At 48 His Career Is Far From Over
Anand not only has sublime chess skills but has a never say die attitude
They said he was over the hill; that his career was over. The more vociferous of them openly called for him to retire. But his critics didn’t know what they were talking about and more to the point who they were talking about.
Viswanathan Anand not only has sublime chess playing skills that has made him a multiple world champion and one of the greatest in the history of the game, he is also mentally very tough with a never say die attitude. And just as the cynics were getting ready to write his epilogue trust Anand to come up with a one two knockout punch to dramatically illustrate that he is still a force to be reckoned with and even at 48 his playing days at the top are far from over.
Coming into the world rapid championships at Riyadh Anand had endured a rather indifferent year. A gradual fall in the world rankings, an early exit from the Chess World Cup in Georgia and finishing last in the London Chess Classic all had the critics saying that his career was over and some were even of the view that he should quit.
In fact by his own admission Anand came to Riyadh in a pessimistic mood. But he shook off the despair and produced a performance that would rank among his best even in his long and illustrious career. First he won the world rapid championship in a tough field that included world champion Magnus Carlsen and two days later finished with a bronze at the world blitz championship.
Even with Anand’s exalted status and his manifold achievements over the years there were several commendable aspects about these two performances. For one thing they came about at a time when he was being written off as a spent force. As he himself put it ''This success has come at a time when I needed it most and will be among my most cherished memories. It was quite like winning the Candidates tournament in 2014,’’ he said. Secondly he lost just one game on his way to the rapid title and the bronze medal in the blitz championship. In both competitions he peaked at the right time after an indifferent start. He ranked as ''very special’’ his victory over Carlsen in the ninth round of the rapid championship as he was playing with black pieces but was also quite pleased with his win over Peter Leko in the second round. He also rated his losing just one game at the blitz championship as a ''huge achievement’’ given the tricky nature of the format and the fact that his results of late in both rapid and blitz had been indifferent.
This was Anand at his best. He proved that he still had the hunger for success and that he could rise to the challenge overcoming the growing competition from younger players as well as taking unfair criticism in his stride and silencing his critics for good. And even for a vastly experienced campaigner who has seen it all and is rather phlegmatic by nature Anand was as thrilled as a schoolboy at his latest feats. ''It’s a fantastic feeling to finish on the podium in the Rapid and Blitz because they are both very different formats,’’ Anand said after his third place finish behind Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin. Indeed there are very few players who have finished on the podium in both formats and that puts Anand’s latest achievement into proper perspective. What also gives it the cutting edge is the background against which the feat was achieved. Little wonder then that he described the feeling as ''euphoric’’ and added that he would be ''floating for the next few days’’. .
This amazing turnabout towards the end of the year makes one feel that vintage Anand like good wine could get even better in 2018. This feeling has been echoed by two people who know him well. RR Vasudevan international chess arbiter and coach is of the view that despite the presence of several young players Anand’s results have shown that ''old is gold’’. Speaking in similar tones four time women's world champion Susan Polgar says that ''my admiration and respect for Anand towards his passion for chess is underscored by his willingness to battle against much younger players in one tournament after another. He will go down in history as one of the best ever to grace our beautiful game.’’