The mind of a champion

Cover of Mind Master: Winning Lessons From a Champion’s Life Credit: Amazon. in
At 50, Viswanathan Anand’s curriculum vitae runs to many pages. India’s first grandmaster announced his arrival on the world stage in 1987 by winning the World Junior Championship. In 2018, he won the World Rapid Championship. In-between, he won multiple world titles, in different formats, alongside countless other successes. 

Obviously Anand was born with an extraordinary aptitude for this highly demanding sport. Equally obviously, he has a manic work ethic that helped him master the technical skills to maximise that talent. Less obviously, achieving such success and maintaining this consistency for over 30 years also requires intense introspection and self-examination. Anand has ruthlessly analysed his own flaws and weaknesses, and understood how to play to his strengths. 

Such introspection is not unique to Anand — Roger Federer, Magnus Carlsen and Sachin Tendulkar to name three people, must have gone through similar processes. Anand is unusual in that he was already part of the world elite long before he received any formal coaching. He was, therefore, an absolute auto-didact in terms of this internal journey of self-realisation.  

He learnt to deal with self-doubt triggered by loss of form. He learnt how to bounce back after crippling defeat, and equally importantly, how to maintain equilibrium and retain motivation, after big wins. He taught himself the art of revving into super-gear in “must-win” games and learnt how to switch off completely in order to recharge mentally. He also taught himself how to use anger, discrimination and disappointment as motivational spurs. 

Remarkably, this book succeeds in verbalising some of that understanding in terms that will make sense to readers, who have never played chess, or indeed, any other sport.  This is one of several things that raises this book well above the norm in terms of sporting biographies. 

There are other stellar qualities as well. The narrative dips in and out of Anand’s life, pausing to take snapshots of key moments. Somehow, without going through the tedium of chronological description, it gives a pretty complete picture of his life and career. 

There are some utterly fascinating descriptions of Anand’s thought processes before, during and after a vital game, or match. (In chess parlance, a match is a series of games against one specific opponent). There are also great explanations of the relationships between a champion and his seconds and of the sport’s transition to the digital era. 

The book also introduces us to many other characters on the chess circuit, and chess is full of fascinating characters. There are also subtle descriptions of some of the many shades of gamesmanship that occur. There are interesting details about Anand’s relationships with his other great contemporaries. 

Despite being a cut-throat sport, chess players are often friendly with rivals. Anand is on very good terms with several of his greatest rivals, while having a somewhat “transactional relationship” with Garry Kasparov. He has worked with Magnus Carlsen, who helped him prepare for a title match against Veselin Topalov. Even during two hard-fought world title matches when Carlsen beat Anand to become his successor, they were laughing onstage at the same jokes (both quote chunks of Monty Python).  

The “insider” descriptions of the match against Veselin Topalov is epic. The match almost didn’t happen: a volcanic explosion led to flights across Europe being cancelled. Anand had to ask for a timeout. He hired a van and his team drove for over 40 hours, from Germany to Bulgaria, to get to the venue. Then they drove up and down outside their hotel for an extra hour because they were watching the concluding part of the Lord of the Rings! 

Anand’s work-life balance has always been exemplary and that has contributed to his success. He takes wind-surfing holidays, bakes cakes with his son and pursues hobbies like astronomy, maths.  His relationships with his mother Susheela, and with his wife, Aruna, are both touched upon, with love, delicacy, humour and honesty.   

Mind Master: Winning Lessons From a Champion’s Life 

Author: Viswanathan Anand with Susan Ninan 

Publisher: Hachette

Price :Rs 599

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel