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When the wait finally ended for Viswanathan Anand

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Written by Sandip G
| New Delhi |

Updated: May 31, 2020 7:58:45 am


In Frame: Former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand (PTI/File Photo)

When the moment finally arrived, without gripping drama or clutching suspense, the inner joy refused to manifest outwardly. Viswanathan Anand had been plotting and dreaming of scaling the world chess summit for the best part of the 1990s, but when that hour to celebrate eventually arrived, he was at a loss of celebrations.

He took a deep pause, deeper breath and placed his palms on his face, staring at the board where a few pieces lay scattered. “I felt relieved. It was one thing off my back, you know, wondering when and where that would happen, and suddenly here it is. That felt very, very good,” he tells The Indian Express, two decades after the memorable afternoon in Tehran.

Then, with an interminable pause, he adds: “It was a big step. The decisive step.”

Suddenly, the echoes of the past thundered like shooting stones from a restless mountain. “I had been so close to the peak so many times, but always tripped and fell short by a step or two. I had waited so long for this step. I felt like I had accomplished a mission,” Anand says.

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Not that the defeats in New York (1995) and Lausanne (1998) haunted him every waking hour, not that his great rival Anatoly Karpov’s slights on his lack of killer instinct played in his mind on a loop, but there came a time when Anand himself had begun wondering whether losing finals was more than a quirk of fate. In New York, a ruthlessly masterful Garry Kasparov, the big K in chess, pounced on the slightest of Anand’s mistakes, clinching a dilly-dallying 18-game match spread over 30 days.

Lausanne hit Anand harder, for after achieving a decisive endgame advantage in the first game of the 25-minutes-per-player tiebreak encounter, the Indian grandmaster erred and lost. The acerbic Karpov wasn’t to leave without his characteristic scorn. “I don’t think he has the killer instinct to be a world champion,” he had then said.

READ | Stuck in Germany for over 3 months, Viswanathan Anand to finally return home

It hurt Anand, though after adding four more world titles to his cabinet, he could shrug it off as the “narrow mindset” of small people. “It didn’t surprise me, but it still hurt. I mean it irritates you at some level. Because you feel every chess player will know his answers are nonsense, but people slightly further away may not realise it. They may actually believe this story,” remarks Anand about his adversary’s penchant for verbal posturing.

Then, upon reaching Tehran, he had little time to brood on the past. Thanks to a bout of fever. “After the qualifying rounds (in Delhi), we (wife Aruna and he) decided to go for a nice meal in the city, but the next day both of us woke up sick. High temperature and an upset stomach. We rushed to a doctor who gave some medicines and we somehow managed to reach Tehran. There was no other option but to be there. The first two days were awful. I mean, we were just taking medicines and sleeping and resting,” he recounts.

In hindsight, though, it turned out to be a blessing, as he had no time to dwell on his past failings. “Looking back, I would say it was even nice, because when you have something like that, which forces you to rest, you don’t feel guilty about not working. So very little work got done. But the good thing was, by the time I came out of my fever just as the tournament was starting, I felt much better. So that was helpful. I think Aruna suffered a bit longer. But in the end, it all worked out well,” he says.

Thus, on December 20, he was sitting in the rectangular room of the Mamna Convention Hall in central Tehran in the backdrop of the Al-Borz mountain ranges, hugging the city like an overbearing mother, opposite the relentlessly attacking Alexei Shirov. The latter, a Latvian based in Madrid and one of the most aggressive players in the game, had pride to salvage and a championship to win, as he was denied the opportunity to challenge Kasparov for the Classical World Championship, despite winning the Candidates’ match two years earlier.

READ | From Kasparov to Carlsen: Five of the greatest chess matches ever played

The match, in certain sections of the Western media, was billed the clash of the lightning kids, though as it rolled out, both adversaries embraced calculated aggression than quick-kill. With black, Anand managed to draw the first game before he won the next two with a combination of guts and superb calculations. Into the fourth game, the contest was more or less decided, with Shirov needing a miracle to claw back into contention.

For all practical purposes, it was a dead rubber, yet it’s for the fourth game that the final is best remembered. Anand employed a radical, mysterious strategy — Steinitz Variation of the French Defence — undertaking to defend difficult positions against one of the best attacking players of our time. He pulled it off spectacularly, yet he wonders why the move gathered so much attention, and why it’s still being discussed.

