jump to navigation

My 1987 interview with Vishy Anand September 2, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Art, chess, games, internet, personal, travel.

Funny how we live our lives accumulating all sorts of documents and then forget about them, while they wait patiently in a drawer or at the bottom of a box for the moment when they will be drawn out, undusted, and then either discarded for ever or brought back to life. The typical lifetime of stuff stored in a storage box is, I think, 20 years, although it strongly depends on the life of the owner – how frequently one moves, how tidy one is, how much space one has to store stuff forever. It also depends of course on more extemporaneous events, as in the case one dies, leaving the burden of sorting out his or her belongings to his relatives.

Today is a Sunday, and my wife and I decided we needed to reorder the drawers of the living room. So I started to check a couple of them containing old audio cassettes – which we mostly have not listened to for years. My job was to make five piles: tapes to be discarded, good tapes with label and proper box, tapes without box but carrying a good label, boxes with no tape, and unknown tapes with no label. The latter category was of course going to be the one which would give me the most trouble: finding out what a tape contains may be a quite time-consuming job, so I left it for the bitter end.As I started to sort through the unlabeled tapes, and placed the first in the player, I heard two people discussing in English, and I did not understood straight away what they were talking about. I did not even recognize their voices, nor could I hear much given the low quality of the sound and the contemporaneous sounds from the TV, which was showing some cartoon for my kids nearby. All I heard was that the two people were discussing “players”.

I first thought it was an interview to a singer, but then it started to dawn on me. And I could not help smiling. I remembered the circumstances of that recording as if it had been yesterday – but it was exactly 20 years ago, and I had never listened to the tape since then.

The tape had been recorded in the lounge of the Sheraton Hotel in Brussels. It was 1987, and it was warm and rainy – for the life of me I cannot recall nor reconstruct whether it was April or September. I had traveled there to attend as a credited journalist  to the SWIFT tournament, which was being held there. Most of the world’s strongest players were there to play, and a few more just to look at the games. I had come with the idea of taking pictures and interviews, which I would then sell to an italian chess magazine, “Scacco!” (I did sell the pictures of the players and many made to the cover page in the forthcoming months – and I also published there an interview to Ulf Andersson one year later, but that is another story).

Among the players which were not taking part in the very strong tournament was Viswanathan Anand, a young player from India, which had just won the World Junior Chess Championship. Anand was a good-looking lean boy with black hair, intense eyes, and a charming smile, and I remember it did not take me long to obtain an interview. He was then just about to be given the grandmaster title and, although not yet at the elite of the chess world,  many had foreseen he was going to have a bright career…

So Anand and I walked down the stairs from the press room of the tournament to the lounge of the Sheraton. I bought him a fruit juice, and we started chatting. As I listen to the tape today, I remember more and more about that afternoon. It would be nice if I had the stamina to write here a full transcript of our chat, but most of the issues we discussed are quite outdated – the importance of GMA, the then newborn grandmasters’ association, which was challenging FIDE as a top chess organization; the situation of chess in India; his first steps in the world of chess; and many other issues. I remember well asking him if he had played any of the contenders of the SWIFT tournaments already, and he answered he had played Sax and won the game (Gyula Sax is a strong Hungarian grandmaster).

At the end of the interview, I had prepared something for Vishy. I wanted to test him with a chess problem, which I laid down in front of him on my pocked chessboard. It was not a conventional problem, because I knew about his ability with tactics. No: I wanted to test him on a higher level of abstraction. So I put the pieces in front of him, and the white king in his hand, asking: “It is black to move. Where is the white king ?”.

Anand was evidently not introduced to the world of retrograde analysis, and he stared at me in disbelief. I had to repeat the question twice, and then he looked at the position, which still made little sense to him, for maybe five seconds. Then he gave me back the king, saying “I do not know how to solve this.” I was embarassed, because I would have imagined a more combative approach. I showed him the solution, he smiled, and we parted.

That was all. I met him again in Rome in 1991 at an open chess tournament, when he was looking at the ending of a game between two patzers who played in the third-category division. I pulled him apart and asked him, “Why are you looking at that game ?” He replied “It’s fun to look at patzer’s games”. And we chatted a bit more. Anand has stayed a very down-to-earth person even now, at the top of the world’s rating list. I am glad things have worked out well for him.

Oh, and the position. I have tried unsuccessfully to reconstruct it, but 20 years are 20 years. I remember that the black king is on the a file, and it is under check of a bishop which cannot have moved there, so it is a discovered check. I also remember there is a en-passant capture that one needs to guess in order to realize there is only one way the position has been reached by legal moves. If you know one such position with a white rook, bishop, and little else on the board, please send it to me… I would be glad to get it.

If you do not know what the hell I am talking about, let us look at a position which is quite similar in the concept, although different in the realization. I found it through a web search.

Here is the position (credits to N.Petrovic, 1954, 1st/2nd prize 4th thematic tourney). The stipulation requires one to guess what were the last six single moves that allowed the position to be reached by standard means. Let me quote from the web page where I have found the position:

White just gave check with his Ba1. This can only have been a discovered check but apparently no White piece could have been shielding the bK from the wB. Here an en passant capture explains the check: the wPe6 did it!

The last move was -1. d5xe6ep+ ! and the prior moves were -1 … e7-e5 and -2. d4-d5+.

Now what was Black’s move just before? It must have been played by the bK, running from a double check. The only possible move leading to an explainable double check involves another en passant capture. Black just played -2 … Ke6xPf6!!, and the moves prior to that must have been -3. e5xf6ep+ f7-f5.

UPDATE: A nice reader provided a link to the original problem I submitted to Anand. See the comments column.


1. riqie arneberg - September 3, 2007

Anand was a good-looking lean boy with black hair, intense eyes, and a charming smile,

What will the feminazis make of this?

2. dorigo - September 3, 2007

I dunno riqie, but I am putting them to the test…


3. Amara - September 3, 2007

Thankfully, the real world and its people and cultures is not as black and white as some of the commenters here would like to believe. The emphasis in this post is different.

4. Francesco - September 3, 2007

I was with you at the 1986 at the SWIFT Tournament and it was April…I don’t know about ’87 edition.

5. dorigo - September 3, 2007

Hi Amara,

sure – but one thing I learned from the debate just ended (thanks goodness) is that I should pay more attention to describe men as well. And that not for politically correctness, but because I realized it is indeed a nice way of making matters a bit lighter and more pleasant to read.


6. dorigo - September 3, 2007

Ciao Francesco,

yes, in 1986 we went together. I think it was April also in 1987 then. Good to know…


7. Amara - September 3, 2007

Dear Tommaso: It’s not just a matter of men and women. The world also nicely consists of changelings (those who have changed their sex), homosexuals, and every possibility in between, teenagers, children, albinos, Chinese, Indians, Fijians, etc….. and some tens of thousands of cultures, In the future, I hope we’ll have even more diversity, and let’s please throw in an alien or two. As the communication world becomes more global, there will be more a mix of minorities and stereotypes, but I think that it’s good goal to try to remove the stereotypes. I was wondering, as I was skimming this note, if Indian chessplayers are a minority in that culture, and if there exists, in their culture, any kind of image discrimination, So that if you wrote a paragraph about his detailed appearance as he was playing his chess game in the beginning of the post, how that might be perceived in India? You might think it is a silly thought experiment, and it probably is. However, it demonstrates that overcoming boxes (stereotypes) and respecting differences and supporting people of all kinds to be their best regardless of their categorization (e.g. a woman scientist by the mere fact that she is a woman would not be considered noteworthy) is something that humans will have to do, or Richard Gott’s formula, the Copernican Principle (Nature, 1993, vol 363, pg. 315), will indeed be true.

8. dorigo - September 3, 2007

Ok, fortunately the world is a complex place! I agree, things are not easy. The fact that it is probably impossible to avoid hurting one minority or another when freely and loosely discussing physics or chess or soccer or whatever, suggests something though: that it is probably better to ignore those differences and just be polite, in the hope that minorities, too (and their alleged supporters), will learn to distinguish an attack from a lively prose.


9. carlbrannen - September 4, 2007


I’ve been enjoying Fritz perhaps too much in his tournament mode. The effects are very much like a real tournament except I don’t have to keep score, which is something I should probably start doing. Using him to analyze the games afterwards is wonderful, but embarassing, as the point record shows both players throw huge blunders at each other.

