Viswanathan Anand hopes academy can produce world-beaters

Viswanathan Anand
Viswanathan Anand plays simultaneous matches against tens of Israeli players during an event at Jerusalem's Old City's Jaffa Gate on April 30, 2018. File photo: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

Indian Grandmaster and former chess world champion Viswanathan Anand is hoping his elite academy can become a pipeline for future Indian talent.

Anand, who won his first World Championship in 2000 before claiming four more back-to-back titles from 2007 to 2012, now trains young Indians at his WestBridge Anand Chess Academy (WACA) with the aim of producing the next generation of world-beaters.

"I hope that WACA could ensure that simply by having four or five extremely strong players out there and building a constant pipeline, that Indian chess fans will have something to look forward to in almost every tournament," he said.

The academy was launched in December, 2020, two months after the "The Queen's Gambit" hit television screens and the game saw a surge in popularity.

But unlike the series' scenes of Soviet collaboration where players discussed ways to beat American protagonist Beth Harmon during the Cold War years, Anand said what motivates WACA's students is mutual competition.

"None of them are sure of their place in India. The rivalry is a very, very important factor, driving them forward," said Anand, who is also deputy president of the International Chess Federation (FIDE).

Sandeep Singhal, who partnered with Anand in launching the academy, said WACA's goal is to have "five to 10 players in the world's top 20".

Last month, WACA had three names in the top 25, including 18-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, who made waves last year when he became the youngest player to reach the Chess World Cup final.

WACA's players are mentored by several Grandmasters, including Anand himself.

While several players use computer programmes for training, Anand believes the human element and emotions such as rivalry and competitive spirit are crucial.

This human element still dominates at the competitive edge... A computer will give you an answer, often cryptic, sometimes just incomprehensible. The human coach, what they do is to make it presentable," 54-year-old said.

"You have to bring in that wisdom... You can Google your symptoms all you want, but you will still go to the doctor."

As chess looks to reach newer audiences, Anand said the way forward is to experiment with new formats, such as the franchise-based Global Chess League (GCL) held last year.

He said the GCL's innovative scoring system made play competitive and presented it to a television audience familiar with team-based leagues but unfamiliar with the game.

"I think we're living in a kind of spectator's dream... Chess will have to approach all audiences like every sport in the world," he added.

"You can't just sit and say 'I'm happy'. You've got to reach out to every audience."

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