Vishy Anand winning his fifth World chess title was no big surprise though one might argue that it took a tie-breaker for him to hold off Gelfand's challenge following a 12-game deadlock. I am no chess expert, but there is reason to believe that Anand is at his peak and probably would remain there for another few years.
Unlike other sports, chess does not demand an Olympian fitness level though some sort of physical workout is highly recommended and, in fact, there are top players who are known to frequent the gym. Anand, who is 42, too is known to have his workouts though not with the intensity of a Formula One driver.
Whatever, Anand's success is bound to unleash another wave of starry-eyed chess kids, much like two decades ago when he became a Grandmaster, an event that triggered the first chess revolution of sorts in the country. The situation also presents the country's chess officials an excellent chance to further develop the sport with the environment conducive to such constructive steps.
Come to think of it, the 1980s was in many ways a landmark decade in Indian sports. First there was Prakash Padukone's spectacular All-England badminton triumph in 1980 followed by the hockey gold at the boycott-ridden Moscow Olympics, then there was PT Usha inspiring a generation of athletes before Anand burst on to the scene as a teenage prodigy. Oh yes, the Indian cricket was given a massive push by the 1983 World Cup success.
The likes of Prakash, Usha and Anand have done far more for their respective sport than either the government or the federations. Interestingly, all three were more or less self-made though Usha had Nambiar guiding her career, but the most significant common thread binding the trio has been the impact they made in their sport, something that cannot be quantified.
Further, the three stars were in their teens when they emerged as World-class performers. In fact, I distinctly remember Prakash telling me that he along with Usha and Anand had set benchmarks for the future generations. 'I think, by 16 or 17, you should be a National champion and from there on, with the right sort of guidance, work ethic and commitment, you can make it to the highest level.'
Indeed, Prakash and Anand went on to achieve the highest possible targets while Usha came within a whisker and perhaps, would have performed greater deeds had she shifted base to the United States after coming fourth in the 400 hurdles at the 1984 Olympics. American- Indians then were willing to sponsor her stay in the US, but for some reason, Usha opted to stay back in India with Nambiar.
All these thoughts whizzed in my mind when I was following Anand's exploits in Moscow and one can only sit back and admire these three worthies for their contribution to their respective sport. Prakash and Usha presently run their own academies while I suspect that Anand would be doing much the same on his retirement.
For now, it is time to celebrate Anand's latest success and from little I know of chess, it is not easy these days to win at the highest level given the preparatory aids that players have at their disposal. Victory and defeat are often separated by just one or two moves as was the case in the tie-break when Gelfand paid the price for an error.
On its part, the Chess Federation (AICF) has been campaigning for Bharat Ratna award for Anand and his Moscow triumph has only made the clamour more strident. But then, Anand has a wise head on his shoulders and he was quite categoric the other day as he stated that neither the award nor nomination for Rajya Sabha (as in the case of Sachin) interested him.
A more befitting acknowledgement of Anand's contribution to chess as also his status as a player would be to help him start an academy that I feel will be far more productive than heaping cash awards.
Badminton and athletics federations failed to leverage the exploits of Prakash and Usha, but rather, basked in their glory. It is to be hoped that the AICF would do better and strike when the iron is hot. Anand is at the peak of his popularity and instead of awards, the officials would do well to spread the chess roots far and wide instead of merely recommending him for awards and such that make little difference to the champion who is happy playing chess.