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26 years on, Anand still hungry for top honours

Is he the greatest Indian sportsman ever? It would certainly be easier to argue for him than against him. Viswanathan Anand’s latest honour of being in the world’s top ten for 26 consecutive years only confirms this belief.

I have often wondered why Anand doesn’t get enough recognition for his unique achievements and the inspirational role he has played in almost singlehandedly popularising chess in the country. What was the chess scenario in India before 1987 when Anand became the first Asian to win the world junior title and later became the country’s first Grandmaster (GM)? There were just a handful of International Masters (IMs) and chess was looked upon as a leisurely relaxation instead of a serious sport. True, there was a following for chess in India and people were familiar with great names like Petrosian, Tal, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov.

Viswanathan Anand
But all we in India could do was to sit back and applaud the achievements of the chess greats mostly from the Soviet Union as it was then until Fischer broke the monopoly. How we wished that someone from the country that reputedly invented the sport could shine on the international stage. But nothing of that sort happened until the late 1980s when Anand suddenly started showing signs of becoming the first Indian chess great.

Even as a teenager, Anand was mentally strong. Besides talent aplenty, he had an ideal temperament and a burning desire to succeed. And over the last 30 years he has made the country proud by his manifold achievements, culminating in being crowned world champion five times. He has come a long way having an ELO rating of over 2800 (only one among five players in history to break this mark), winning the Chess Oscar six times and being awarded the nation’s second highest civilian award — the Padma Vibhushan — besides being the first recipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.

Possibly even more than these accomplishments and accolades Anand is remembered as a role model and a mentor. No one in Indian sport has played a greater inspirational role than Anand and this is underlined by the fact that since he broke the barrier there are now as many as 47 GMs and 92 IMs in this country.

At 47 he can sit back on his many achievements but Anand is still hungry for success. As the first player in chess history to win the World Championship in three different formats — knockout, tournament and matchplay — he has an aura all his own.

Yes, there have been questions lately about the decline in his skills. His detractors point out that he has lost to players ranked below him, that his form in tournament play has been inconsistent and that he has slipped in the rankings gradually in the last decade. Also, he lost the world championship match to Magnus Carlsen in 2013 in his hometown of Chennai and again the following year.

Overall however there is little doubt that Anand is fully deserving of his exalted status in world chess and Indian sport. It speaks volumes of his longevity and consistency that he has been able to match the best chess playing brains over a period of 26 years. It cannot be easy to excel among the elite in a highly competitive field for a quarter of a century.

Source: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tracking-indian-communities/26-years-on-anand-still-hungry-for-top-honours/

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