“Actually, I’d been playing that set up into French Defence may be months before I played it here. So, it couldn’t have come as a surprise, but I liked the positions and felt that I could still challenge him there. Yeah, also, it must be admitted that I already had a two-point lead. So that gives you a cushion to experiment also. So even if you lose a game, you still have a one-point lead but in all the complications, it turned out very well,” Anand puts the move in perspective.

The final score-line read 3.5-.5, a stroll by all accounts. But it wasn’t as facile as it looked like. “If you look at the score, that’s what it says. But I remember that these things were never as easy as they seem. I mean, if you try to relive the experience, you will find that there was always a bit of worry, this problem, that problem. You’ll obviously be anxious about your opening game, then the second day, and so on and so forth. A day before the match, you think the next day is the most important, then it goes on and on. There were a lot of problems we anticipated and worried about, but in the end, none of them happened and everything turned out smoothly,” he elaborates.

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Maybe, the facile disposition of the final explains Anand’s muted celebrations. It ended without a bang. Not even with a whimper. But with a simple handshake. A deep pause and a deeper breathe. He had finally scaled chess’s Mount Everest.

*********

Or had he? A long-running feud between Kasparov and the game’s governing body FIDE, and a lawsuit filed by Karpov against the same organisation, had left at least two other players with claims of the title. Three months ago, Vladimir Kramnik had beaten Kasparov to wrestle the breakaway classical world chess championship in London.

Karpov, who considered himself the world champion as he was still undefeated in the world championship, too had fallen out with the federation. In 1998, he was seeded into the final, in which he beat Anand. But then, rather than wait until 2000, the federation held its second championship tournament in 1999 at Las Vegas. Angered about having to defend his title sooner than he had anticipated and about not being seeded into the final, Karpov boycotted the event and sued FIDE for breach of contract before the Court of Arbitration of Sports in Lausanne.

So Karpov didn’t compete. The backdrop triggered off a storied debate on legitimacy.

To Anand, the situation resembled the dysfunctional state of another sport with multiple champions. ‘“It had become more like boxing,” he had said then. But Anand was not sucked into the tussle off the board. The quest for the world championship was burning in his mind. Nothing snuck into his head, but the gleaming summit.

*******

The new century dawned disappointingly for Anand. He won a single game at the Linares International and finished fourth among six participants. He decided to take a break, returned home, spent a lot of time with his family and flew back to Spain after a couple of months. The break did wonders, as he rekindled his touch and returned to winning ways, snaring five tournaments on the spin.

The year flew by, guaranteeing that Anand didn’t spend too long meditating on the year-end world championship. He was not over-focussed on the event, as he had been in previous instances. “It must have been about five or six months prior to the event that we were notified. We were actually coming back from Madrid when I got a message on the phone saying that the World Championship was scheduled for Delhi in December. In between, there was the World Cup in August, an event in China and a few others. So, it was then that we started focussing on the World Championship. So, the maximum preparation might have started in October-November,” he remembers.

Then a few weeks before the tournament, Anand decided to check into a different hotel, not the team hotel so that there’s no distraction. “We wanted some private space to be able to focus. So even though it would have been convenient to stay at the same hotel where the tournament was happening, we decided to stay in a different hotel, even if I had to commute some 15 minutes. It was a crucial decision, as it gave me a lot of space. We were able to isolate ourselves nicely. And the work got done fine,” he recalls.

Anand was at his clinical best, steamrollering over his opponents. He crushed Viktor Bologan, Smbat Lputian and Bartłomiej Macieja to reach the quarterfinals. There, against Alexander Khalifman posed his first big hurdle. Anand had defeated him at Linares, but then came something that disturbed him.

The federation decided to throw a birthday party for Anand on December 11, the scheduled tiebreaker day. “You feel so relaxed when after every match, you get a day off, and you don’t have to play. But that one moment, literally all the things that I had feared, happened. So, the federation had made a big plan for my birthday, which is nice, but this is not what you want to think about before a match. They should have understood that I had to play a tiebreaker. It just really drives you nuts,” he says.

