It’s really hard to give enough praise to Viswanathan Anand. What that man has done for the popularity of chess will echo through generations to come.
Let’s begin with the beginning. Anand was a sensation as a teenager. Although chess originated in India, top players from the country were non-existent when Anand grew up in the 1980s. The last time an Indian player had made a name for himself on the international tournament circuit was when Mir Sultan Khan made headlines in the early 1930s. In the late 80s, India still didn’t have any grandmasters.
It became clear early on that Anand was something else. He beat all the older junior players in his home country, winning the national Sub-Junior Championship at the age of 14. He branched out to Asia the next year, winning the Asian Junior Championship two years in a row. The year after, he participated in the World Junior Championship and won that as well.
He played his classical games at blitz speed, earning him the nickname of, “The Lightning Kid”. This was a truly special skill. There has probably never been a player of world championship caliber that has moved as quickly as Anand did.
At the age of 18, Anand became India’s very first grandmaster. It’s truly amazing that almost 30 years later, India now has 47 grandmasters and 65,000 FIDE rated players. Only the chess giant Russia has slightly more with 67,000 players. The popularity of chess in India has simply exploded, and Anand has played a big part in that.
What’s even more amazing is that Anand is still the highest ranked Indian chess player at the age of 47. He has been the top-ranked Indian player in four different decades, with the possibility of extending that to five.
Let’s step back again to the beginning of Anand’s professional career. In the early 1990s, Anand was one of the hottest young chess talents in the world, and he still played games at lightning speed.
Players from other parts of the world than Eastern Europe were at a huge disadvantage at the time. The Soviet chess machinery was massive. The top Russian talents had access to the best chess coaches in the world. While Anand had to make it on his own as the sole Indian GM, Vladimir Kramnik was being trained in Mikhail Botvinnik’s legendary chess academy, where Garry Kasparov had also been trained.
Anand played a big role in democratizing chess education and globalizing chess as a sport by being a pioneer at utilizing the power of computers. We take it for granted these days, but Anand was among the first grandmasters to use computers for opening preparation.
Anand was one of the top 3–5 players in the world in the 1990s but was ultimately overshadowed by the greatest player of all time, Garry Kasparov. Anand failed to win a world championship in the 90s but did win the FIDE World Cup in 2000.
In the 2000s, Anand was already past 30, but he kept on improving. The aging Kasparov retired in 2005, well aware of the very real threat Anand represented against his status as the leading player. While Kasparov had been fading, Anand kept winning tournament after tournament. He won Wijk aan Zee in 2003, 2004 and 2006, Dortmund in 2000 and 2004, and Linares in 2007 and 2008. In rapid tournaments, Anand was practically unbeatable. He is, in my opinion, the greatest rapid player of all time.
Anand finally got his well-deserved world championship title by winning the FIDE World Championship Tournament (2007).
He cemented that title by taking down the mighty match player Vladimir Kramnik in Anand – Kramnik World Championship Match (2008) and by defending his title in the Anand – Topalov World Chess Championship (2010) and Anand – Gelfand World Chess Championship (2012). He held the world championship title until he finally lost it to the rising comet Magnus Carlsen in 2013.
What happened next surprised everyone, as Anand qualified for yet another world championship match in 2014, at the age of 45. Everyone had written him off, but he showed his longevity and class by winning the 2014 Candidates Tournament convincingly. Anand lost that match as well, but his warm and friendly personality shone through as he was humble in defeat.
Today, Anand is 47 years old and still in the top 10 on the FIDE rating list. He continues to compete at the highest level and is still one of the greatest ambassadors for the sport. Considering all of Anand’s achievements, I regard him as one of the ten greatest chess players of all time. He is a national hero in India, with good reason.
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author’s own.