A winning move

Anand Venkateswaran
The Hindu, November 23, 2013

There’s another Indian-Norwegian pair at the ongoing World Chess Championship. Only, these two are writers.

The World Chess Championship is on in Chennai and it is arguably the biggest tournament of this generation of the sport. While the champions battle it out over the chequered board, two freelance journalists — Sriram Balasubramanian from India and Arne Danielsen from Norway — are covering the event and, together, writing a book about the chess stars, throuh the ‘prism of the tournament’.

Excerpts from an interview:

How did you two connect?
Arne: I Googled him. I wanted to do this book, and here he was; a chess enthusiast and a freelance journalist, just like I am. He also belongs to the same city as Anand. Then we Skyped a bit, and decided to get to work.
Sriram: Besides, our age difference is the same as Anand and Carlsen’s.
Arne: But in reverse! Sriram is about 20 years younger than I am.

Tell us about the book.
Sriram: We are using the match to frame the narrative. Each game will trigger a chapter from the players’ lives. It’s exciting because it’s happening in real time. We don’t have a publisher yet. The course of the tournament might also change how the story flows. We’ve started writing because it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Is this book a biography?
Arne: We can’t tell their whole story; that would be too complex. I’ve followed Magnus through two major tournaments, Romania and the Netherlands, so I know him a bit.
Sriram: The families of both players have been very helpful, giving us contacts and pointers. We still need to talk to a few people.

Why should a non-enthusiast be interested in a book about chess?
Arne: Because this is not a chess book. There have been books about Anand, but they’re really about chess, with bits of his life thrown in.
Sriram: The moves, the chess, will be part of the bibliography. This is an acknowledgement of the genius of two persons.
Both became grandmasters fairly young. Carlson was World No. 1 by the time he was 17, Anand was competing with Kasparov by the age of 20.

Are you hoping to draw more people to the game?
Sriram: If that happens, we’re happy, but there’s no agenda.

So chess champions are born? It is not an acquired skill?
Arne: I’m not sure about that. But we’re hoping to find out more through this book. The environment has certainly changed. Hardly a few years ago, Russia had a massive central archive of all the important chess games. It wasn’t open to the public. But now, you can buy a package and put it in your personal computer.

There is a theory that chess lost some of its glamour after the American champion, Bobby Fischer.
Sriram: Chess is seen as a nerd’s game, but this tournament might make a difference.
Arne: Carlsen is a chess nerd, but he has changed the look of the game. He has been voted one of the sexiest men of the year and a tagline in one of the brands he represents says ‘Intelligent is the new sexy’.
Sriram: If Anand wins, it will be his crowning glory.
Arne: No matter who wins, it’s good for the game. And for our book!

Why is this sport, and this tournament, important to you?
Arne: Chess has been part of my life since I was five. I learned chess at the same time I learned the letters. Herman Hesse says in The Glass Bead Game that perhaps it is more important that just as a game. I understood that. I also went to Iceland, where the legendary 1972 tournament was played. I played on the board that Spassky did and I had a terrible regret that I wasn’t there. For me, this (Anand-Carlsen) tournament is another Spassky-Fischer match. So here I am.

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