One of the iconic events of this year was Vishwanathan Anand’s second clash with Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship. After being humbled by Carlsen in the previous Championship at Chennai in 2013, Anand had worked his way back into the title clash by winning the Candidate’s Tournament. In a match that was billed by most experts as Anand’s last chance at glory, the biggest challenge for Anand was more the mental aspect of Carlsen’s mind games and pressure tactics rather than any technical aspects of the game.
As the game panned out, Carlsen fired the first salvo by winning the 2nd game, Anand bounced back by winning the 3rd game and the buzz was that the “Tiger of Madras” was finally back. But sadly, in game 6 Anand missed a Carlsen blunder and responded with a blunder of his own ending up with a loss. He could not recover from that crippling loss and finally lost the match when he lost the 11th game as well. Although, Anand had at least 3 situations where he could have forced a win, the mental aspect of the game cost him at critical moments and Magnus cashed in big time to inflict a second straight Championship loss for Anand.
As expected, most of the chess commentators have written the obituaries of Anand‘s career. Of course, Vishy has said he would continue with the game he loves, but one needs to see how much of an affect do these two losses to a young Magnus have on Anand.
Either way, Anand has been one of the greatest superstar sportsperson to emerge in the last three decades in India. In my opinion, he alongwith two other superstars of his generation, Sachin Tendulkar and Leander Paes were the beacons of Indian hope during the eighties and nineties when the general mood within the country took a nosedive with the politics of Mandal and Kamandal. Anand was the older of the two, and was the first to light up the Indian hearts by becoming India’s first Grand Master at the age of 18 in 1988. I still remember reading all those different articles in the various newspapers and in sports magazines like Sports Star and feeling elated that an Indian sportsperson makes a mark on the International stage.
After this initial success, Anand started moving up the ladders and into the big league with major tournament wins toppling some of the big names including Kasparov and Karpov. The split in the chess world into FIDE and PCA seemed to give him more opportunities to try a shot at reaching the top. After several close misses against Kasparov and Karpov, Anand finally became the world champion in 2000 and went on to win it four more times. He remains the only champion to have won the title in 3 different formats and was the undisputed champion from 2007 to 2013 and remains one of only 8 players to have broken into the 2800 mark of ELO ratings. His current rating of 2793 is not very far from his top rating of 2817, so probably it is still too early to write Anand off at this stage. He is the oldest player to have reached number 1 ranking of FIDE list for the first time. Who knows he could still become the oldest player to win back a World Championship from a younger competitor.
What is intriguing to me is the fact that the three great champions with diverse background banked on the traditional strengths of the places of their origin. Vishwanathan Anand was born in Chennai, which has been always looked upon as the brainy part of India with many intellectual bureaucrats and thought leaders coming from that area. It was so apt that Anand emerged as the World Champion in a sport that is often associated with grey cells, Chess!! His intellect and knowhow of the games is as they say legendary and has been the hallmark of his success. Sachin Tendulkar hails from the land of Shivaji Maharaj, that wily customer who strategizes and prepares for the battles up ahead. His aggression and counter strategies define him as a leader. Sachin Tendulkar was a master of preparation and his counter aggression has often left the bowlers world wide exasperated. Again a brilliant example of the land from where he came. Finally, moving on to Leander Paes who was born in Kolkatta, a region brimming with strong emotions. And when the emotions are high, you would not want a better soldier fighting the war for you than Leander Paes. Using the emotional strength to energize himself and his partners, Leander streaked his way to Olympic glory and Grand Slams aplenty over a fantastic career. Make no mistake about it all three of them were talented and worked really hard to succeed, but each banked on a traditional strength that exemplified the region they emerged from. I think that is the beauty of India as a country. This Unity in Diversity is what makes Mera Bharat Mahaan.