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‘Not all players can explain why they play so well; I can’t, Anand can’

After claiming the rapid title at the Tata Steel Chess a fortnight ago in Kolkata, Arjun Erigaisi was well-placed to take the blitz crown as well. But the 18-year-old sensation faltered at the last hurdle, losing to Levon Aronian in the tie-breaker.

At the closing ceremony, Aronian explained why Arjun did not win the blitz title. “The only reason is...that Arjun is a very strong chess player, but physically he is not strong enough to carry two cups,” said the World No. 6. And the packed audience at the National Library auditorium burst out laughing.

A few moments earlier too he had made them laugh when he said that meeting Viswanathan Anand in his new role as an organiser of the tournament was a different experience for him. “This is the first time I am seeing him as a person who doesn’t want to hurt me,” he said.

A little later, some of the other organisers almost had to drag Aronian away from adoring fans who wanted his autograph to the players’ lounge, where he sat down for a long chat with The Hindu. The 39-year-old looked back at his long career, in which he has won the World Cup twice, the World rapid and blitz championships and led Armenia to the gold in three Olympiads much against the odds.

The man, who was once dubbed ‘The Pawn Star’ by CNN for his massive popularity in his country, also spoke about his love of India, Satyajit Ray’s films, Anand, the young Indian talents and switching his allegiance to the United States (he had earlier gone public on what he sees as the current Armenian government’s failure to support chess). Excerpts:

How difficult was the decision to leave Armenia?

It was the toughest decision of my life. I realised that if I wanted to play competitive chess, I had to move out of Armenia. Because I feel at this moment in Armenia there is no faith in me. They do rate me highly. They respect me. It’s one of those things: some people think you have reached a certain age and you are not important any more.

It breaks my heart, but there is nothing I can do. If politicians think differently I can disagree with them, but I accept their decision. But I have to do what I believe I was born for.

The Armenian people are disappointed but a lot of them understood my situation. I didn’t want to go around and say that the people didn’t help me. You have to help yourself. I was being disrespected by my government. That broke my heart.

Why the United States?

I have had a great relationship with Saint Louis Chess Club and its founder Rex Sinquefield. When you are in the top 10 for 15 years and more, it’s not that you really need anything in life. All you need is respect. Rex sponsors chess, loves the game and the players.

Your contribution to Armenia has been remarkable, leading the country to three Olympiad triumphs, exceeding expectations.

I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to carry forward chess in my country. I was given the support by Armenia for many years. People were keen to help me.

The first Olympiad victory at Turin in 2006 was special. People didn’t believe we could compete against Russia, Ukraine and other superpowers. There was a great interest in chess in Armenia after we won.

But it is our victory at Istanbul in 2012 that means most to me. There was an Armenian genocide (at Anatolia, in modern Turkey, during the First World War). The Armenians living in Turkey get reminded of the injustice every day. To win the Olympiad (the biggest team title in world chess) in front of their eyes made me proud and happy.

How do you look back at your biggest personal triumphs?

The two World Cups I won (in 2005 and 2017) mean a lot to me. I am also fond of my four tournament victories at Wijk aan Zee.

Before all that, winning the World junior championship in 2002 in Goa was probably a turning point in your career?

Yes, it was. I had just moved to Germany at that time. And I was stagnating. I wasn’t sure if I was improving as a player. I thought maybe I should go for studies. It was a time of disappointment for me. To win the World juniors without really preparing — [that] brought me back to the game.

Your affair with India began on that tour?

Yes. I became vegetarian after that tour. In Goa I tasted vegetarian food and it was incredible. I thought I could live eating food like that. I began to love India. I am influenced by Indian philosophy. I love Indian classical music a lot. I like to listen to musicians such as Ravi Shankar, Allauddin Khan and Nikhil Banerjee. It is beautiful music. It is very spiritual.

How did you fall in love with Indian films, those of Satyajit Ray in particular?

I discovered Indian cinema five years ago. I had read that Ray’s father was a friend of Rabindranath Tagore, whose poetry I had read. That led me to Ray’s Apu Trilogy and I watched the three films back-to-back. They are all lovely, but Pather Panchali is my favourite; it is so natural. I know Ray was influenced by Neorealism. And yes, I have watched the film he made with chess as the background (Shatranj Ke Khilari) though I didn’t like it as much as I did the trilogy. Another Indian film I like is Pyaasa.

What do you think of Anand working with India’s young players?

It must be like a dream-come-true for them. Some of the players cannot really describe why they play so well. I can play a good move, but can’t explain why I played that move. But Anand can. It’s like making the game’s mechanics clear. Anand is so methodical. He is so precise. I think he is going to move this country forward in chess.

Anand would be in your list of all-time greats?

My list may look a bit different from the usual ones. On top is Magnus Carlsen, followed by Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Viktor Korchnoi, Alexander Alekhine, Jose Raul Capablanca, Anand and Judit Polgar.

I know people might be surprised with Korchnoi and Polgar, but they are both one-of-a-kind in the history of the game. We have to acknowledge Korchnoi’s longevity and Polgar has shown what women could do in this game.

Your thoughts on the young Indian players?

Every time I look at them I realise these guys are so good, so much better than I was at their age.

Who has impressed you the most among them?

Arjun is remarkable when it comes to his play in rapid and blitz. I think he is going to translate it into classical chess as well. He is fearless. He has a very natural touch.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 1:22:35 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/not-all-players-can-explain-why-they-play-so-well-i-cant-anand-can/article37832992.ece

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