CHENNAI: "Cruel as it may sound" but the COVID-19 lockdown was a boon for chess, feels five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand but he hopes the sport's expansion into the online space does not spell the end of the traditional board.
In an interview to PTI, the 51-year-old maestro touched upon a variety of subjects, including the immense popularity of chess-based Netflix drama 'The Queen's Gambit, his new role of a mentor to youngsters and an upcoming biopic on his remarkable career and life.
"Certainly chess is one sport that has benefited during the lockdown, cruel as it sounds. Actually we can build on that and grow the sport," Anand said.
As most sporting action shut down because of the lockdown when the pandemic spread, chess found new life online with several tournaments taking place.
Asked if there was a possibility of it going online completely, Anand said, "I hope not but I don't know...we will see what happens. It would be nice to grow chess online but it would be a pity to move the other lines."
"We have to see what happens once the situation with the virus is under control. Whether it is a long-term trend or a short-term one I don't know."
Not just the lockdown, 'The Queen's Gambit', a drama on the life of an orphaned chess prodigy who rises to the top while struggling with drugs and alcohol, has made chess appealing to a younger generation with online searches for the sport and its practitioners hitting a new high. "
Reputed chess website chess.com declared that it's subscriber base shot up significantly after the series's release.
Anand said he has liked what he has seen of it.
"I think it is pretty good. It is one experience of a chess player. I feel that a lot of the tournament scenes are very accurate. The portrayal of the tournament halls and players, a lot of that is very accurate," he observed.
"...it is the biggest series on Netflix and that tells you quite something. Maybe it was the fact that people were sitting at home and somehow they were waiting for something like this. I don't know but it has driven a boom in chess.
"(Actually) the boom had started much before but definitely this has made it much bigger," Anand said.
The Chennai-based wizard, who won his first world title in 2000 and continues to remain among the game's elite at the age of 51, said he missed playing across the board events.
"I definitely miss that," he said.
"I found that normally when you go to a tournament, there are triggers which help make you serious, make you concentrate. You walk to the tournament hall, you meet other players at the hotel.
"All these things are triggers that a tournament is going to happen. When it comes to playing online, you are sitting at home and suddenly the arbiter says start and you begin playing, I do miss playing across the board..."
On to the biopic to be made by noted film-maker Aanand L Rai, Anand said he is excited about it as people would get to know some unknown facets of his reticent personality.
However, he doesn't want to say who should play him.
"I mean, they are still looking into that. I don't want to be commenting on that right now. Once someone comes we will announce it," he said.
How about he playing himself instead of an actor coming on board.
"I haven't given that a lot of thought. Somehow I just assume that we will get someone else but let's see. It would be very strange to enact," he smiled.
"I have no idea what it is going to look like and how the effort is. You know it is like the book, when we started it, I didn't know what shape it would take "I will go and watch it. It has to be done well. I hope we will succeed in making it interesting. There are some things that are well known and some that are not so well known," he said.
He is also gearing up to be a mentor through the WestBridge-Anand Chess Academy and the soft-spoken star said he would prefer call himself a guide.
"It is a new thing...you know teaching and playing are very different things. I am not really going to be a coach.
"I hope to be more of a guide. We are looking at the long term, over the next few years and what progress we can make...I am looking forward to that."
Anand will be mentoring 15-year old R Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin (16), Raunak Sadhwani (15), D Gukesh (14) and Praggnanandhaa's sister R Vaishali (19) to start with.