Caution blunts cool chess killer

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The Independent Online
IT IS 3.35pm on Thursday afternoon and on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center the atmosphere is thickening with suspense. Viswanathan Anand has taken almost 20 minutes pondering a single move.

"It seems to me that he is not looking too comfortable," says one of the two commentators on hand to explain each twist of the game. "This is quite a mystery", agrees the other.

The hundred-odd chess enthusiasts who have journeyed to the top of the tower to witness game seven of the Professional Chess Association world championship are hungering for a break in the pattern thus far of draws between Anand and the man he is challenging, grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Most of all, they want to know what Anand, widely known as Vishy, is up to. When his move finally comes it is unspectacular and this game, too, ends in a draw.

Viswanathan, a boyish 25-year-old from India, has been intriguing the experts since the best-of-20 match began on 11 September. As he was rising through the ranks of chess stardom, he earned a reputation for rapid-fire play and was tagged with the nickname the "Lightening Kid". In New York, though, he has exhibited a new caution. "It's very messy," he conceded to journalists after one of last week's drawn games. "If I try to win too much I could lose."

As quiet-spoken and reserved as Russia's Kasparov, 32, is flamboyant, Anand was born in Madras, the son of a retired railway engineer. It was his mother who taught him to play the game of chess when he was just six. When he was 13, he became the Indian junior champion and at 17, in 1987, he attracted international attention as world junior champion. He defeated Britain's Michael Adams to earn the right to challenge Kasparov.

Not surprisingly, Anand has become one of India's best-loved sporting heroes. Though chess was first invented in India two millennia ago, it has produced few champions of world standing. So far, though, the fame seems not to have effected his personality, marked by unusual calm and humility. He believes that the secret of a healthy mind - and nimbleness at the board - is a healthy body. He is a vegetarian who does not drink or smoke.

The humility was evident in a conversation he had with the US grandmaster, Patrick Wolff. "He said to me recently that he was glad he made the decision to go into chess, and I almost fell off my chair. It was as if Einstein had said he was glad he'd decided to into physics because he was enjoying himself," Wolff confided to the New York Times. "It's the kind of comment that Kasparov would never make."

Experts agree though that beneath the lamblike exterior is a brutal chess player who knows how and when to drive the knife into his opposition.

Up here though we are straining to see a glint of his blade.