The intricate strategy and finer points of chess may well be limited to those proficient in the sport but that hasn’t deterred others from being just as intrigued about the World Chess Championship being held in the city. This is the first time a match of this stature is being held in India. Our enthusiasm could stem from the fact that of the two players, one is local lad Vishwanathan Anand. The five-time world chess champion is pitted against the much younger Norwegian and game’s latest poster boy, Magnus Carlsen.
The making of the champion
Anand’s father Vishwanathan Iyer has just finished his prayers for the day, perhaps asking request the Almighty to lead his to assist his son to victory. Along with his wife Susheela, he sits for a quick chat with us.
“He has been a champion for the last seven years. So I am not tense,” says Iyer, ahead of the big match. Susheela on the other hand admits to being nervous when her son plays.
The one to have introduced Anand to the game, Susheela recalls he was five when she first played a game of chess with him. “We used to play together a lot earlier. I don’t play with him anymore because I don’t like losing,” she laughs.
Anand’s father however hasn’t really gotten around to playing chess like his wife and youngest son. His favourite sport is cricket but he says he knows the fundamentals of chess and can discuss them with an average chess player.
Iyer was a senior railway official and the family lived in a sprawling bungalow. “There was place for a lot of games to be played but it was chess that Anand had an affinity for. He is a self-taught player and used to religiously read a magazine that had enough information on the game,” he says.
As the interview progresses, the parents appear very matter of fact about their prodigious son’s successes. “There has to be an inherent capability…not everyone can become a world champion. His success has motivated many youngsters to take up the game,” says the father with pride in his voice.
They are pleased that the World Chess Championship is taking place in the city. “It’s good for the country and the city. We may go to the venue for most of the matches,” says Susheela.
According to Iyer, there’s a lot of excitement in Chennai but for the players once they are inside the glass cabin they cut out everything else from their minds.
With Anand travelling most of the time, is there anything specific he likes doing when he’s home? “European football is something he watches on television, reads a lot, listens to music…,” says Susheela. “My wife is being modest and not mentioning that her son loves to eat food prepared by her when he’s here. He particularly enjoys rasam that she makes,” says Iyer. And what does the family do when all of them get together? “We play cards. The last time that happened was two years ago when our grandson Akhil was born. But when it comes to cards we have a different champion — my wife,” he laughs.
The battle ground
With the much-talked about battle of grey matter starting off this afternoon, the ballroom at Hyatt Regency almost feels like the Colosseum. After nearly six months of preparation the hotel is all set, so are the eager spectators. “A lot of inspection went into it. First the TNSCA officials did a recce then the FIDE officials arrived. Our hotel was chosen as a venue after it met with their criteria,” says Sunjae Sharma, area director - Bangalore, Chennai, Hampi, Kathmandu, Kolkata - Hyatt Regency. There’s an 11 ft. tall glass wall separating the players from the audience. It’s sound-proof so as to ensure that the players don’t get distracted. The playing area will have FIDE-specific lighting and the temperature will be maintained at 23 degrees. The audience seating area will remain dark and they will be expected to maintain absolute silence. The artificial flooring with raised platforms to gives the seating area the feel of a gallery and can seat 400 people.
The hotel lobby has got a huge chess board with life-size pieces. Some of the hotel staff is also dressed as chess kings and queens and will they will also have all the details regarding the event. “They had to undergo special chess-related training for the same,” says Sharma. The hotel has also been receiving excited kids coming in with their parents to get a glimpse of the chess icons. “People are also calling from all over the globe to enquire about the event and availability of rooms to watch the game,” he adds.
Biscotti the coffee shop will have an entire wall covered with in photographs of Vishy…these include pictures from of his childhood till date. The bar will have a selection of Norwegian drinks and Focaccia, their Italian restaurant will serve Norwegian cuisine.
Schooling in the sport
“Anand used to call me champ,” says Ebenezer Joseph who has played against Vishwanathan Anand. “Because I beat him thrice at the national level,” he adds. The former chess player has for many years been one of the most reputed trainers in the city. I started out at the Mikhail Tal Chess Centre at the Russian Centre for Science and Culture (RCC), one of the oldest in the city and then the name was changed to Emmanuel Chess Centre. “Anand groomed his skills at Tal in the 1980s. We called him Lightning Kid because those days we had very few chess boards and we were given five minutes to finish a game. He used to play really quick and win and that’s how he got the name.” To commemorate the championships Emmanuel Chess Centre will telecast the matches live on November 12 and 22 for the students. “A game of chess has three parts — the opening, which Anand is very good at, the middle game that both are they are both good at and the end game which Carlsen is good at. When Anand won his fifth world chess title in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said in a lighter vein, ‘We brought this upon ourselves…’ He was referring to the chess coaching at RCC,” he adds.
Aaron Chess Academy run by Manuel Aaron and his son Arvind too has similar plans. “We will screen the matches live at our academy and my father will explain to the students each move the players make,” says Arvind. He believes that in the last three months the interest in the sport has peaked and there has been an influx of students coming to their academy to learn chess. “Though most of our students are aged 12, we have also students aged above 20. There really is no age limit to play chess,” he adds.
Thyagarajan Jagadeesh of King Chess Foundation says that the chess fraternity is in a “jubilant mood”. “We took most of our students for the inaugural inauguration event at Nehru Stadium and they were ecstatic,” he says. And who are the kids rooting for? “Their mind says Carlsen but their hearts say Anand!”
For those on the move here’s an app that will keep you updated. FIDE World Chess Championship 2013 is the official app for this championship. Developed by Sri Prashanth and Asim Pereira, this app is available for Android, iPad and iPhone. “It took us 20 days to develop this app. Both of us are chess enthusiasts and I am a ranked player,” says Prashant. The main feature of this app is that one can follow the match live and follow their moves as and when they make it. “It provides updates, chess-related news, photo gallery and a live Twitter feed,” he adds. So far the app has seen 3,000 downloads on Android and 1,000 plus on Apple store.