December 27, 2000

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Vishwanathan Anand

My son, the world champion

Shobha Warrier

In 1987, Susheela Vishwanathan made a prophesy. 'You will be world champion one day,' she told her son Anand Vishwanathan, the day he won the World Junior Chess Championships.

13 years later, in December 2000, that prophesy came true. And ever since, the peace and quiet of the Vishwanathan family's beachside home in Besant Nagar, Chennai, has been shattered by the incessant ringing of the telephone.

Susheela fields all calls with patience and grace. And once her husband returns after his game of golf, hands over the responsibility to him and settles down to chat about her youngest son. Excerpts, from a conversation with Shobha Warrier:

Anand, the child

What I remember most about Anand as a child is the fact that he was very honest, he would never tell a lie. At a very young age, he was interested in games like chess, tennis, table tennis, caroms ... He was never naughty -- then again, he couldn't be, with four of us to look after him. You know of course that he was born 13 years after my eldest son, and 11 years after my daughter.

I love chess. I used to play chess with my elder son and daughter, but it was Anand who really showed an interest in the game and took it to heart. From the age of six, he played chess regularly with me.

In Manila

When Anand was nine, my husband got a posting to Manila and it was there that his chess improved. There was a television programme on chess called ‘Chess Today’ , from 1-2 in the afternoon, featuring analysis of important games by Grandmasters and International Masters.

When the programme was on air, Anand would be in school. So my job was to watch the programme and make notes, which I would then give to him. Sometimes, I would tape the programmes as well.

Susheela VishwanathanAt the end of every program, there would be a puzzle . Anand's favourite pastime was to solve the puzzle and send the solution to the television station. The winners would be announced on the next episode of the show, and prizes -- usually books on chess -- would be given to the winner. Anand built up quite a collection of books this way, he won so regularly. In fact, after a while, the director of the programme told him, "Anand, you don't have to keep entering this contest, you can come and choose whatever books you want from our collection!"

This was a very important stage in his chess development. At the time, I didn't understand the value of chess books. I used to buy him encyclopaedias, but I don't think I would have bought him so many books on chess. But luckily, he won all those books, and he read them all diligently, and learnt from them.

In Manila, you have chess tournaments on weekends, and we would take him to the venue. I don't remember him ever returning from one of those tournaments without winning a prize. People used to gather to watch him play, they were attracted by his style, even then he would play very fast, attacking chess, he became very popular there.

In those days, there was only one Grandmaster in Asia -- Eugene Torre. Torre’s brother was his coach, and he also conducted classes and tournaments for other children. He once presented a regular-sized chess board and coins to Anand and said, “ You should practice on this and come up in life.”

Till then, Anand used to play on small boards, this was the first time he got a regular board to practise on. I have that board even today, it is a keepsake for me because I think that was when his real journey as a chess player began. That board is now 20 years old, the colours have faded, but I can't dream of parting with it.

Back in India

We came back to India in 1980, and Anand started playing almost all the tournaments. He would attend school on weekdays, but weekends were kept exclusively for chess. There was this one tournament where loser had to make room for another player. Anand would go there in the morning, and he would be still playing late in the evening -- he would defeat one player after another, through the day, and never have to get up.

I was the one who had to take him there, so you can imagine my plight -- I would get there in the morning, and have to wait till evening to bring him back home. In fact, at that tournament he once won a prize for perseverance -- and even that was a chess book!

We were happy with the way he was playing, but it never struck us then that he would one day turn into a professional, and eventually become a world champion. We were happy to see him play good chess and since it was always on weekends, his studies weren't affected either.

Grandmaster at 17

Anand would enter every tournament he possibly could. Sometimes, he would be sponsored by the government, and sometimes, we would sponsor him. I went with him everywhere. At 17, he attained the GM norm, and after that I stopped going with him on tour. From then on, I would stay home, and follow his games, giving him moral support.

Always, after a match, the first thing he does is call home and tell us the result. Even when he lost, that is the first thing he would do. The good thing about Anand is that he doesn't get overtly happy when he wins, neither is he badly affected by a loss.