By “effects”, I mean that my hands are so moist I must wipe them before using the laptop’s trackpad, huge streams of sweat drool from under my arms at times, and when Fritz resigns, I say “and by the way, F%%k You”, accompanied by a one finger salute. I should admit that I have great sympathy for the man who stood up after a match and said something like “it’s bad enough that I should have to lose, but why do I have to lose to this idiot?” Before I can play humans, I’ll need to trim this behavior down.

Right now I’m playing it set one notch above his minimum. I am 6/9, with one loss as white, two as black. Fritz says his ELO is 1622 and mine is 1732. I’ve been playing G60, that is, each has 60 minutes to move. In a recent game I got into time trouble (and lost), so I’m using my time more completely. And my chess vision is starting to come back. It started with dreams of infinite chess boards, and now I dream of lost positions on corners of the 8×8 board.

10. Arvind Rajaraman - September 4, 2007

It is possible that the chess puzzle you refer to is this one


It is the first puzzle in Smullyan’s book “Chess Mysteries of the Arabian Nights”.

The king must have moved from b3 to discover check. On the previous move it was under double check, which occurred from a black pawn at b4 capturing a white pawn on c4 e.p. The white king must therefore be on c3, where it moved to capture the black pawn.

11. dorigo - September 4, 2007

Oh Yes! Thank you so much!

Boy, I love the internet…


12. dorigo - September 4, 2007

Hi Carl,

I am pleased to hear of your returning chess strength. And yes, playing a computer can be really, really frustrating. I remember losing a streak of maybe 30 blitz games with fritz 5 one day… At the end I was ready for getting drunk. Oh, and side effects like sweat and the like are only going to be worse when playing a human in a serious setting. Even now, after 20 years of tournament practice (admittedly not much of it lately) I sometimes tremble and my heartbeat goes up when I start a serious game.


13. Amara - September 5, 2007

Tommaso: Does reason and culture refine these evolutionary raw materials to the point where you get something new that is not readily traceable to this or that evolved impulse? Something to consider for everyone here.

14. dorigo - September 5, 2007

Hi Amara,

wow, tough question. I read the post at overcoming bias, and I admit I have not an opinion on it. I can say that being objectified does not, in my opinion, have a very clear consequence in a feeling of discomfort -at least not for all of us. I think it is largely a matter of one’s past experiences rather than evolutionary hardcoded material.

For instance, if I like playing the piano in front of an audience, I really do not mind if they start ordering me songs as if I were a juke-box. I am being objectified, but I associate that to the pleasant feeling of being admired for my skill, and the response is gratification.

Likewise, a girl in a strip club might actually like to be looked at in awe as she takes off her slips, because she might just not have any bad past experience connected to the experience of having been checked out in every detail of her body. She might have only experiences when taking off slips in front of more than one male resulted in positive experiences.

I think the most interesting question is whether as third party observers of somebody being objectified we are capable of the abstract thinking of considering the situation on general grounds, or if to evaluate it as right/wrong, good/bad we need to project ourselves in the person being objectified.


15. Amara - September 5, 2007

Dear Tommaso, I think that evolutionary psychology is powerful and can explain large amounts of human social and cultural behaviors, but probably the objectified status is better explained with past experiences, like you said. Thank you for suggesting that. If the girl in the strip club was not voluntarily there, then, presuming that she escapes that story with no other trauma, she’ll have horrific memories and feel objectified in any contexts that are similar. However if she is there voluntarily, and has pleasant feedback from her audience, then probably there will be no triggers in similar contexts to invoke her feeling objectified.

It’s funny that you chose the examples that you did. In the early 1950s after the war, when my dad was a refugee-immigrant, he made extra money playing saxophone in jazz clubs at night while he studied engineering during the day. He worked hard to increase his musical repertoire by learning three new songs a night for one year, so that he could be a ‘jukebox’ to the audience’s requests. He is proud of his large repertoire of songs and today that is one of the reasons that he still is invited to play. In addition, his first club experiences were strip clubs, so he learned a particular playing style for that music: listen to this Harlem Nocturne song, about 1/3 of the way into the song. Usually that gritty playing style puts a _large_ smile on his audiences’ faces immediately because their memories and experiences are pleasurable and familiar.

16. dorigo - September 5, 2007

Indeed, a funny coincidence. I could not think of a better example of myself feeling objectified and happy for it, but the other example was totally random.

I know basically nothing of evolutionary psychology, but the subject interests me. Can you advise a good book on the subject ?


17. Amara - September 5, 2007

Dear Tommaso:

There is some good literature online and several ‘classic’ books that people have recommended to me. I have seen and read enough examples to be convinced that it is an important approach, but in my personal book reading, I’ve only read the basics.

In books, a very popular treatment is :
Pinker: The Blank Slate (You can browse inside)

with a review about Pinker and evolutionary psychology:
The New Darwinism in the Humanities by Harold Fromm

However, for some, Pinker’s book is too simple. (I liked it though.) On my list for the next ‘classic’ EP book to read, which is more scholarly:

The Adapted Mind

What is evolutionary psychology? I’ll paraphrase words from Keith Henson and others and this web site:

“Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it. “In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind, and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones.”

It also will help you to begin to think from a gene point-of-view with Dawkins:

The Selfish Gene (You can browse inside)

So then, using this analogy:
–>Build biololgy on the chemistry

set up EP:
–>Build evolutionary psychology on the evolutionary biology

Anthropology and the rest of the social sciences are at a higher level.

Here are some specific applications of EP.

The following are some possible explanations about cults:

Sex, Drugs, and Cults. An evolutionary psychology perspective on why and how cult memes get a drug-like hold on people, and what might be done to mitigate the effects By H. Keith Henson

In the aggregate, memes constitute human culture. Most are useful. But a whole class of memes (cults, ideologies, etc.) have no obvious replication drivers. Why are some humans highly susceptible to such memes? Evolutionary psychology is required to answer this question. Two major evolved psychological mechanisms emerge from the past to make us susceptible to cults. Capture-bonding exemplified by Patty Hearst and the Stockholm Syndrome is one. Attention-reward is the other. Attention is the way social primates measure status. Attention indicates status and is highly rewarding because it causes the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. Actions lead to Attention that releases Rewarding brain chemicals. Drugs shortcut attention in the Action-Attention-Reward (AAR) brain system and lead to the repeated behaviour we call addiction. Gambling also causes misfiring of the AAR pathway. Memes that manifest as cults hijack this brain reward system by inducing high levels of attention behaviour between cult members. People may become irresponsible on either cults or drugs sometimes resulting in severe damage to reproductive potential. Evolutionary psychology thus answers the question of why humans are susceptible to memes that do them and/or their potential for reproductive success damage. We evolved the psychological traits of capture-bonding and attention-reward that make us vulnerable for other maladaptive functions. We should be concerned about predator and pathogen memes and the mechanisms that make us vulnerable. The possibility of modeling important social factors contributing to the spread of dangerous cult memes is discussed. The history of the author’s experiences that led to understanding the connection between drugs and cults is related.

This is possibly why people are bad with money:


(In short we are coalitional, heirarchical, zero-sum thinkers.)

The following is possibly why there are wars:

Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War by Keith Henson

Here, you can sort out wars, riots, and related that are caused by activating the evolved mechanism that induced our remote ancestors to make war on neighboring bands.


18. dorigo - September 5, 2007

Wow, thank you so much! I definitely have some reading ahead of me.
The only one I knew and had read of the list you provide is Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. The rest is new to me. I will have a look at the links, maybe I will have some further questions later.


19. carlbrannen - September 5, 2007

“I am being objectified, but I associate that to the pleasant feeling of being admired for my skill, and the response is gratification.”

I was a student at Pilchuck glass school. One of the things the artists have to do is to make plaster of paris for molds. To do this requires that you compute the amount of plaster suitable for your given volume of water. I somehow managed to get myself volunteered as a human calculator as I have the not uncommon ability to approximately multiply low precision numbers quickly.

20. World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 « A Quantum Diaries Survivor - October 28, 2008

[…] I interviewed Viswanathan Anand, then just become Junior World Champion, in 1988. Not published though… But here is an account. […]

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: