December 30, 2000

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Nice guys finish first

Rohit Brijnath

V.Anand looksd like the man who sells you car insurance, the very anathema of what we'd expect from a sporting champion.

...And he has a high-pitched voice, with a giggle to match, which is kinda cool cause he's unceasingly funny, and in a self-deprecating way, once going home from dinner at my house in a Mercedes lent to him by a sponsor, and his agent Kuruvilla Abraham saying, "I'd like one of these", and this champion, who'd sit in your rusty Fiat if need be, quipping, "So would I".

...And on good days, when his stomach's empty, and he's in the mood, and the saliva is flowing, he's known to eat portions the size of new-born elephants. With a couple of side dishes thrown in for flavouring.

...And he's so square when it comes to studying, that his seconds once told him he works so hard that it would be nice if he went occasionally to a disco.

...And he'll shake your hand, and sign you an autograph without a grumble, or mumble, or a "Not now", even if he's in the middle of that new-born elephant lunch.

...And he'll agree to drive to the beach, bring his chess board, and muddy his shoes in the sand and squint into the sun, and never say "Christ, hurry up" when the photographer has forgotten to remove his lens cap.

...And he'll not miss a beat, nor moan, nor fume, indeed he might even smile, when a stranger on a plane sitting beside him, when told that he plays chess, tells him, "It's not a career alternative, unless you're as good as V.Anand".

...And young kids, who think they're him every time they sit in front of chess board, and find their jaws unhinged when they meet him, but when they can speak, and ask for help, he'll never say, "I'm too busy".

And he'll arrive for interviews with his computer, even if its in a hotel lobby, and gently, and slowly, as if talking to someone with an inferior IQ (which we are when it comes to chess) explain how he studies, how chess works, what it takes to be a champion.

...And he has a mind as versatile as Bradman's wrists, and when he thinks there are no whirrs and clicks and hesitancy and interruptions, but more, you imagine, a soft, continuous humming noise of a human machine at its logical, analytical zenith.

...And he is quick, quicker than Brett Lee's bouncer, or Goran Ivanisevic's serve, like say lightning on a stormy, summer evening, and look I know this, because before me, on his computer, he scans a board, its position, its possibilities, its weaknesses and has moved onto the next game before my eyes have counted the pieces.

...And he's got stamina, maybe from the days of walking and cycling in Spain, or whatever, because to sit across a board, day after day, opponent after opponent, and concentrate like a brain surgeon, and not lose a single damn game over weeks, is like winning some mental Tour de France.

...And he's got a memory that defies description, or at least human understanding, and once I put in front of him at lunch, a three inch by three inch picture of a chess board, with 10 or 11 pieces on it, supposedly an end game during a great match played in the early 1900s (or was it late 1800s???), and he gives it a look between mouthfuls and tells me, in 3 seconds, which game, which date, what match, what happened and who won.

...And he's got courage, a sort of cerebral boxer, reaching his title fight (against Garry Kasparov, against Anatoly Karpov) and being beaten and humiliated and choking and coming away bleeding with his confidence put through a shredder, and peoople were saying he has a "soft underbelly", but he never quit, never folded up his board, never went home to Mummy thinking he was not good enough.

And he never whined when Kapasrov beat him, instead admitting he was unprepared, an incomplete player; and he never complained at any sporting volume that last time, in 1998, Karpov was fresh and waiting for him while he'd been through the grind and thus was tired when he needed to alive; instead he did what champions do, he huddled with his seconds, and his computers, and his books, and he learnt and experimented and chased his dream.

...And he knew, always, deep down, that it didn't matter how mnay chess Oscars he won, or ELO points he had, or awards he got, or headlines he made, there was only one, singular testimony to chess greatness. Wich is why, when I asked him once why he hadn't thought of an autobiography, that he was worthy of it, that he'd done enough to talk about, he demurred, and said, "Only when I win the World Championships".

...And people are going to say that Kasparov didn't play this cycle, neither did Kramnik, and so its a devalued crown, to which I say, rest your mouth, get a life, please stay home and don't bring your rain to this parade, because if that's true then Tiger Woods rules because he has no Tom Watson or Gary Player like Jack Nicklaus had, and Kafelnikov isn't really Olympic champion because Pete Sampras was busy, and Brazil would have won the World Cup if Ronaldo didn't have that fit...

No, I say, just be grateful. Because in a sporting time of limitless arrogance, unending greed, excessive vanity, and superstar behaviour, he's stayed the big-eating, high-pitched-giggling, hand-shaking, non-complaining wonderful role model that he's always been; because in an Indian world of a billion people whose sporting history would fit on a matchbox we finally have a world champion, and thus a chance to preen.

No, I say, let's just pick up the phone and give him a call.

And say, Hey Vishy, thank you.

The Vishwanathan Anand series

External link -- Rohit Brijanth's earlier article on Vishwanathan Anand

Rohit Brijnath

Mail Rohit Brijnath