Following his 17 move demolition of Boris Gelfand a couple of days ago, a number of Indians on the Interwebz have been on something of an Anand-high. The India Today archives retains a fascinating interview with Anand from 1997 that documents his resolve after losing to Kasparov in the World Chess Championships in 1995. The interviewer is Rohit Brijnath.
To understand Anand is to first decipher what makes a great chess player. Unlike Sachin Tendulkar, whose skills lie evident on a field, chess is not exhibitionist, and so Anand's virtues lie invisible, locked into his head. Patience, concentration, logic, reasoning, chess knowledge ... and memory slightly more complicated than remembering your car number. Chess legend Bobby Fischer once called a friend in Iceland; he was out, his daughter spoke to Fischer in Icelandic explaining in detail where her father had gone. Fischer did not understand Icelandic. Still, he called a friend who did and repeated verbatim what the girl had said and asked what it meant. That sort of memory. So over lunch in Chennai, I pull a test on Anand to check his memory.
A chess-playing friend has helped me out by randomly selecting positions -- chess pieces set in a particular pattern -- from three games out of a few million or so played. I have a photo of these chess boards. There is nothing else, no names of the players, no year, no type of competition it was played in, no frame of reference. I show him the first picture of the chess board.
Two seconds. "That's Lasker's study." It's from 1892.
Then the second picture.
He looks. Two seconds later, he says: "Fischer-Najdorf 1962, the knight's the key, because then ..."
A second. Perhaps less. Grins. "That's me against Kamsky 1994." My jaw is unhinged.
The information Anand has to deal with is staggering. When he played Anatoly Karpov in 1991, his study was worth 20,000 bytes; prior to playing Kasparov, it was 350,000 bytes; and then just in the two months of preparing for Kasparov, it rose to 2.5 million bytes. He's not impressed; Kasparov's is nearly 9 million bytes. He must take this information -- perhaps culled from the 500-600 books he has and a million or so games on his database -- remember it, dissect it, juggle patterns in his head, think five moves ahead down four different avenues. He must also reason fast. They say chess players can solve a Rubik's cube in their head. "No," says Anand, "but some are known to solve it through equations." Faced with a board where he must decide which of 10 roads his pieces must travel, knowing only one will lead to a draw the rest nine to a loss, his memory, his logical skills, his judgement are all tested.