My 1987 interview with Vishy Anand September 2, 2007Posted 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.