It was the only match wherein Anand was stretched, the only one in which he was pushed into the tiebreaker. In a hopelessly stalemate-like situation of the English Opening, Khalifman offered a draw on the 17th move, and Anand obliged. So, the match spilled onto his 31st birthday. A four tie-break game no less.

Fortunes ebbed and flew and Anand had to pull himself out of some tricky junctures. Khalifman had the ascendancy through most part of the game, but Anand clung on, and in the third game, demolished Khalifman in 41 moves. The last game ended in a stalemate after 52 moves.

“When I finally survived that match, I was so relieved. At that moment, I realised that it was my title to lose. But I was exhausted,” he says.

He had his share of fortune too. “Sometimes even in tournaments in which you are playing your best chess, you need some divine help. You need a little bit of luck. At times, you need something to happen in your favour. During these times, you feel only talent does not work though it is not something which happens often,” he says.

The birthday cake now tasted extra sweet. Khalifman praised Anand. “He’s a genius, he emanates light.” Veselin Topalov, who was watching the match, was enraptured: “Gosh, he should be called the snake of Madras, not the tiger.”

Now, only the Brit Michael Adams remained between Anand and Tehran. Two years ago, in the world championship match, they were locked in an intense battle to meet Karpov in the championship decider. “I expected a very tough patch followed by a tie-break, based on our experience two years ago. I won the second game and suddenly that made life much easier. I felt it just was meant to happen here,” he says.

There was another surprise round the corner. Anand had worked with Spanish Grandmaster Pablo San Segundo Carrillo in Spain, and wanted him for the final. But he was admittedly superstitious about ringing in his help. “Generally, I’m superstitious about asking Pablo before I qualify. But if we waited till I qualified, he might not be able to get his visa and everything in time,” he says.

So when his wife Aruna asked him whether he needed a ‘second’ for the final, Anand was like “it would be really nice to have Pablo, but I don’t know if this is a good time to ask, whether we will be able to arrange everything in time.” Then Aruna told him that she had already contacted him and asked him if he could get a visa and keep a ticket booking just in case. And he had agreed.

“She told me that he will be joining in Tehran in two days. I was very happy,” he says. And with the baggage unburdened, Anand was ready to rule the world. He was already a great player, but in Tehran his greatness was finally etched on the silverware.

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Norwich City announces three-way partnership with Bidstack and BADU Sports – News

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Norwich City are proud to announce a three-way alliance that focuses on creating life-changing opportunities for young people from underrepresented backgrounds in the UK.

The alliance will see Bidstack supporting BADU Sports students with the opportunity to attend, train and learn from various teams on the corporate and performance side of Norwich City Football Club. Activities will include attending Norwich City’s Finnish football camp, coaching and sports performance sessions at The Nest, and seminars in marketing, business management and careers in football. 

To mark the start of this new partnership, BADU’s logo will be featured on the Canaries’ home and third kits, whilst Bidstack’s logo will feature on the team’s away kit. 

BADU Sports’ work is focused on building a mentoring and support network through education and community development programmes – using sports as their main vehicle for engagement. The sports education community group have previously partnered with the FA, London Sport, Loughborough University, Sky, Nike  and recently the Mayor of London’s Office to deliver workshops aimed at equipping children and young adults with knowledge and skills, to help further their educational journey and make a positive impact on their working careers later down the line. 

Since their pivot from digital-out-of-home advertising to in-game advertising, Bidstack has grown its business from a crowdfunded start-up to a more than 60 people strong PLC business. Bidstack has previously worked with BADU to help increase awareness of the outreach work it does in the local community through in-game advertising activation in the popular game, Football Manager. It is now taking this partnership further with kit sponsorship and connecting the organisation with Norwich City to further develop and grow their educational programmes.

Norwich City has a history of giving back to the community. In 2017, the Canaries worked with the Norwich City Community Sports Foundation to rejuvenate their former home ground, The Nest, into a world class community sports facility. Twelve months later, phase one of the ground’s remodel was complete and was open to the public. Currently a £1m funding-raising campaign is under way to kick start phase two of the project. 

Nana Badu, BADU Sports founder and CEO said, “We are absolutely overjoyed to be working with Bidstack and Norwich City football club. It will mean great things for BADU Sports and the community. We have always strived for the very best access and knowledge to develop and empower and this alliance will help realise this for our young people and their families whom we serve. This sends such a strong message about our joint partnership and commitment to bridging the gap of inequality of access and knowledge. The world has experienced challenging times and I am proud that together we have created a roadmap for change.”