Junior World Champion

It was in 1987 that he became the Junior World Champion. We had not accompanied him to Manila, for the tournament. When he called and told me the news, I told him, “You are going to be world champion one day, all junior champions have later become world champions.”

He only said, “ Yeah, sure.”

In those days, he never used to play for a draw; it was either a win or a loss for him. He hated draws. It is only gradually that he changed, learnt to play for a draw if the tournament position dictated it.

And yes, we still discuss chess. When reviewing his games, I will ask him why he made a particular move, and he then explains his thinking in detail, very patiently.

In Spain

After becoming a professional, he decided to settle down in Spain. It was a matter of convenience -- most major tournaments take place in Europe. To go from here was expensive, but more importantly, it was tiring. After the world championship series against Kasparov in 1995, he earned some money and with that, he bought a house in Spain. He picked that country because he has a lot of friends there.

Since then, he has been based in Spain. He comes home once in a while, spends a month or two, and goes back again. See, beyond a point you can't expect your children to remain under your roof -- they all have lives of their own. When he comes home, he spends hours with his father, discussing anything and everything under the sun. My role is that of a listener, since I am not too interested in politics, economics, things like that.

Susheela Vishwanathan My son, the world champion

No, we didn't go to Delhi or Teheran. Now that the Internet is here, I can watch his games on the net, and talk to him after the game, so I don't feel the distance at all.

I can't tell you how happy I am, now that he has finally become world champion. We haven't celebrated yet, we are waiting for Anand to come home this weekend. All we have done so far is answer phone calls!

This time, I thought he was playing extremely well -- the way he played, there was confidence, his style was good. In recent months, he has improved enormously in his middle and end games, and also done a lot of work on his openings.

No, I don't think that it was a long time to wait -- I believe that there is a right time for everything and when the time is right, it will happen. Anand has said in interviews that he expected to win the title in 1995. But frankly, I find that he has improved enormously between then and now. Today, he is a more finished player, and really deserves the title. We are religious people, my husband and I. We believe that besides hard work, you need God's blessings, the blessings of everyone, to come up in life. We also believe in destiny.

Of late, he has also been doing a lot of physical exercise, and that has helped make him physically stronger, to balance his mental strength. Overall, today he is very stable, as a player, and that has helped produce good results.

Aruna has been marvelous for him. She takes care of everything -- interviews, question-answer sessions, answering fan mail, everything -- so that Anand can have the time to concentrate on his game. Her support has definitely been a factor in his winning the title.

Like I said, both of us are waiting for Anand to come home, to begin the celebrations. But I really don't know how we will celebrate -- he is such a quiet person, he doesn't like parties, he doesn't even like going out for dinner.

He prefers spending his time at home, in our company. Our favourite pastime is playing cards, especially rummy which is his favourite game -- and I must tell you he hates losing at rummy. You know, when he plays chess he is so calm and composed, but when he plays rummy, he is completely different. If he is beaten at chess he will take it with a smile, but when he loses a hand at cards his anger is something to see -- he shouts and carries on, and my husband sits there and laughs at him! And when he wins, he is so boisterously happy -- I don't think he has ever reacted that way after winning at chess, not even the world championship!

So I guess we will celebrate by staying at home and talking and playing cards. We generally have simple vegetarian food, and that is what Anand likes best. I do my own cooking, we don't have a cook because my husband and children like my cooking. Of course, thanks to his frequent travelling, Anand has also developed a taste for Thai and Chinese food as well.

Whenever he comes home, he brings me chocolates. I love chocolates, especially the brown variety with nuts. He also buys me perfumes and things, but I don't use them much. He himself is such a simple person, with such simple tastes, that I never know what to get him. I buy him shirts, sometimes ties also. But right now, I don't know what to get him -- he has won us the World Championship, it is the most wonderful gift any son can give, what can I get him in exchange?

Vishawanathan Anand - The Complete Series

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

Mail Sports Editor