INTERVIEW | 'The only thing that matters is winning', says grandmaster Viswanathan Anand

Indian chess grandmaster talks about his new book, his son, striking work-life balance, importance of staying fit and more.

Published: 12th January 2020 08:06 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th January 2020 08:06 AM   |  A+A-

Vishwanathan Anand

Vishwanathan Anand at the opening ceremony of the World Championship 2012 in Moscow. (Photo courtesy Eric Van Reem)

One of the irritating things about playing chess is when something eludes you in a miniscule way. It hurts when you lose by a margin. It hits you very bad,” Viswanathan Anand tells The Sunday Standard while talking about his newly launched book Mind Master: Winning Lessons from A Champion’s Life. The grandmaster learns from every mistake and is flexible in adapting to the new. He talks about how his steps from transitioning to a winner to world champion in his book, as he brought India on to the global stage by winning multiple World Chess Championships.

What is your schedule on and off a tournament?

When I am at home, I spend time with Akhil, my son. I also try to catch up with my friends along with spending time with my family. I also spend 3-4 hours looking at my chess notes and brushing up my skills with respect to the game. When I would train for a match in earlier days, I used to block off everything else. Life would go on around the match schedule.

At least 8-10 hours would be dedicated to a tournament. Since my son was born, eight and a half years ago, I feel it is important to spend time with him so my schedule revolves around him. I am trying to find an optimal balance between my family and passion. In case of a lot of work you are tired, a little of it you feel you aren’t brushed up. To find a balance is healthy. 

In the book, you have mentioned certain books that helped you learn the craft. Could you talk about those? 

José Raúl Capablanca’s books, who was the Mexican child prodigy in chess were my introduction to the game. When I was 10-year-old, I won the newspaper’s Chess Today puzzle in Manila in 1979. After that, I was invited to their library and take the chess books I wanted.

Tell us about the role of fitness in chess?

Being fit definitely increases the number of points of a player. Endurance is a must. Since a young age, I was running and doing other physical exercises. Apart from keeping you fit, staying fit also releases emotional tension. But afterwards, I started doing the same in a focused way. I started running long distances and have been continuing to do so for 20 years now. Nowadays, physical fitness has become a part of the job description in chess. Also, one needs to follow a thumb rule of not eating too much before a game. On the contrary, I used to make the mistake of not eating at all, which I have changed now.

You have also mentioned the factors that are connected to transitioning from a ‘strong player’ to a champion in the book. Be ready to take risks. Put yourself in the toughest of situations and work towards winning. One needs to constantly push oneself. One needs to work very hard. After a long time in the game, I have realised that there is no good performance the only thing that matters is winning. And if you try hard enough, you make your own luck.

What would you like to say to amateurs wanting up to take chess full time?
Taking up chess is a very unusual career choice. You don’t have a boss. You need to travel a lot. Sports as a career is an unusual require a certain lifestyle. Even if being a player doesn’t turn fruitful, one can always take up coaching or writing about the game.  Just as it is in many careers, there are some hiccups in chest too. For instance, if you don’t like traveling but you want to play chess, it is contradictory. One should be flexible.

Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life
By: Vishwanathan Anand with Susan Ninan
Publisher: Hachette
India Pages: 272 
Price: Rs 599


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