Having breakfast with Vishy Anand

    In 2006, I spent a month playing tournaments in Europe. I went to Belgium, Germany and Spain. The most memorable was the event in Mainz, Germany. It was a traditional rapid and Fischer Random tournament (which is also called Chess960 and in 2024 even “Freestyle” Chess. Regardless of the name, I would love more competitions in this modality).

    On the day of the first round, upon arriving at the breakfast hall, to my great surprise when none other than Vishy Anand invited me to sit at his table. Can you imagine how I felt? He was accompanied by Aruna, his wife. Staggering, still in disbelief that he was actually talking to me, I sat down at the table.

    I had played two games against the Indian genius in 2004, when he was in Brazil. But I didn’t have much contact with him and I didn’t imagine he could be so nice. My friend GM Giovanni Vescovi had more contact with Anand, even being invited to analysis sessions with him and his training team, a fact that few know. Giovanni also told me about Anand’s legendary ability to play blitz.

    Leitao jogando com Anand

    Contrary to what many people think, chess players don’t just think about chess. Anand has an incredible culture, knows a lot about Brazil and is fascinated by astronomy and Monty Python. I humbly admit that I was having difficulty with all these topics, since I know nothing about astronomy and even less about Monty Python (although I have already seen some classic videos on YouTube, this being my favorite: https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=ohDB5gbtaEQ). I tried to take the subject to topics that I knew less about, but at least I knew something, like Brazil and chess.

    When we talked about chess, I could see Vishy’s legendary speed in calculating variants and his encyclopedic knowledge of openings. I grew up reading fascinating stories about these skills, when I was a child I studied New In Chess articles, which my father already subscribed to at the time, and I saw complex games that Anand won from renowned grandmasters while spending less than 10 minutes on the clock.

    Even though he is one of the most talented chess players in history, a blitz chess fanatic and does not have classical training, after all, let us not forget that chess in India was still in its infancy and that he was the country’s first grandmaster, Anand always trained very hard. His minimum standard training was 6 hours. Talent alone is not enough. In fact, as Kasparov has said so many times: “the ability to work is also a talent”.

    In the excellent book “The Anand Files”, published by Michiel Abeln in 2019, a detailed account is given of some of Anand’s matches for the world title and the meticulous and tiring work carried out by his analysts, who sometimes barely had time to sleep. Anyone who reads this book, full of behind-the-scenes stories, will realize the high level of demand and professionalism that Vishy has always had.

    I wish I could now tell you what magical secret he told me for anyone who wants to be a great chess player. But there is no secret, there is talent and, above all, a lot of study.

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