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Stop the Circus!

Illustration by Frank Stiefel

Former FIDE World Champion Viswanathan Anand: “The chess world can’t go on like this”

Former FIDE chess World Champion Viswanathan Anand celebrated several victories last year. Except Linares (Spain), the 33-year old Indian won all events where he took part. Because of that the 'Tiger from Madras' received the Sportsperson of the Year from the Indian edition of the world-renowned Laureus Sports Awards. Only one thing seems to be annoying for Anand: the World Championships cycle. Hartmut Metz talked to Vishy Anand about the crisis of top professional chess.

Mr. Anand you have regretted that “politics has taken over chess”. Please tell us more about your point of view at the top.

Politics has been part of chess since 1993 since I can remember. I hope that there is a final silver lining. The situation is a complete mess. The chess world can’t go on like this. The last three years was a circus. We all hope that there will be an unification.

Who is responsible for this mess?

I think the names are evident. I don’t need to take a roll call. Till there is a World Championship cycle this issue is not in my interest to discuss. Because of the prevailing world economic condition it is tough to get sponsors and people are still trying to hold three World Championship matches. And the end result is that you don’t have a single marketable person.

Two days ago I talked to Alexei Shirov. He claimed that he doesn’t care too much about the situation. But it would be a pity for you that you haven’t have a chance to grab the world championship title.

It is every sportsperson’s dream to play for the world title.

During the last months you won every tournament except Linares. Do you feel being the strongest player in the moment?

I am playing well. I do hope to win some more. I do not want to think in macro terms. I hope to better my play in many areas.

Was it an advantage that you decided not to care too much about the world championship, as you mentioned last year? The other top players in this “cycle” except Leko – Ponomariov, Kasparov and Kramnik – didn’t show their best form. Maybe because of all this stuff, which costs energy and nerves?

They have their reasons. They are the best judges.

What are your proposals to unify the chess world?

A fair shot at the World Title for everyone would be a good beginning. Right now everybody except 4 players is excluded. At this point we have too many proposals and no action!

Would you be quite optimistic for the future of the game after an unification? Or does it depend who will be the one and only champion?

Chess has received a great stimulus from the Internet and from growth in India and China for example. For big commercial events, an unified system is most important.

In India chess has been very popular. You were another time sportsman of the year.

Chess has grown considerably in India. It is now a major sport in India. The International Age categories receive a lot of Indian participation. This is evidence that Chess is growing at the school level. The Mind Champions Academy a virtual mental gymnasium where children from 2500 schools will be able to dabble with chess and have fun is also being tested. I received the Sportsperson of the year from the Indian edition of the World renowned Laureus Sports Awards. The awards were judged by sports luminaries and a huge cross section of sports journalists. It was a secret ballot so I don’t know the rankings. I go to know later that there 5 of the Top sportspersons in contention. It was the first time the awards were held in India. I have been given Sportsperson of the Year Awards many times in the past by leading Sports magazines and by the Government of India.

At home you did some charity too. Please tell us more about it.

Along with NIIT, World leaders in Information technology learning and my global sponsors we do relevant programs where people especially children from less privileged conditions also get to learn about computers. The World Computer literacy day on December 2nd is one such initiative. This is a continuing endeavor to bridge the digital divide. Recently we visited Vidyasagar, an institute for Children with specific mental disabilities. I have been appointed their global brand ambassador and through this joint initiative we will heighten awareness for the cause of thee children. It will be interesting to note that many of these children are actually very talented chess players. I make various appearances for charities. Child related issues are related closest to our hearts.

Let’s talk about the forthcoming events in Germany: Dortmund and Chess Classic Mainz. What are your expectations?

I hope to make most of the German summer!

Last time in Dortmund you played very badly and Kramnik is winning there all the time. You think you can change this in August?

That was then. This is now. I hope to play well and the past isn’t important.

In Mainz Judit Polgar challenges you in an 8 games rapid match. Except one time you are the king of Chess Classic. Is she able to stop your successes there?

We are old rivals. I’ve played some very nice games against her, like my game against her in Roquebrune 1992. I have to play 100%.

Except her last defeat vs. Gelfand in a rapid match the no. 1 of the world in women’s ranking showed an outstanding performance during the last months. E.g. Polgar was second in Wijk aan Zee (Netherlands) and unbeaten like the winner Anand. Do you see reasons why she made such a progress?

She seems to be working hard and her vast experience shows. I guess she is just happy playing chess right now. Gelfand played really well and fully deserved his triumph. He took all his chances when they came and that was decisive. Still, I am sure Judit will come back.

Is it enough to conquer the title in Mainz? You are the strongest rapid player in world.

I have to play well. The better player in Mainz will win.

In German Bundesliga you played very well with 6/7. So did the other top boards Peter Svidler and Michal Krasenkov. But your team Baden-Oos finished only at eight place. Now Alexei Shirov and Francesco Vallejo Pons join the team. Is the team from Baden-Baden strong enough now to beat three-times champion Lübeck and vice champion Cologne-Porz?

The philosophy of the team, the sponsors, Grenke Leasing and personally Mr. Grenke is to build a team with long-term prospects. One of the aims is to nourish local talent. The eclectic mix of local players and International stars can only enhance the flavour of the team. There is a great sense of bonding in the team. Most of us are good friends now. Regarding performance we are quite happy with our debut. Of course we will strive higher the next season. Of course there are other strong teams, but we can control our destiny.

You worked together with Vallejo Pons. Did you arrange that the Spaniard transfers from Emsdetten to Baden-Oos?

I am a chess player not his manager. This is not football!

Last question: In the new rankings you made some progress in comparison to the other top players. Who is the strongest chess player in the world today?

In terms of ranking, Kasparov is No.1. I have done well in the present list. Personally I want to play better, improve my chess and enjoy my life. Sobriquets are for journalists. I just want to do my job well and keep making progress.

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted