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