remarked India’s first IM Manuel Aaron. Irrespective of the verdict, this is yet another fillip for the sport, especially for a State known as the “Mecca of chess”. “It’s great that Anand will defend his title in India. Anand winning the world junior crown propelled me to take up chess and later I became a GM. Likewise, it could provide the spark for hundreds of children to take up the sport,’’ said GM RB Ramesh.
The State already accounts for the maximum number of IMs and GMs in the country. DV Sundar, secretary of All India Chess Federation, “The match between Vishy and Magnus will galvanise the sport in the country. Since it will be held for the first time there will be a lot of interest,’’ he said.
Getting the fixture to the city wasn’t easy though. Last year, the TN Govt bid for Rs 20 crore, but Russia pipped India with a better bid. JCD Prabhakar, president of chess federation, thanked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa.
Meanwhile, the world chess body (FIDE) will finalise the venue after Carlsen agrees to it. If Carlsen wants to avoid playing Anand in Chennai, he will have to find a sponsor and a place who would out-bid the one put up by Chennai.