Viswanathan Anand is said to be training in a small German town

For a casual follower of chess, it is more of a recreational activity and less of sport.

Many argue against chess being categorised as a sport because it is bereft of gaugeable physical aspects like stamina, speed, strength and skill. Further, this cerebral exercise is neither a contact sport nor offers spectators to cheer their favourite from the viewing area.

Far from these popular perceptions, chess can be physically very demanding. To sit behind the pieces for hours — planning, analysing, calculating and finally making a move — requires peak physical condition to excel.

Each game, on an average, lasts around four hours. Normally a tournament involves nine to 14 rounds. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to prioritise physical fitness in order to fight mental fatigue. When the stakes are high, it is imperative to train hard to attain optimum fitness.

 For World champion Viswanathan Anand and World No.1 Magnus Carlsen, their upcoming clash for the World crown has provided an opportunity to regain their peak fitness.

Notwithstanding the high stakes, Anand, 43, is aware of the long battles ahead unlike in his three previous best-of-12 games title-defences. Carlsen, 22, is on the threshold of playing the biggest match of his sterling career. In a battle, where no quarter is given and none asked for, both players are spending hours getting into shape without being reminded on what needs to be done over the board.

 Though the players intended to train in complete secrecy, some information has filtered through social media. Eric van Reem, a chess writer and Vice President of Chess Tigers Training Academy owned by Hans-Walter Schmitt (Anand’s close friend and leader of the delegation at Chennai), has made certain interesting revelations.

Anand is believed to be in training with his team at Bod Soden, a small German town with a population of about 22,000. “He bought a season ticket for the swimming pool in Bad Soden and swam about 1000 metres per day. He would also run 10 km every day and has also been spotted on a bicycle in the beautiful hills around the town. He lost about six kilos this summer. Though most of the time, Anand prepared for the match in the Chess Tigers Training Center with his seconds.”

An article in the German daily Bad Sodener Zeitung also claims Schmitt as saying, “This will be his toughest challenge. It is a battle of experience versus youth.”

Anand is known to go for long walks as part of his fitness regimen. But now it is not surprising to learn of Anand swimming and running to retain the title.

In contrast, Carlsen has considered the gym as an important part of his routine. He has kept himself in shape not just by buying an expensive gym membership; he actually goes there. For the upcoming championship, Carlsen is believed to be training with his team near Oslo, Norway.

In an interview to a local daily, the youngster said he was preparing himself physically for the long, tough days ahead in India and has a good team around him.

“I am very conscious that we should not over focus on the match though. I do not feel any pressure at all. Everything is normal for me” he said.

Carlsen’s manager Espen Agdestein maintains, life was “usual” and “my job is to make every day for Magnus as it normally is before any major tournament.”

Carlsen, who has been playing a lot of golf, tennis and beach volleyball as part of his fitness routine, said, “I think there are many elements of sport in chess.

“We prepare very seriously for the games, the main objective is winning, the players prepare physically as well as mentally, and it’s very tough – you get seriously tired playing long games.”

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