When a train journey taught Vishwanathan Anand an important life lesson

Chess in India has seen a meteoric rise in recent times. Testament to that is the fact that three Indian teenagers are part of the Masters group of the Tata Steel Chess tournament being held in Wijk aan Zee.

One cannot talk about Indian chess without mentioning the person who put India on the world chess map — Viswanathan Anand. The former five-time world champion became the first grandmaster from India in 1988, and is one of the few players to have surpassed an Elo rating of 2800.

In a video posted on Saturday, the 53-year-old shares something he calls his ‘Museum of memories’ where he essentially shares life lessons, lessons that shaped his illustrious career and made him the person he is today.

Here are the lessons Anand, who’s currently the vice-president of FIDE, shares:

1. Way of measuring if you know a subject or concept

The first item in his Museum is a picture of Anand explaining to his mother a move. He says he wanted to tell her the latest developments in chess.

The lesson he shares here is to gauge how well you understand a subject or concept is by having the ability to explain it to other.

“Only once you’ve explained it once or twice, do you really know it well yourself. It’s a good way of measuring if you know something,” he says.

2. Chess clock

‘Lightning Anand’ was a nickname a newspaper had given him because he would always finish his moves much before the time on the chess clock ran out.
Anand says it’s all because he learnt how to manage his time efficiently.

“In life often we’ll be asked to do things in a certain way, with a certain deadline. It’s nice to be able to double check. But sometimes what seems like a quest for perfection is just your insecurity,” he says.

3. Magnetic chess set and its lessons

Before smartphones, chess players would carry a magnetic chess board wherever they went. Anand says they had to carry it because good chess players think about chess a lot.

“If you want to get something, you have to put in a lot of time. Often you think that putting time into something is wasted till it suddenly becomes useful.

“Good ideas will not happen easily if you don’t put in that time. And one day when you get the success, you’d probably have forgotten how much time you had put into it. It will seem like it popped out of nowhere, but it never does,” he says.

4. Train Journey.

Anand shares an anecdote about the time when he had just become Asia’s first junior champion and India’s first Grandmaster. The prospect of a professional chess career had suddenly become real to him.

“I was going in this train and the elderly gentleman next to me asked what do I do. I said ‘I’m a chess player’. But he said, ‘but no, what do you do’. I just told him I’m a pro chess player. Finally he said: ‘Young man, if you don’t mind my given you some advice, sports is a very unpredictable risky career. If you were Viswananthan Anand, you could make a living from chess but otherwise it will be quite a ride’.”

The lesson that Anand says he wants to share from this anecdote that one should not assume that chess is unpredictable but being an engineer or doctor is stable.
“Any career can be unstable,” he says.

5. Gambling vs preparation

Anand recalls his 2008 World Championship match against Vladimir Kramnik. Calling it the “best match of his life”, Anand says he took the decision to switch from his lifetime opening which was e4 to Kramnik’s opening position because he wanted him to be in a particular position in the game.

“It was a risk but not a gamble,” Anand says. “A gamble is when you think you feel like doing something but don’t prepare yourself for it. I had a year before this decision. I prepared myself for it. Risks are essential.”

6. 2010 match vs Veselin Topalov

Ahead of his 2010 match against Topalov, Anand’s team got to know of a rumour that Topalov had a very sophisticated computer.

“I was wondering if I should rework everything. The first day I lost in the most embarrassing fashion. I was wondering how I could come back and show my face,” Anand says.

But he learned an invaluable lesson. “At some point when you cannot control things, you cannot obsess about the fact that you are not controlling it. You have to let go and depend on what you have.”

That’s exactly what he did and by game 4, Anand had the lead before going ahead and winning it.

7. Standing up for yourself

Anand was going through a big slump in form from June 2001 till April 2002. He went to Prague tournament with the lowest expectations.

“I thought that maybe I could get 2 decent games. With this attitude I won the tournament,” he says.

But something happened on the last day of the tournament. There was a proposal to discuss the reunification of the world title at that point.

“I was angry that I was not taken into consideration and I don’t like getting angry. A lot of times in the past when there were such situations, when I had to fight for my right or take a stand, I would try to rationalise and try to be nice and friendly.

“This time, without being rude to anyone. I said that if this is my thing in the negotiations then I’m not going to go.”

In the end, it worked in his favour and he learnt a valuable lesson from that debacle.

“There will often come moments in your life where you have to stand up for yourself. There’s no need to express your anger directly with a raised tone or harsh words. Sometimes you lose the argument just by doing that. You can just do it by being firm.”

8. 1995 match with Kasparov

Anand qualified for the 1995 World Championship final by winning the candidates matches against Michael Adams and Gata Kamsky. The 1995 title match was played on the Observation Deck on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City.

It was Anand first World Championship final and after eight draws, Anand won the ninth game and took the lead.

“After I took the lead, I had a spare weapon prepared exactly for that moment. All I had to do was to switch. But where I went, he was waiting for me. He played a novelty move that change how that position would be evaluated going forward.”

And then the whole scenario became unpleasant, says Anand.

“After every move, he would get up, slam the clock, go outside, slam the door. We played in an artificial cage because of fire regulations. As a result the whole room would shake a little bit.

“That taught me a valuable lesson too that if you have a move that was strong enough to win, you didn’t need to also throw tantrums. It also taught me that sometimes you may have a perfect strategy, but under pressure you should know how to implement it. “

9. Hunger is everything

Towards 2013, Anand says he was playing competitions just out of compulsion. He enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the same as what he felt when he was young.

“It’s so much nicer when you have hunger and excitement. Over my life’s experience I’ve understood that these things are part of a cycle.”

The solution here in not becoming complacent, Anand says, is to “make your life exciting by giving yourself little goals and not big ones”.

10. Winning or participating

“Winning is more important than participating, especially when you’re 25.”

After having had such an incredible career like he has, Anand says when he was writing his autobiography, he felt the other way round. He realised that participating was perhaps, more important.

Chess players are considered the smartest and are supposed to have an amazing memory. But Anand says that’s only because the spend a lot of time trying to be good at chess.

“We concentrate better because we’re interested in the subject. We remember things because we attach stories to them. We like remembering them when they’re useful.

Whatever you want to be good at, you can train and become good at,” he says.

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