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India@75

2000: Vishy and the chess revolution

Print edition : Aug 25, 2022 T+T-

2000: Vishy and the chess revolution

Vishwanathan Anand after he was crowned World Chess Champion in Mexico City, September 30, 2007.

Vishwanathan Anand after he was crowned World Chess Champion in Mexico City, September 30, 2007. | Photo Credit: RONALDO SCHEMIDT

Anand is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest chess players ever.

It is widely believed that the game of chess originated from an Indian strategy game, Chaturanga, sometime in the 6th century CE. But it would take another 1,400-odd years before the genius of a young man from Chennai would put India at the top in the world of chess. In 2000, when Vishwanathan Anand became the FIDE world champion, and subsequently the Undisputed World Champion in 2007, he single handedly sparked off a chess revolution in the country, which led to India emerging as a superpower in the sport. A Five-time world champion and a two-time world rapid chess champion, Anand is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest chess players in the history of the game. 

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In 1988, the country took note of a new sporting sensation, when, at the age of 18, Anand became the first Indian Grandmaster. As Anand quickly rose up the world rankings and began to dominate the game, Indian chess too began to grow in tandem with his success. His near-invincibility in speed chess won him the nickname “Lightning Kid”. In fact, many consider Anand to be the greatest ever speed chess player. 

Vishwanathan Anand and Hungarian Peter Leko during the final round of the World Chess Championship Mexico 2007, September 29, in Mexico City. Anand won the tournament on points after tying a match with Leko on the 14th day of the contest.
Vishwanathan Anand and Hungarian Peter Leko during the final round of the World Chess Championship Mexico 2007, September 29, in Mexico City. Anand won the tournament on points after tying a match with Leko on the 14th day of the contest. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Between 1993 and 2006, the world chess championship had split into two factions—the FIDE World Championship and the Classical World Championship. In 2000, Anand became the FIDE world champion; the same year his close rival and later good friend Vladimir Kramnik defeated Garry Kasparov to become the Classical world champion—or the linear world champion.

In 2007, when Anand defeated Kramnik to become the linear world champion, he attained legendary status in the game. Between 1886 and 2022, only 16 players have been the undisputed world chess champions, and Viswanathan Anand from India was one of them. In 2006, Anand became only the fourth player in history to cross the 2800 ELO rating.

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Age has done little to diminish his great powers, and Anand continues to remain a top draw in international tournaments. In 2017, at the age of 48, he won the World Rapid Chess Championship for the second time, and earlier this year he scored a victory over world champion Magnus Carlsen in the Norway Blitz tournament. At nearly 53 he once again broke into the top 10 highest rated players in the world this year.  

A testimony to Anand’s achievements: by 2001 India had 74 Grandmasters, 125 International Masters, 18 woman Grandmasters, 42 women International Masters, and a total of 33,028 rated players. A crop of extremely gifted young players like R. Praggnanandhaa, D. Gukesh, Nihal Sarin, Vidit Gujrathi, Pentala Harikrishna, Adhiban Baskaran, who are taking the chess world by storm, look upon Anand as their guiding light. Today India has also become a destination for big international chess events. After hosting the world championship in 2013, India hosted for the first time the prestigious Chess Olympiad in 2022.