CHENNAI: The hallmark of every great sportsperson is a keennesss to reinvent themselves. One only has to look at Viswanathan Anand for proof. On Thursday, he turned the clock back to win the World Rapid Chess championship at Riyadh. In doing so, the 48-year-old proved that he still has it in him to beat the best in the world. The win was even more impressive considering critics had been asking him to retire and move on for the last several years.
The champion himself seemed a tad surprised by his latest victory. “My last two rapid events were disastrous. I came here in a pessimistic frame of mind but it’s just been the most wonderful surprise,” he told Express from Riyadh, where he is participating in the Blitz section.
This was his second World Rapid title after his victory in 2003. His wife and manager Aruna Anand was also thrilled. “I am elated and thrilled with Anand’s achievement. People find it easy to one day use the ‘R’ (retirement) word. Next day they hail your success. I think Anand works much harder on chess now than I have ever seen him. What he has done in the last few years is incredible,” said Aruna.
Aruna said the secret of his latest success was down to how focused he has been. “Despite being an all-time great, he is still focused and passionate about chess. I think that is just truly commendable. He has never been afraid of failure. He perseveres in success and failure,” she said.
A Little after 11.00 pm on Thursday night, a former world champion flickered back to life. One of his peers and great rivals Garry Kasparov had already retired, preferring to fight bigger battles at home and abroad. He had seen upstarts take away his crown. Worst of all, he had to repeatedly disparaging questions related to retirement. “You are 48, you shouldn’t be playing competitve chess,” was the gist of their non-nuanced argument.
For a brief while, especially in 2017, there was a grain of truth behind all those hot-takes. Then, Viswanathan Anand came roaring back to life to take home the World Rapid Championship for the second time in his storied career. His victory was preceded by much drama — Magnus Carlsen led till the very end before losing his final encounter to Alexander Grischuk. Then Anand finished the job, defeating Vladimir Fedoseev over the course of two tier-break games.
In an exclusive interview with Express, he talks about how the three-day Rapid tournament unfolded and what his frame of mind was going into the tournament in Riyadh. Excerpts:
On 2017 and frame of mind coming into the tournament
I came into this tournament after a difficult year, especially the London tournament was a big disappointment. Finishing in last place in London (London Classic) was a heavy blow. That didn’t seem to promise great things for me in the World Rapid (Championship here). My last two rapid events were nothing short of disastrous. I came here in a pessimistic frame of mind but it’s just been the most wonderful surprise.
On the first day and whether he had the belief he could do something special
On the first day I could feel I was playing well. It was as if time has stood still and I was back intime few years ago, when I was dominating rapid chess tournaments, which gave me a lot of confidence.
On beating Magnus Carlsen
Beating a player (Carlsen) who has been dominant in rapid and blitz rating lists was an accomplishment. On the last day, the first three rounds ended in draws and I felt I had lost the plot a little bit. I was worried that I may not be on the podium. However, I played an excellent game against (Alexander) Grischuk, who is one of the top players in rapid and blitz, in the penultimate round. With this victory I caught up with Carlsen in the last round and knew then I would have a good finish.
On the final round
In the last round, my opponent forced a quick draw with the white pieces so there was nothing much I could do.I had to wait for the other results. If Carlsen had won his game (against Grischuk), he would have won the title. However, he got into a difficult position and lost. There were so many twists and turns as Ian Nepomniachtchi and Fedoseev joined me in the top spot. I was feeling euphoric but I had work still to be done. I’m happy that I played the tie-break well against Fedoseev.