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The Rediff Interview/Viswanathan Anand

November 03, 2004

'Heartening signs from the Chess Olympiad'

Viswanathan Anand played in the Chess Olympiad, which concluded in Mallorca, Spain last week, for the first time and led India to a creditable sixth-place finish.

India logged 34 points to achieve its best placing ever in the 14-round event. Ukraine took the gold with 39.5 points, while Russia and Armenia were second and third respectively.

With eight points out of a maximum 11, Anand emerged India's outstanding player. Krishnan Sasikiran (7.5/13), Pendyala Harikrishna (5.5/11), Surya Shekhar Ganguly (6/9), Abhijit Kunte (4/7) and Sandipan Chanda (3/5) also made vital contributions as the team bettered its previous best, an eighth placing at Istanbul in 2000.

The world number two chess player spoke to Harish Kotian over telephone from Nice, France, en route to Corsica, where he will participate in a Rapid Chess event, which he won for the last four years.

Are you happy with India's performance at the Chess Olympiad? India finished sixth, its best ever performance at the Olympiad?

Yes and no. On the one hand, it is a very good result finishing sixth, which is our best-ever result. I was also very impressed by the way the team played. Having said that, I think next time we will have to do a little bit extra, because this time we threw away quite a few opportunities towards the end and that cost us, maybe, the fourth place.

Before the event you said your dream was to win a medal at the Olympiad? Is there some dejection that you did not finish among the medals?

Well, I am happy that we were in contention till the very end. We had some difficult rounds, in round 12, 13 and 14. And in the rounds where we could have won by bigger margins our opponents kept on fighting and took half points from us here and there. But I think we were very close till the very end and that is the main thing.

Did the medal hopes suffer because the Indian team was unable to crush weak opponents like Canada, Uruguay and Costa Rica?

We did well against Canada and Costa Rica. There was a long stretch where we either won a match narrowly or lost it narrowly. At the same time, other teams were doing 3-1 or 3.5-0.5 and we lost a bit of ground there. We will need to find a way just to score more points. It sounds very funny but we will need to win games by bigger margins.

The Indian team had a very good start? In fact, the team was unbeaten in the first six rounds. What went wrong after that?

Against Ukraine and Russia it can happen. Against Cuba, it was slightly disappointing, but it's not a bad result as such, as Cuba is a good team and it can happen. You can allow for a couple of losses like this. For instance, Russia was able to do that. They had one or two days when they lost. It was quite surprising that the Russian team lost but, nonetheless, it happened. But they were able to compensate by winning some big games and that's where we lacked.

Your views on the Indian men's team that played in the Olympiad?

I think all of them chipped in very well. Towards the end some of us got a little bit tired; but if you see the first ten rounds, no team came to the board expecting to crush us. We were able to keep ourselves in contention at all times. Also, it was good that every time we lost, the next day we responded with a win. I see a lot of heartening signs, but, definitely, we need to try harder for a medal.

You will be playing a Rapid event at Corsica next? You won it for the last four years? Do you find Rapid chess very easy?

I enjoy it and, in general, I like the idea that the game is over in about an hour or an hour-and-half. I am able to fully concentrate for the entire game and, perhaps, that helps. In general, I think if you look forward to playing something and enjoy it, then it works out well.

The world Team Chess Championship is most likely to be held in India, in September or October next year. India qualified after a good showing at the Chess Olympiad. Will you be taking part in that event? Does India have a chance of finishing among the top three there?

I don't know yet if I will be taking part in that event; I will have to see. If we play better then, definitely, it will help us, but I am sure other teams are also looking at their performances. It is very difficult to say that we will work on this; we will just have to be prepared for a very tough battle next time because everybody will go back and look at what they did. But we are a team in contention and that's clear. As I said before the Olympiad, we are in a group of several teams, which on a given day could challenge us.

Who are the most difficult players on the international scene currently? Why?

There are a lot of new, young players; the ones who are becoming Grandmasters at 12 or 13, and in a few years start developing. It is interesting to see how their play develops, because this is a completely new generation in chess; a generation which has grown up with computers and so on.

Image: Imran Shaikh

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