Viswanathan Anand's ascent to the pinnacle in the world of chess is a widely anticipated crowning moment in an extraordinary sporting journey. The true significance of his achievement — he will be the No.1 player when the new rankings are released in April 2007 — will challenge the Indian sporting imagination. For chess is just one part sport. The famous sport of kings is a sort of mental warfare and supremacy here has a meaning all its own. A prodigy who won the world junior championship in 1987 at the age of 17, Anand has beaten a gritty uphill path to greatness, combining natural cognitive genius with patience and perseverance. With an admirable sense of purpose and a steely resolve, the boy nicknamed Lightning Kid — for the awesome speed with which he made his moves — overcame several hurdles early in his career. Today, as he surveys the scene from the game's Everest, Anand can be proud of the revolution he has brought about in India. Nineteen years ago, the suave, wonderfully uncomplicated champion was India's first and only grandmaster. Today, he is the best among 15. Such is the transformative power of pioneering accomplishments.
Anand is Indian sport's most celebrated outsider. Life would have been so much easier had he possessed the kind of gifts on display in popular field sports such as cricket, football, and tennis. Having nothing to declare except a rare genius for moving tiny pieces on a 64-square board, he lacked the support systems that might have eased the path of a Sachin Tendulkar or a Leander Paes. At age 22, Anand took a major step forward, winning the Reggio Emilia title in what was, at that time, the strongest field ever. He finished ahead of Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov in the 10-man event. Three years later, he opened up an early lead against Kasparov in the world championship final at the World Trade Center in New York before the champion inflicted a nerve-shattering defeat on the young Indian. Lesser men might have let their careers drift at that point but Anand regrouped to stay near the top. With his career moving into overdrive, he beat Alexei Shirov in Tehran to win the world title in 2000. Three years later he added the World Rapid Championship to his magnificent collection. Last year, the 37-year-old became only the fourth player in history to cross the 2800-mark in ELO ratings — a ranking system devised by a Hungarian-born American physics professor Arpad Elo (1903-1992). The No.1 ranking following victory in the Linares Super Grandmaster tournament might have been a logical step up the ladder for the Indian maestro. As an individual achievement, it has no parallel in the history of Indian sport.