Chennai,Rutvick Mehta: Chess maestro Viswanathan Anand tells Rutvick Mehta that as long as he is playing well and enjoying the game, there is no reason why he should stop. Excerpts:
You had two losses and seven draws in your last tournament, the Sinquefield Cup, in the US. Being winless is pretty rare for you. How do you get over a low phase like this in your career?
I think you come back, you splash some cold water on yourself and then you start working again. The thing is you shouldn’t get too euphoric after a win or after a good result – like my last two or three good results – and you shouldn’t get too depressed by a bad one. Obviously, what you should see is the tendency, the trend. I think it’s still possible to arrest this trend, and I will put all my focus on doing that.
Is it fair to say that the other players have caught up with you?
Yes, I think there’s nothing secret in all this. You get together a strong group of people, and start working. These are skills that are available to others. And yes, you’re right. I wouldn’t say that I have a huge lead in some area. But compared to what was happening two years ago, I feel that I am much more in the main group right now. And hopefully I can keep working to maintain that.
You surrendered in both your opening losses in the Sinquefield Cup. Experts reckon you should now opt for a more risk-taking game. Are you looking at a change in your game plan in the future? And what role does the team behind you play in that?
Well, team strategy is important because you have to be able to accept other people’s work. There is too much work to do, and you cannot do everything yourself. You don’t specialise in everything. So you have to learn to accept ideas, accept contributions from others and even learn. Their way of doing things and seeing things is completely different. There is some information there: why are they seeing it differently? And then you compare and try to figure that out. Your team is there to give you support. You know that there are four guys there who are dedicated to giving you their best work, and you can take comfort from that.
And you know if you feel good in the morning, if they give you strength, that lasts through that day. The team will also keep evolving. It’s not necessary that I’m happy or satisfied with it. Some people would want to take off towards their own careers. So there will be small changes, but my team has always had one or two constant members.
Leander Paes, at 42, is winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles. You’re 45, and still going strong. Do you think 40 is the new 30 in sports?
It’s an interesting thought. I checked the top 10 recently in chess, and I saw the average age of the top 10 players. It’s 30. But if you take the median age, that is if you remove two guys from either end, then you get the top six players in effect. The age then drops to 21. If you remove one from either side, it becomes around 29. So I think the 40s are being defended by three guys, that’s (Veselin) Topalov, 40, (Vladimir) Kramnik, 40, and me. Everyone else is 32 or below. So I don’t know. These days people are more surprised that 40-year-olds can still play chess, or any sport for that matter.
But equally if you look at, let’s say, Leander in tennis or maybe Roger Federer – who’s the name everyone is screaming out – then you see that the argument can be made from both sides. Sports is getting younger, but just because something is trending in one direction, it doesn’t mean that you accept it as destiny and give up. I’m still able to play well, Federer is still able to play well, and if you’re able to play well and you’re still enjoying, why not continue to do it? It’s as simple.
But there will come a stage in your life when you’ll sit back and say, ‘I’ve had enough’, isn’t it?
Look, as long as I enjoy it, I don’t see why that moment has to come. Again, that’s the wrong order, because when that moment comes, then it’ll be a different thing. But for the moment, I’m enjoying myself a lot. I mean it really isn’t about ticking all the items in a box. I like chess, I like doing it. So I do it. If at some point it becomes really difficult, I’ll surely take a decision then.