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    General Discussion: India celebrates Asia's chess king

    India celebrates Asia's chess king

    Jun 23, 2012

    By Raja Murthy

    http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/NF23Df01.html

    India's Vishwanathan Anand defended his world championship chess title for the fifth time a fortnight ago in Moscow, consolidating his status as one of Asia's greatest and more unusual sporting icons. He stands as a Great Wall of Asia defying Russian desperation to regain their lost chess czardom.

    Ever since Anand dethroned the mighty Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, the affable margherita pizza-loving champion from Chennai has been a bitter pill to swallow for Russians. It's an undesirable chapter for the land that produced masters like Mikhail Botvinnik, Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail "the Magician" Tal, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were among millions worldwide who closely followed Anand against proxy Russian challenger Boris Gelfand. Though an Israeli citizen, the 43-year-old was born in Belarussia and grew up in Moscow.

    Negative pressure from the local media and former world champions made this summer's tournament a clash between the 42-year old Anand and Russia itself. During the 12-match series, Russian chess legend Garry Kasparov publicly ridiculed Anand for lacking motivation and the mental strength to win, saying he had lost his edge. "Vishy Anand - In Russia, without love", Forbes India magazine headlined its feature on the championship.

    But Anand prevailed in the tense tie-breaker of a 6-6 deadlock, retaining the world crown for the fourth consecutive time.

    "My nerves held out better," he told the New York Times, after pocketing US$1.4 million in prize money. "I simply held on for dear life."

    After the match, Putin invited Anand and Gelfand to his residence at Novo-Ogaryovo outside Moscow on May 31, where he congratulated the duo for an "outstanding" effort and served them some tea and wry Russian humour. When Anand told him he had learnt strategies at the Tal Chess Club of the Soviet Cultural Centre in Chennai, Putin quipped, "So, we brought this on ourselves."


    Anand, known from childhood prodigy days as the "Lightning Kid" for his unusual speed of play, could be gradually propelling chess into realms of art and even frontier sciences of mind and matter.

    Chess, the "game of kings", has its early origins attributed to India during the Gupta Empire in the 6th century AD.

    With the number of possible legal moves in chess estimated to be a non-worldly number of 10^123, chess is closely linked to mathematics, a subject of deep interest to Anand.

    India has no great history of past chess champions, but the country is long known for mathematical geniuses like Srinvasa Ramanujam (see , Asia Times Online, January 10, 2012). If Anand takes to a career in maths after retiring from chess, he could well join this remarkable lineage.

    As with Ramanujam, conventional science has no theory to explain Anand's phenomenal powers of memory and a mind like a virtual computer chess database. A Chennai newspaper reported of him once seeing a recreated chess game between two grandmasters played many decades ago - it took him only a few seconds to identify the two players, the tournament and place where it was played.

    For the degree of memory power and brilliance Anand has shown from childhood, the mind needs to have attained a certain level of clarity and purity from living a clean life. Nothing happens by chance or coincidence. The law of cause and effect always comes into play, and in making the right moves in life over a long period of time.

    Anand was about two to three years my junior in Don Bosco, Egmore, which in the 1970s and 1980s was like a mini-Eton and Harrow of Chennai. Our school was producing exceptional talent in academics and sport, but Anand achieved rare success in both. Ram Bhat, Anand's long-time class mate and friend, recalled how Anand's international chess playing schedule allowed him to attend only about 15 days of school during the critical and difficult final year of Standard 12, with the state government public exam required to secure eligibility for college.


    "Anand got 200 in maths [out of a possible 200], 198 in physics, and 192 in chemistry," Bhat told Asia Times Online, with awe undiluted after nearly 25 years. "He just cracked the exam [and the entire year's syllabus in all subjects] using the brief study holidays of two weeks."

    Anand had once been given the much coveted permit issued to bunk school officially for the day to participate in sports or cultural competitions. He had to play the final of a chess tournament in nearby Loyola College, a 10-minute drive away down Sterling Road.

    He came back in about 30 minutes to rejoin the class. "What happened?" asked the surprised teacher. "The tournament is over," Anand said. He had finished off his opponent in five minutes, and hurriedly returned to what was a rare treat for him: attending classes.

    More unusually, Anand is a self-made world champion who grew up in a largely non-chess environment in school. At Don Bosco we grew up amid a warm, friendly atmosphere very encouraging to talent; we had coaches for cricket and table tennis, teachers for music, art, French and German, but I can't remember any great interest in chess, or anyone arguing over advantages of the "Sicilian Defense" over the "Danish Gambit".

    Interest during school lunch break was largely centered round cricket, "croker" - our exhilarating version of baseball - and Hanif the ice-cream man, who doled out his memorable orange, grape, coffee and pista-flavoured frozen delights from near the basketball court.

    During morning assembly in early 1980s, Anand's name was nearly as much a fixture as the national and school anthem, with the principal Fr Stephen Bernard or vice-principal Fr PV Simon announcing him winning one chess tournament after
    another. He was national sub-junior champion at the age of 14 in 1983. By age 18, he had become India's first grandmaster.

    Being an extraordinary childhood talent can cause challenges to stay level-headed through adolescence, but he seemed to have no such diffculty. "Anand's humility stood out even in those early years," Michael Sundaram, our English master in high school, told Asia Times Online. "He was winning major national awards as a schoolboy, but what was special about Anand was that he did not consider himself special."


    Humility, of course, comes from detachment to the "I" and "my", and from taking more care to respect other's feelings rather than expecting respect from others. This humility has been among Anand's secrets of non-controversial longevity in a high pressure chess arena acknowledged to be mentally brutal at the highest level.

    A product of the computer era that was born in India during Rajiv Gandhi tenureship as prime minister in the late 1980s, Anand was a pioneer in Asia to extensively use computers in chess nearly three decades ago. Braving a 200% customs duty, he imported his first computer and taught himself how to use it - with interesting results. In 1988, when Anand teamed up with computer chess wizard Frederic Friedel in Hamburg, Germany, Friedel almost fell off his chair seeing Anand very efficiently using the mouse upside down. Anand was even more amazed to be told this wasn't exactly the way other humans use it.


    The Spanish-speaking Anand owns a database of about four million unique chess games, but understands that a computer - not even IBM's Deep Blue that defeated Kasparov, and more modern chess programs like Houdini and Rybka - can
    consistently match human creativity, ingenuity and ability to take an utterly unexpected decision.

    "The computer can also be insidious," Anand told a Chennai-based journalist. "If working with the computer means you stop taking risks, it's going to kill you. Managing a computer is I think very tricky. It is very powerful but it may not tell you what you want."

    Not merely use of powerful computers or his world championship victories, but it is the charismatic power from being a simple human being that seems to have reserved Anand a special place in the pantheon of all-time chess greats.

    Anand is at present away incommunicado with his family in Eastern Europe, and is next due to defend his chess crown in 2014. In the impermanence of all things, Anand may or may not be dethroned by emerging giants like Magnus Carlsen, a 21-year-old prodigy from Haslum, Norway.

    Yet among a curious tribe of sour and dour-looking world chess champions, who appear to more easily win tournaments
    than popularity polls among peers, Anand offers some proof that being considered a harmless person is no impediment to finishing first, again and again.


    (The above chronicle is a small token of infinite gratitude to my mother whose sacrifices enabled me to continue studying in Don Bosco amid a severe family crisis, to others in the path leading to Mumbai and to the happy universe of Dhamma and reality through practice of Vipassana and Metta Bhavana. )
    py

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    Viswanathan anand is truly a legend in chess i am a big fan of him.
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