Sunday, November 2, 2008

An interview with World Chess Champion Anand of India
Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand of India just defeated Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in a 12-game World Championship match in Bonn, Germany to retain his title. The final score was 6.5 - 4.5. The match prize funds are 1.5 million Euros ($2.35 million U.S.).
Here is the continuation of my column last week.
Susan Polgar: What role do computers play in today's chess?
Viswanathan Anand: Well, I think it is like having the best tactical player in the world at your disposal 24/7.
Clearly, you have to find a way to use that. And of course as the processors get better, the computer goes a little bit further out. So nowadays, we have engines even suggesting non-tactical moves, simply because they look so far ahead. And I think it is a great help.
But of course you have to make sure that you don't drown in that information, so you have to keep track of what you do. Essentially, it comes down to the same thing, getting to the heart of the position, some key concepts, and then being able to get to the bottom of things.
SP: How have you been able to maintain your top level for two decades?
Anand: I think it is basically easy, because chess is fascinating and it is very easy to keep that. And of course when I start to lose it, I take off for a few months and maybe take a vacation and do something else and things usually come back after that.
Sometimes you manage to stop on your own, and sometimes it takes a heavy defeat to stop you. But anyway, usually after you stop for a while, you'll get it back, as long as you maintain this kind of balance with the right amount of chess. You need practice and you need to maintain that tournament tension to have that feeling. If you stay away for too long, you lose that and then it is harder to come back.
But if you can sort of manage this kind of balance, it's nice. I like to lose myself in my hobbies as well, like astronomy and traveling. And this is nice because it allows you to put chess in the proper place.
SP: How many countries have you visited and do you have a favorite?
VA: Actually, I just reached forty-nine. So I am hoping to get to fifty.
SP: Can you tell me about the chess in the school's program in India?
VA: We currently have a program called Mind Champion's Academy. It is an idea from the IT company that I work with (NIIT), they already do all the computer education through many schools in many states, so something like 4,000-plus schools, with a total student population of more than 1.4 million. And of that, more than 70,000 have played in a competition this year. The nice thing is that we also reach out to non-traditional areas; not only the cities, but small towns and villages as well. So hopefully in five to ten years, we will start to see the effect of this as more and more people enter the chess world.
But the idea for the students is that even if their attraction for chess is limited, we think it is a good tool to help their academics, to develop certain skills and so on. So it is a win-win situation and that's what I'm excited about. Obviously when I come back now, it is a program that I'll continue.
SP: What role does chess play in education?
VA: I think nowadays, children need all the help they can get and generally children learn better in the form of a game. So in that sense, chess has a role because it teaches them problem solving, but in a fun way, because they will reject anything that bores them.
For chess, I think there is an incentive because it will help the sport. But frankly, it is a big help for the schools and it gives the kids something to do. Perhaps it will replace other less healthy alternatives. To give them anything that's fun and positive is good.
I think that's one area where chess will grow, because many countries are doing the same thing, and all based on the theory that chess develops skills that are useful. I think it's something that will prosper.
SUSAN POLGAR is a professional chess player, champion and founder of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Texas Tech,