For the first time in his career, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand has openly admitted to changing his style so as to reinvent himself and keep up pace with the changing times. In a freewheeling email interview to Sunday Standard, Anand opens up about his game, life and changing perspectives, ahead of the Candidates tournament.
It has been a long time since Anand defeated Carlsen in the classical format. But the maestro says there are no mental blocks as far as Carlsen goes and assures that with his new approach he will set the record straight. Anand also says his hunger for the game has not diminished. With age comes maturity and the Chennai-based legend states that he believes in playing quality chess and is not worried about titles or rankings. Excerpts:
How are you preparing for the Candidates tournament? A lot of strong players will be in action. Who do you think is a tough opponent?
The Candidates will be a tough event — strong players and a grueling format. I think there is no one particular favourite. It depends on who is in top form. I have been preparing for the event since January.
Have you made any change in the style of preparation?
Again, can’t say much.
Have you changed your seconds from the World Championship?
I can’t really talk about it right now.
Have you overcome the World Championship defeat?
That is over. I don’t think about it anymore. It seems like it happened ages ago. As a sportsperson you have to learn to let go and move on.
In the London Chess Classic you began to win again, but managed to reach only till quarterfinals. When you won the first match (after the World Championship loss) in the tournament did you get over a psychological barrier? How do you rate your performance?
At this level of the game, there are no barriers. You have good games and bad ones. I would say moderately happy. I was very proud of my games in the qualifying. I could feel myself like a six-year-old again, just playing very fast and confidently. That is the way I would really love to play.
At Zurich, in perhaps the strongest field in the history of the game, you came fifth overall. How do you rate this performance? You are known for your rapid skills, but lost three games?
Well, I am going through a phase of changing my game. So there will be some hits on the way before you reach your optimum form. So, Zurich was a good learning experience.
Is there a mental block when playing Carlsen? You are yet to beat him in the classical format in the last two years or so.
This is something I hope to correct. It is his (Carlsen) style, which is very different to what many players have grown up with.
How do you recollect the match against Carlsen at Zurich?
It was a normal game. You can’t base each encounter on the match. That is over. You have to just look forward and play a normal game.
How eager are you to go through the grind, win the Candidates and take on Carlsen again in the World Championship in November?
I am looking to do well in Khanty right now. If that leads to a match in November I would definitely try and do things differently.
Despite having nothing left to prove do you still have the hunger to be the world champion?
I would say I have hunger to play good chess.
What motivates you now to give your best? Is it pride, reputation or just simple love for the game?
I would just say that I love the game. If something gives you a lot of pain, it also gives you a lot of enjoyment. That is why you love it and is passionate about excelling in it.
How do you handle pressure, not just expectations of fans from the country, but also that from the Western media, players and officials who cannot digest an Indian ruling the world of chess?
You do have some amount of pressure being the outsider. But I have always tried to keep a small circle of friends and just enjoy the chess. I don’t really read much chess news. But there are also many people who show their support especially since you had to work doubly harder to reach the top.
Does the attitude (running down Anand) of some former Russian greats like Garry Kasparov motivate you to prove them wrong?
I don’t waste my time on petty chess politics. Chess was clearly Kasparov’s strongest point.