Last November, three defeats over 10 games without victory against Magnus Carlsen robbed Viswanathan Anand of more than just the world title. The largely cynical world of chess was quick to write the five-time World champion off. With his pride seriously bruised, Anand suffered in silence.
Last month, three victories over 14 games without a defeat in an elite field earned Anand more than just a rematch against Carlsen. It restored his pride and brought back the respect of his critics and peers alike.
Despite his unparalleled consistency — he has been among the world top-10 since July 1991 — there has been no dearth of critics in Anand’s illustrious career.
When he did consistently well in tournaments, he was belittled for not doing well at the world championship. When Anand held the World title from 2007 to 2013, his detractors pointed to his lack of tournament success, accusing him of being concerned only with world-title matches and hiding his preparations while playing tournaments.
“Such statements are just one of those things floating around, and I have no idea where they come from. I’ve never withheld preparations from my tournaments. I would often say that my focus had been on the (world title) matches. I meant my mental focus. Not that I am playing second-rate stuff (in tournaments),” said Anand, on his return from Khanty Mansisyk (Russia).
“From my point of view, I can say that it is a very silly idea that I was holding something back (in tournaments). I would have gladly used all my ideas if I could. But, may be, my preparation for matches was so oriented towards one opponent that it was hard to find ideas that I could use against others.
“Or, perhaps, I was unable to focus on tournaments with the same intensity as matches.
“These are statements that I can live with. The one that I withheld something because I felt, in some way that playing tournaments like this was okay, I think it’s an insane idea,” Anand said.
Even though the criticism evidently hurt, Anand retained his sense of humour.
“I just think some of the explanations they come up with are reasonably good guesses, even if they are not correct. Some tend to be accurate but even I cannot see them,” he said.
“The point is, it doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter if they hit on something that might turn out to be a good explanation. I don’t particularly think the way you play chess is to solicit a second opinion. At least, that is not the way I play chess.
“When I play chess, I am solving problems, having fun.”
Finally, has Anand re-discovered himself?
“Well, one can go now and say all kinds of things. But I don’t see the point. I tell myself, just put it (the performance in Candidates) in the bank and keep playing well,” he said.