Kolkata: Viswanathan Anand firmly believes that India has enough talent to produce the next Chess World Champion but not before 2025 since there is no “quicker pathway” and the process to create one will take that much time.
Anand began to groom and mentor the next batch of chess whizkids at his Westbridge Anand Chess Academy (WACA) after COVID-19 induced the first lockdown in 2020.
Six of India’s Gen-Next talents — Nihal Sarin, R Praggnanandhaa, Raunak Sadhwani, D Gukesh, R Vaishali, and Arjun Erigiasi were inducted — when WACA came into being in December 2020.
Praggnanandhaa’s (Praggu in chess fraternity) personal coach, though, is RB Ramesh.
“If you want the formal title it will be earliest in 2025. There is no quicker pathway, which gives us plenty of time to get ready but there are a lot of details in that,” Anand told PTI in a virtual interaction on Wednesday.
With Magnus Carlsen refusing to defend his title, the 2023 World Championship will be between the top two finishers of the Candidates and it is from the next cycle only, that the likes of Gukesh and Praggu can vie for the honours.
Anand’s objective is not only to contribute in an Indian winning a world title but also to create a pool of players to make India a “superpower in chess”.
“The world championship cycle, let’s see what shape it will take in the next 1-2 years and so on. But the World Championship is just an icing on the cake. We should be aiming for the cake, by just getting stronger, making progress.
“If you are strong enough then you are ready for whatever turns up there, that’s my attitude. It will be very hard to predict what shape of things the chess world is changing very fast these days,” he added.
Chess Olympiad showed India is emerging chess superpower
India finished with an unprecedented nine medals including a first-ever bronze by the women’s team at the Chess Olympiad and that has given Anand plenty of hope.
India B team comprising Gukesh, Nihal, Praggu, and Raunak won a bronze in the open section and Anand feels it’s “not a coincidence”.
“I certainly think we contributed to it. Of course, you have to praise their individual coaches, families, and their own work. But I think we certainly contributed.
“There was a period when they were all promising top youngsters and I think they have not wasted these last three years and made significant progress, every single one of them with this kind of systematic work.” “Results of the Olympiad more or less convey that (India is emerging as a superpower in chess) but there are many areas to work on and there are a lot of competitions. I would like to keep the foot on the accelerator, we need to keep pressing this.” For Anand, the performance is more praiseworthy as it was a junior team.
“You can hardly ignore that essentially our junior team, which was fielded only because we could field a second team as the host nation, goes on to win a bronze, and in fact misses the gold. That is quite a story. That’s not a coincidence.”
Focus will shift to fitness, tournament-specific training
Anand hopes to help impart more tournament-specific training and focus on improving fitness in the coming days.
“For tournaments, if we are going to play at the Wijk aan Zee meet (Tata Steel Chess), or any top event in an online series, then you should be able to train a bit exclusively for that.
“I also want to expand the program a little bit more so we can see each other quite a bit more often, and increase the emphasis on fitness (with smart watches), psychological training, because the needs are evolving.” For Anand, it was important he didn’t waste time during the peak pandemic months as the Academy was up and running in December, 2020.
“My first goal was we should not waste the pandemic, there was a lot of online chess happening, that’s fine for some things.
“I saw it as an opportunity to play chess and be ready for bigger tournaments when they happen. Praggu and Nihal were just above ELO rating 2600 at that stage. Arjun, Gukesh along with Raunak were rated at 2500-something.
“Once the academy became functional, with upgraded coaching, all the students improved upon their ELO rating.
“Very soon everyone’s rating graph took off, they started having very very successful results. We were running ahead of targets, at that stage we spoke of 2615 and how to get there and so on. Everyone was crossing that quite fast.
“Now we have Gukesh, Arjun who have 2700-plus rating. Praggu has mainly beaten Magnus five times, biggest of the standard achievements. He’s been doing very well and also very close to 2700 now. It’s been very good progress,” Anand said.
One-two tournaments a year, so I don’t forget chess
So what’s in store for Anand, the player? “It’s just playing one-two good tournaments a year because if I don’t play often enough then I forget what practical chess is like… It’s important to have at least familiarity and try to play well, to keep my level. I would say that’s where I’m right now,” he concluded.