James Draper, Bidstack founder and CEO said, “Seeing the work BADU Sports and the Community Sports Foundation have put into furthering the opportunities and lives of local underrepresented people in East London and Norfolk respectively, and given our relationship with Norwich City Football Club – it feels incredible for our team and supporters of Bidstack to bring two organisations together, with this partnership.

“We work tirelessly to ensure that our companies’ existence benefits those who we come into contact with, and this activation sits well with our values – and enables us to say ‘thank you’ to the two communities and the one club – who transformed our company. Thank you to our friends at Norwich City – and to Nana and his team, I’m hoping this will be a transformational partnership for many young lives.”

Ben Tunnell, Norwich City Football Club’s Head of Commercial Development, said, “We are absolutely delighted to welcome back Bidstack to the Club’s partnership portfolio and first-team shirt. It has been to the joy of everyone at Carrow Road seeing the growth of Bidstack since our first partnership in 2016,  knowing how important our partnership was for Bidstack in becoming the world’s leading in-game advertising agency.’

“Bidstack gifting the bulk of the Partnership rights to BADU Sports, and presenting Norwich City the opportunity to be a part of their story is remarkable. We cannot wait to get started with Nana Badu and his team and look forward to creating some unforgettable experiences and memories.”’  

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FC Tulsa battles to scoreless draw in home opener | Sports News

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FC Tulsa’s long-awaited home opener Wednesday against the San Antonio FC was a matchup between two of the United Soccer League’s four undefeated teams.

And both are still undefeated after a 0-0 draw in a game that included almost everything, except a goal, and was followed by fireworks before 2,445 fans who nearly filled ONEOK Field’s socially distanced reduced seating capacity.

FC Tulsa (2-0-3, 9 points) waited nearly five months for its first game this season at ONEOK Field after its initial scheduled home game March 14 was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Outstanding, unbelievable,” is how FC Tulsa defender Bradley Bourgeois described the atmosphere.

Added FC Tulsa goalkeeper Sean Lewis, “I thought it was great. The fan base was very enthusiastic. I know we have to keep it limited because of the protocols, but even so it was amazing to be out there in front of them. It was a great experience.”

In its sixth USL season, Tulsa set a team record by allowing no more than one goal in its fifth consecutive game. Lewis has allowed only three goals in five matches and none in the past two.

“We’re really jelling defensively,” Lewis said. “We cover each other well, we’re well organized and you’ve seen the results as far as letting in fewer goals and keeping clean sheets so far.”

Lewis made a dazzling save in the eighth minute as he robbed Luis Solignac from close range. And Lewis made a diving save to deny Gonzalo Di Renza in the 64th minute.

“Sean was strong, consistent, brave,” FC Tulsa coach Michael Nsien said. “They were able to put 15 or 16 crosses in and they started to get a lot of set pieces, and he organized well and kept his space very well and obviously kept a clean sheet, so that’s what goalkeeping is all about.”

Goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair also was impressive for San Antonio (4-0-2, 14 points), as he came up with clutch saves on shots by Dario Suarez in the 41st and 62nd minutes.

Tulsa is undefeated through five games for the first time in team history and is in second place behind San Antonio in Group D. The top two teams qualify for the playoffs.

“There are some positive things from the match,” Nsien said. “San Antonio is a good team and came here with a lot of momentum. They have good players and are well organized, so for us to get a clean sheet, that’s a positive.

“When it got to about the 60th or 65th minute the game started to open up,” he added. “They were getting set pieces and we were breaking the other way. It’s a little unfortunate that we weren’t able to capitalize on some of those chances in the space we were able to find. It’s good we were able to create, but at home we expect we should be able to put the ball away.”

San Antonio played without its leading scorer, Cristian Parano, who was unavailable. Parano is considered as one of the USL’s top midfielders.

Tulsa plays seven of its remaining 11 games at home, with its next match scheduled at 7 p.m. Aug. 19 against Austin Bold FC at ONEOK Field.

FC TULSA 0, SAN ANTONIO FC 0

Shots: San Antonio 13, Tulsa 12. Saves: San Antonio, St. Clair 3; Tulsa, Lewis 3. A: 2,445.

