One of the most naturally gifted chess players ever, Viswanathan "Vishy" Anand has had the misfortune to spend most of the early part of his career in the shadow of the phenomenal Garry Kasparov, who defeated him in a world title match and denied him the #1 spot on the FIDE rating list. Anand did manage to claim the FIDE world title in 2000 by defeating Alexei Shirov, when a rival governing body, the Players Chess Association, was created, with Kasparov defending his title under the auspices of the PCA against Nigel Short. However, almost no one considered Anand the "real" champion at this time. Only on Kasparov's retirement in 2005 did Anand come into his own, and since then he has claimed the titles of both FIDE World Champion and World #1 by rating. I have described Kasparov as a "phenomenon" in the sense that when competing with him, players did not compete simply with an outstanding chess player, but also a team of paid researchers who worked constantly with him to analyze positions and prepare opening surprises for his opponents. After the Kasparov-Anand world title match in 1995, many commentators felt that in purely chess terms, Anand was Kasparov's equal, and that the match was lost on different grounds: in the areas of preparation and psychology.
There are many reasons for this assessment of Anand's innate ability. Born in 1969 in Chennai, he was taught chess by his mother at the age of 6, and by 16 he was the Indian National Champion. In 1987 at the age of 17 he won the World Junior Championship, and the next year he became India's first grandmaster. This was remarkable enough, but what really shocked those who observed him was the speed of Anand's play. He made practically all his moves at "blitz" speed, rarely if ever appearing to calculate for long. This did not change when he began playing on the international tournament circuit, and his successes continued, resulting in his 1995 World Championship match against Kasparov, a match for which, in retrospect, he may not have been fully prepared.
Despite his playing so quickly, against opponents with plenty of time to spend thinking (classical chess
time controls are two hours a side for the first 40 moves, and one hour a side for each subsequent 20), this does not result in a great advantage, provided that those opponents have the psychological fortitude
not to get rattled by someone playing so fast. However, Anand is utterly dominant in chess events with a rapid time format (half an hour or less for all moves). He won the only World Rapid Chess Championship
(held in 2003) and has annihilated all the other top-level rapid tournaments such as Melody Amber
. Anand has admitted that in many cases he does not fully calculate variations in the same way as most grandmasters would, instead relying on intuition
to make the right choices in extremely complex positions.
Besides rapid chess, Anand is also dominant in two other "alternative" forms of chess - Advanced Chess, in which humans play with computer assistance, and Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess, in which the starting positions of the pieces are jumbled at the start of the game in order to make it much more difficult for players to memorize large amounts of opening theory. In particular, Chess960 is seen as a measure of "pure" chess ability, since most of the positions will quickly be unfamiliar to players, forcing them to rely on their calculation ability rather than extensive preparation and a good memory.
Despite his almost uncanny abilities, and despite numerous successes in matches and tournaments, Anand could not dent Kasparov's hold on the world title and #1 spot. When Kasparov retired, however, he had lost his FIDE Championship crown to Vladimir Kramnik, and for reasons too complicated to go into, Kramnik agreed to put his world title on the line in a tournament in Mexico City in 2007 rather than the usual face-to-face patch with a single opponent. Vishy Anand won this tournament, and subsequently defended his world title against Kramnik in a return match in October/November 2008, comprehensively out-preparing his opponent, and demonstrating that he now has the match experience and preparation skills that he may have been lacking when facing Kasparov over the board 13 years earlier. In relation to this, Anand said:
"I would say both of us prepared excellently. It went on for months. I have no doubt his preparation had been excellent. As important as the preparation is guessing what your opponent had prepared and what he might be doing. That is the key. This is where we did much better."
Various fan pages on the Internet have the following facts to share about Anand: he is a Brahmin. He speaks fluent Spanish and German. He is a fan of Monty Python. His hobbies (other than chess) include reading, swimming and listening to music. He has a degree in Commerce. He lives in Spain with his wife Aruna. A search for quotable quotes from the great man reveals very little; he appears to be a pleasant, relatively private person, certainly lacking the kind of extreme personality that is often associated with the World Chess Champion since the days of unstable characters such as Alexander Alekhine and Bobby Fischer. Even Garry Kasparov, while most definitely not unstable, was a forceful and controversial personality whose quotes on his rivals often made choice reading. The strongest thing one can find Anand quoted on is the increasing pressure on young players - "Nowadays, if you're not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget it." It seems that, for now, the dramas that have been associated with the World Chess Championship are over. No more controversies about hypnotists in the audience, Soviet-era political machinations, or radio transmitters in the toilets. The World Chess Champion seems to be a talented, friendly, even somewhat dull, if exceptionally talented man unlikely to lend himself to such melodrama. It hardly needs to be mentioned that he is a national hero in India and has been awarded the highest honour in that country for a sportsman, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, in 1992, as well as the country's second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2007.