Though many consider chess to have been invented in India, the Indians did not enjoy much success in the sport at the global level. Surely, we had some brilliant players in the likes of Manuel Aaron, Pravin Thipsay and others, but we did not have someone in the level of say, a Bobby Fischer or a Mikhail Tal.
All of this was to change in the year 1988, when a young boy from Chennai rose in stature to achieve all the three Grand Master (GM) norms and was named the first GM to emerge out of India at the age of just 18 years. This young boy who left the world stunned with his speed and tactical acumen over the chess board was none other than the man himself, GM Viswanathan Anand.
Early Life and Career
Born on 11th December 1969 to Krishnamurthy Viswanathan and Sushila Viswanathan, Anand was the youngest of all the three Viswanathan children. He started learning chess at a tender age of six and quickly picked up the brains of his mother Sushila, who was a chess aficionado. There was no looking back once the young Anand was hooked to this beautiful game as he earned his first International Master (IM) norm when he was just 14 years old.
He soon played made his senior India debut in the 26th Chess Olympiad in the year 1984 and earned his second IM norm during this prestigious event. Anand was awarded the title of IM as a 15 year old in the year 1985 as he achieved his third IM norm during his run to his second consecutive Asian Junior title.
Such was Anand’s brilliancy over the chess board thathe had created an aura about himself in the world of chess before he well and truly arrived. The time period between 1985 to1988 saw Anand improve his game leaps and bounds and achieving GM norms along the way.He won his first national title as a sixteen year old and was became the first Indian to win the World Junior Chess Championship as a seventeen year old in 1987.
1988 was a golden year in Anand’s career, as he achieved all three GM norms and was recognised as the first ever Chess Grand Master from India by winning the Shakti Finance International Chess Tournament in front of his home crowd at Chennai. This was followed by India’s fourth highest civilian award – the Padma Shri at an age of just 18!
The 1990s and the beginning of something Special
The year 1991 saw even more recognition for Anand as he became the first ever sportsperson to be awarded India’s highest sporting honour – the Rajiv Gandhi KhelRatna Award and qualified for his first Candidates Tournament in the same year.
The Candidates is a tournament which one has to play to be able to compete for the title of World Champion as and Anand played it as a 21 year old in the year 1991. It was a huge learning curve for the young Anand who won his first match but then went down to Anatoly Karpov in a closely fought quarterfinal.
The next few years flew by and with each passing year, with Anand falling short of the World Championship title by the slightest of all margins.His game though, aged like a fine wine during this period.
The early 2000s
The year 2000 was when Anand struck as he was crowned the World Blitz Champion by FIDE for the first time in his career. In a tournament which saw the absence of the likes of Karpov, Garry Kasparov and newly crowned classical world champion Vladimir Kramnik, Anand cruised through to be known as the FIDE World Champion in the Blitz section.
Anand tried to defend his title in the year 2002 but went down to an impressive Vassily Ivanchuk in the semifinals of the tournament.
On Top of his Game
Anand became just the fourth player in the history of chess to cross the 2800 rating barrier when he achieved the feat in the year 2006. The other players to achieve this feat before Anand were, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik and VeselinTopalov.
Even though he was crowned the World Blitz Champion in 2000, Anand officially made it in the list of World Championship only after his win in 2007 FIDE World Chess Championship – a double round-robin tournament with the world’s best players. He was also ranked number one in FIDE Rankings with a rating of 2786 earlier in the same year. In 2007, he was awarded India’s second highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, making him the first sportsperson to receive the award
Winning and Defending the World Championship Titles for fun
In the 2007 FIDE World Chess Championship, Anand coasted to a one point victory over Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand to be crowned World Champion. In his fantastic run to the title Anand defeated Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler, Alexander Grischuk and Alexander Morozevich.
The win though, was a bit controversial as Anand had not defeated Kramnik in a one-on-one match to be crowned the World Champion. After a series of agreements between Kramnik and FIDE, it was decided that Anand will get a chance to defend his World Championship title in the year 2008.
In a 12 game match against Kramnik, Anand coasted to a 6.5-4.5 win over the Russian GM to be named as the ‘Undisputed World Champion’.
Anand then went on to defend his title twice more – against the Bulgarian VeselinTopalov in 2010 and Boris Gelfand in 2012.
If the win against Topalov was straight forward with 6.5-5.5 points in 12 games, the game against Gelfand was a cliffhanger with both the players tied at 6 points each after 12 games. Anand eventually came out on top during the rapid tie-breakers to defend his World Championship Title.
The beginning of the end?
The year 2014 though was a tough one for Anand, as a young Magnus Carlsen defeated him quite convincingly to be named the World Champion for the first time in his career.
Anand qualified for the 2016 Candidates Tournament on the virtue of his 2016 performance but finished a disappointing tied second and then failed to qualify for the 2018 Candidates Tournament.
Though his sharpness has decreased with age, a 50 year old Anand played a pivotal role in the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad where India won their first ever Olympiad gold.
Turning 51 today, Anand continues to play and give tough fight to much faster, sharper and younger opponents. Such is his stature that he still continues to be the highest ranked Indian in the FIDE ranking and is currently ranked World Number 15.
On personal front, Anand was married to Aruna in the year 1996 and they both have a nine year old son named Anand Akhil.
The Unparalleled Legacy
A lot of what chess in India is today is because of the influence Anand has had. From him being the first GM from India in 1988, India today has a total of 66 Chess Grandmasters and many more likely to follow.
India owes a lot to Anand’s legacy and more so for his longevity, for playing a game like chess with the same passion for 36 years at the highest level is by no means an easy task.
With age almost catching up with the legend and fans from across the globe not wanting him to leave the game, it would be interesting to see for how long Anand continues to play the game that he adores.
No matter what anyone says and no matter how many great chess players the country produces, chess in India will always be synonymous to Viswanathan Anand.
For, chess in India for many like me is and will always be equal to Viswanathan Anand!