Just Sport: By Veturi Srivatsa
Most people will know what Sachin Tendulkar is doing these days, not what Viswanathan Anand is doing to wrest the World Chess Championship from Norwegian Magnus Carlsen.
Anand’s supporters feel he was not considered for Bharat Ratna because he is not a cricketer whereas Tendulkar is the darling of the elite as well as the so-called middle-class and no wonder he became the first Indian sportsman to be conferred the country’s highest civilian award, ignoring the consistent clamour for Dhyan Chand to be the first sportsman to be bestowed the award.
Dhyan Chand belonged to a different era and people of this generation may not have even heard tales of his artistry with the hockey stick, may be they know that most of India’s Olympic gold medals in the sport were won by his wizardry.
Anand’s credentials are impeccable in a cerebral sport. He won the world championship five times and is looking for his sixth, challenging Carlsen who beat him in the last edition in Chennai.
Anand, who did not even go through the full distance of the championship the last time – the tie ending in the tenth game with Calsen winning 6.5-3.5 – is back as challenger after winning the candidates tournament against all odds, surprising even his ardent supporters.
Before someone comes up with head-to-head between the two gladiators, it must be said that history counts for little in sport.
The record shows that Anand’s only victory against Carlsen came when the two met the first time and after that it’s been the Norwegian all the way, not losing any of the 22 matches between them.
Some experts thought at 44, Anand may not have the hunger to go through the rigours of qualifying for the final. Anand answered it with a one-liner, that he had started working for the rematch within a month or so of losing the title.
The best of a 12-game contest at Sochi will be won by the contestant who reaches 6.5 points. In case of a tie, the match will go into a tie-break, a kind of a shootout.
Anand is as determined a sportsman as Tendulkar. For him it doesn’t matter whether he is champion or challenger, he could not have reached Sochi in a better frame of mind than with the Bilbao title under his belt, beating some of the top Grandmasters.
It may not have escaped his mind that Carlsen is not at his best going into the contest, but the Indian is not one to factor in such indicators.
Anand knows that Carlsen is currently the only world champion in all the three formats — Classical, Rapid and Blitz and he has to find ways to sustain his aggression for longer periods if he has undo Chennai.
For someone who took on the great Garry Kasparov at New York’s famous World Trade Centre in an unsuccessful tilt at the world championship in 1995, it was a long wait before he won it in 2008, beating Vladimir Kramnik. Then he beat Veselin Topalov in 2010 and Boris Gelfand in a tie-break in 2012 before losing to Karlsen last year.
At 23, age is on Carlsen’s side, he was barely 19 when he became the youngest chess player to be ranked world number one and his peak ELO rating of 2882 is the highest ever.
If these credentials are not enough for a young man to win the world championship nothing will.
A slightly below par year by the standards Carlsen has set for himself should not lull Anand into smugness. The Indian is too experienced a Grandmaster to overlook the small pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
When Anand says he has had a mixed bag of good and bad results in 2013 and this year he is more consistent with a great Candidates’ tournament to boot, he is telling Carlsen that this time the tie will be a lot closer and that the Norwegian will not be able to push him.
For the record, Anand is the only GM not to have lost a game in winning the Candidates tournament in the penultimate round itself.
Anand has already moved a pawn, saying Sochi is a wonderful venue whereas Carlsen took his time before agreeing to play in the Russian town. Anand’s thinking is clear and uncomplicated. Yes, he agrees Chennai was a low point in his career, but he has recovered quickly and is raring to go.
In the next fortnight, Anand will provide the answers to all the queries as he starts the contest with white pieces. The best answer is to return as world champion, if only to prove a point.
Finally, the Sachin-Anand dichotomy is all about marketing them. An ad Guru said years ago that it is easy to sell cricketer Sachin than Anand who doesn’t have a constituency of his in the country because he is a non-resident Indian, for all practical purposes, and the consumer doesn’t identify with him.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)