Once a poster boy for rapid chess, India’s Vishy Anand blitzes his way into the frame again

Winning the World Rapid and Blitz chess championship wasn’t a statement to detractors, but rather to himself.

Viswanathan Anand came into the World Rapid and Blitz chess championship feeling a little out of it. Well, it wasn’t surprising that he felt that way – not to him or other chess experts at least. He had blundered his way to last place at the recent London Chess Classic.

As the tournament came to an end, Susan Polgar, an old friend of Anand’s and a former GM herself, said with some authority that she thought the Indian Super GM’s time at the top was over.

“Unfortunately, age spares no one. He is still a very strong player and should play as long as he wants. But I see no chance to ever be world champion or No 1 again,” said Polgar in a Facebook post.

It was a grim prediction, one that irked his many fans but few would have then argued that the ‘Lightning Kid’ was running out of time. A few days later, Anand fell out of the top 10 in the chess world rankings for the first time since 1991. And in his own words, he wasn’t feeling very positive coming into the Rapid tournament.

“I [have] won many world rapid titles but recently I had the feeling it was slipping away,” Anand said after the final day of the rapid tournament. “Honestly I came here hoping for a good performance. I was not even thinking I could win.”

Still, this was rapid chess. Anand had once been the poster boy for the format. It all went back to his days at the Tal Club in Chennai. They would have blitz games where the loser would have to vacate his seat. Anand would win all the games and sit through the night. The speed with which he used to win earned him the title ‘Lightning Kid’.

So, with the expectation off – at the personal level at least – he perhaps allowed himself to go back to the Lightning Kid and played some truly marvellous chess. Chess that showed the child-like joy the 48-year-old still derives from the game.

You have to look at the rapid format a bit differently because in classical chess, one can spend 40 minutes on a position or something and get really deep into it. That is absent in rapid chess. You still think and the games will still make sense but essentially you trust your intuition a bit more. The intuition is born from thousands of hours of practice but still there is some risk involved. It makes it fun in a different kind of way.

As it turned out, Anand came from behind to win the World Rapid Championship in a three-way tie with Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladimir Fedoseev. Fedoseev and Anand had the better tiebreaks and so played a two-game blitz match, won by Anand.

In doing so, he took over from another 1969-born GM, Vassily Ivanchuk. And just what was it that they were saying about chess and age?

Still, these unexpected wins are important. When the world around you keeps asking you to retire (even if you don’t believe in it), somewhere along the way, it starts to grate on your nerves.

The morning after winning the Candidates 2014 challenge in Khanty-Mansiysk, Anand was up at six and then he pinched himself, just to make sure it was all real. He couldn’t sleep, he was too excited – this was too unexpected and after the hurt caused by his loss to Magnus Carlsen – this was sweet.

The unexpected wins are fuel for the soul. It keeps you going at an age when many believe your time is up. It gives Anand the license to dream – and that is what makes this Rapid triumph so great.

Chess, like any other sport, is a confidence-based one. When you are feeling good, the positive intent shines through and after an ordinary 2017 (he finished last in the Chess Grand Prix and lost in the second round of the World Cup), this might have been just the fillip he needed.

Knowing Anand, this was probably not a statement to the ones that demanded he retire. Instead, this was probably a statement to himself. Who knows, somewhere unexpectedly, he just might find his best in 2018 too.

Given that it is Anand, anything is possible.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

What are racers made of?

Grit, strength and oodles of fearlessness.

Sportspersons are known for their superhuman discipline, single-minded determination and the will to overcome all obstacles. Biographies, films and documentaries have brought to the fore the behind-the-scenes reality of the sporting life. Being up at the crack of dawn, training without distraction, facing injuries with a brave face and recovering to fight for victory are scenes commonly associated with sportspersons.

Racers are no different. Behind their daredevilry lies the same history of dedication and discipline. Cornering on a sports bike or revving up sand dunes requires the utmost physical endurance, and racers invest heavily in it. It helps stave off fatigue and maintain alertness and reaction time. It also helps them get the most out of their racecraft - the entirety of a racer’s skill set, to which years of training are dedicated.

Racecraft begins with something as ‘simple’ as sitting on a racing bike; the correct stance is the key to control and manoeuvre the bike. Riding on a track – tarmac or dirt is a great deal different from riding on the streets. A momentary lapse of concentration can throw the rider into a career ending crash.

Physical skill and endurance apart, racers approach a race with the same analytical rigour as a student appearing in an exam. They conduct an extensive study of not just the track, but also everything around it - trees, marshal posts, tyre marks etc. It’s these reference points that help the racer make braking or turning decisions in the frenzy of a high-stakes competition.

The inevitability of a crash is a reality every racer lives with, and seeks to internalise this during their training. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, racers are trained to keep their eyes open to help the brain make crucial decisions to avoid collision with other racers or objects on the track. Racers that meet with accidents can be seen sliding across the track with their heads held up, in a bid to minimise injuries to the head.

But racecraft is, of course, only half the story. Racing as a profession continues to confound many, and racers have been traditionally misunderstood. Why would anyone want to pour their blood, sweat and tears into something so risky? Where do racers get the fearlessness to do laps at mind boggling speed or hurtle down a hill unassisted? What about the impact of high speeds on the body day after day, or the monotony of it all? Most importantly, why do racers race? The video below explores the question.


The video features racing champions from the stable of TVS Racing, the racing arm of TVS Motor Company, which recently completed 35 years of competitive racing in India. TVS Racing has competed in international rallies and races across some of the toughest terrains - Dakar, Desert Storm, India Baja, Merzouga Rally - and in innumerable national championships. Its design and engineering inputs over the years have also influenced TVS Motors’ fleet in India. You can read more about TVS Racing here.

This article has been produced by Scroll Brand Studio on behalf of TVS Racing and not by the Scroll editorial team.