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Coronavirus: How is women’s sport faring and what does future hold? | News

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Ebony Rainford-Brent and Will Greenwood joined Caroline Barker on Sky Sports to take a detailed look at how women’s sport can recover from the coronavirus pandemic

Last Updated: 12/08/20 10:37pm

Women's sport has been heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic

Women’s sport has been heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic

“Women’s sport has been left on the bench. We have to find a way to get women’s sport back up and running so they can continue to inspire the next generation, to make sure we don’t lose a cohort due to this disastrous cancelled summer.”

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sport across the world, and women’s sport is arguably the most at risk.

Major cycling, football and rugby events have been cancelled or postponed because of the crisis.

In a recent report, MPs warned that the cancellation of these events means women are less likely to be inspired to play sport, while the government has been urged not to sacrifice the women’s game in favour of the men’s.

The future looks uncertain, but is there a way back? Will Greenwood and Ebony Rainford-Brent joined Caroline Barker on Sky Sports for a special programme to discuss the impact of COVID-19.

‘Women’s sport has been left on the bench’

0:30
Will Greenwood says women’s sport has not been given the same level of support as men’s sport during the coronavirus pandemic

Will Greenwood says women’s sport has not been given the same level of support as men’s sport during the coronavirus pandemic

“We’ll come back stronger,” were the words of the FA’s Kelly Simmons within the announcement that the WSL’s final standings would be reached by a basic points-per-game basis.

The final positions in the Tyrrells Premier 15s were calculated on a ‘best playing record formula’ after its season was terminated in March.

At the end of May, the Vitality Netball Superleague had the results of their 2020 matches deemed null and void, and now some clubs are having to reach out to fans in order to try and raise the funds needed to keep them afloat.

“Anyone with a fingernail of common sense can see the role women’s sport plays in our society,” Will Greenwood told The Women’s Sport Debate. “I think what’s happened off the back of COVID-19 is while men have been given VIP access to the stadiums and the funds to get back on the field, women’s sport has been left on the bench and disproportionately so.

“We have to find a way to get women’s sport back up and running so that they can continue to inspire the next generation, to make sure we don’t lose a cohort due to this disastrous cancelled summer.”

‘Women’s sport has commercial power’

Funding for women’s sport also continues to be an issue. Two months after the Premier 15s season was terminated, Tyrrells – the competition’s significant investors – announced their decision to “redirect” their marketing spend “in line with overarching business objectives”.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) has criticised the lack of funding for women’s elite sports, and Ebony Rainford-Brent insists women’s sport must make the most of its commercial potential.

1:56
Ebony Rainford-Brent says women’s sport must make the most of its commercial potential

Ebony Rainford-Brent says women’s sport must make the most of its commercial potential

“I don’t think we focus on the data enough and what I mean by that is the uplift data, the data that shows how big the market is, how big the potential is to grow the game,” she said.

“Cricket for example over the last year has seen some amazing statistics that to me blow my mind and suggest ‘can we invest more?’

“So an example would be the ICC – 1.1bn video views on the ICC digital channel. Now if you’re a sponsor and you heard that data would you not think straight away ‘there is something to get involved in, there is something moving.’ You think about the 2017 World Cup here we had here in England which had a packed audience as well, on Sky that was the most viewed cricket game that summer.

1:48
West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty says many Women’s Super League players did not want to complete the season due to fears over their professional futures amid the coronavirus pandemic

West Ham captain Gilly Flaherty says many Women’s Super League players did not want to complete the season due to fears over their professional futures amid the coronavirus pandemic

“I came back from Australia earlier in the year where there was a crowd of 86,000 people watching, one of the most watched female sporting events of all time.

“To make women’s sport commercially viable and to attract sponsors, I don’t think we get the data out there enough. These numbers are powerful. You go to any sponsor and tell them this is what the sport is offering, they would snap your hands off.

“I think under crisis now we need to become super focused about making women’s sport commercially viable on its own. I think we’ve done a brilliant job of bringing it to this place now where the expectation is higher and the visibility is higher, but now more than ever we need to be driving this data to all sponsors so they know that women’s sport may actually offer a better investment.”

More to follow…



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