India's talking about chess, thanks to Anand

India's talking about chess, thanks to Anand
Five-time winner V. Anand's charm and talent has led to a first world championship being held at home. But he trails Norwegian Magnus Carlsen 2.5 to 4.5 at the ongoing tournament in Chennai.

The bespectacled man leans over the table and interprets a board.

He lifts a piece and moves it roughly two inches. It is a small distance, but it takes him minutes to take this journey. It has required leaps of logic, adventures through memory, explorations of ideas. He is not sure yet: has he composed a move of rare genius or committed the first act of unavoidable self-destruction.

In a southern corner of India, away from Sachin Tendulkar and emotional eulogies, the bespectacled man is fighting quietly for relevance in a room that resembles an isolation chamber. His name is V. Anand and he is the world chess champion. Five-time champion. Maybe soon not a champion.

Tendulkar, 40, bowed to age, Anand, 43, is bending to youth. His opponent is 22 and has the bored look of a man who'd rather be knitting. Magnus Carlsen is a kid; Anand has one who is two. In a world title match where the first man to 6.5 points wins, the Norwegian is leading 4.5-2.5.

Tendulkar debuted at 16 in 1989 and Anand turned Grandmaster at 18 in 1987. India adores the cricketer, it admires the chess player. One sport is familiar, the other more remote. Chess originated in India, but cricket worship is the newer and more popular invention in these parts.

Chess is older than cricket and cooler than cricket. It shows up in a Matisse painting and a James Bond film. Humphrey Bogart even plays it in Casablanca. Yet it is more torturous than cricket, quivering with intensity, two men just feet apart, for hours on end, yet never touching or tackling.

It is psychological fisticuffs, it is mental gongfu, it is as the artist Marcel Duchamp said, "a violent sport". Carlsen and Anand stare at each other and yet never meet each other's eye.

These are not your everyday sporting folk. Tendulkar endorses adidas; Carlsen is sponsored by Nordic Semiconductor. Tendulkar has cultivated a bland persona, Anand has comic timing. He can also evidently be tart.

Asked by a Norwegian TV journalist to explain what he meant by "doing your best", the Indian replied: "Doing your best means doing your best. I don't know why you don't understand English."

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