02 Sep 2020 19:07 IST

Every move matters for Viswanathan Anand

Indian chess champion speaks about how he stays ahead of the game, even in the online world

MS Dhoni recently announced his retirement from international cricket. All through his career, he has been celebrated as a finisher — one who left nothing to chance and ensured that he stayed at the crease and wrapped up the match for his team. Indian chess grandmaster and five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand, like Dhoni, also feels that it is very important to stay and never stop till you have the point in your bag.

Never slack off

Delivering his keynote address as Chief Guest, in an exclusive event for women organised by Madras Management Association in partnership with Global Adjustments Foundation and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, he said, “It is one thing to be almost there in a game and another thing to have the game in your pocket.” He cited an anecdote from his journey when he lost a vital match from a position of great strength.

“In 1994, I was on my way to qualify for the world chess championship. In one of the knock-out matches, I was leading my opponent by two points with three games to go. Essentially, I had to lose two out of these three, so as not to win it. I started to relax a bit and did not focus properly. I lost the next two games and the match went into tie-break. I lost that too,” reminisced Anand.

Many seemingly done and dusted deals in business have never materialised, thanks to slackening of pace at the nth hour. Many prestigious projects that were well executed have flopped at the end due to improper closing.

If we are to go by what Anand said, we should not lower our guard, especially when we are in sight of the finishing line. In our fight with Covid, as the government ‘unlocks’ to revive the economy, many people mistakenly think that the war with Covid is over and slacken their approach by not wearing masks, ignoring social distancing, and neglecting hygienic practices. The results of such complacency could cost us dearly.

Identify emotional triggers

“Difficult moments are the ideal time to reflect, to do an objective analysis of ourselves and think what we really need to do to improve systematically,” suggested Anand.

During the course of his career, he acknowledged there were psychological weaknesses that he had — impatience, and many other emotional turmoils. How can we turn these into useful indicators? “We have to identify when these emotions hit us and have the discipline to note down, so the next time these emotions come up, our warning signals will go off,” he said.

Learning never stops

Anand narrated his account of getting stranded in Germany for four months, after innocently flying there in February this year to play two club matches. He reckons that it was an extremely interesting learning experience and that he could add a few tools to his tool-kit.

While in Germany, he got an opportunity to do some commentary for a Chess tournament and grabbed the chance as it was a new development for him. “I practised some languages and read subjects that I had not read all the self improvement stuff,” he said.

As online Chess started booming, Anand decided to rehearse and practice things that would be valid for any possible future. Though a legend, he deep dived into his knowledge of Chess. “I learnt online chess, studied rook endgame, pawn endgame and Sicilian defence,” he said and added that he did a lot of physical training too.

Embrace the change

According to Anand, one of the greatest challenges in playing online chess is the absence of dime-a dozen cues that one gets when playing a physical tournament.

“When I play chess everywhere, I always get a dominant impression about the exact moment I am ready for an event. This mental preparedness would gradually build up. At every stage, right from getting into the car for airport, something clicks and I gain complete concentration. I know, for sure, the tournament has begun. But in an online tournament, even two minutes before the event starts, it just doesn’t seem real. It feels like it’s happening to someone else, somewhere else,” said Anand.

He stressed the need to adapt to the online mode — whether it is in Chess or other areas and said, “I realised the need to manufacture artificial cues. Twenty minutes before a game starts, I have to look at puzzles, do something that warms me up or play training games. This is the beginning of a new curve.”

Time to reflect

Anand likened the battle with the Covid pandemic to playing against the chess computer. “You don’t have any idea what the computer thinks; nothing you do impacts it in any way. The Corona virus reminds me of that.” On the future of chess, he opined that the game will change fundamentally and there will be more of online games.

He confessed that the pandemic has made him change his outlook. “I used to think that a lot of things are important. Now I have found out that many of them are not that big a deal breaker. This is a good chance to reflect and get ready for the future.”

Five tips to stay focussed

In the question and answer session, Anand shared five tips to stay focussed.

Do what interests you; you can become more engaged and it’s easier to concentrate.

Try to visualise a positive outcome.

Be self-aware and learn from past errors. Find out how you can get some cues to alert you when a similar situation is about to crop up.

Do physical exercises.

Spend quality time with family.

(The author is a freelance writer based in Chennai, a corporate trainer and a visiting faculty for various B-Schools.)