Anish Giri looks much like a boy next door. He comes across as coy, soft-spoken, well mannered and certainly doesn’t seem to have the airs of a world champion. The minute he starts speaking his intelligence shines, his wisecracks and well-travelled wisdom is something one cannot miss.
Intelligence, nurture, hard work and an interesting DNA combination are perhaps the key to Giri’s success. Born in Russia to a Russian mother and Nepali father, Anish negotiated the 64 checks as a little boy with his mother. Moving to Japan at the age of 8, he continued his chess quest with the Sapporo chess club. The knowledge worker family of Anish made Rijswijk, The Netherlands their home in 2008. Anish started to blossom from then on like a Tulip bulb blooms in Keukenhof.
This naturalised Dutchie has a number of firsts to his credit. This former Chess prodigy was also the youngest Grandmaster in 2009. This four-time Dutch champ is also the youngest Russian Grandmaster. Last year, he won a clear first in Shenzhen Masters. Indeed, with so many feathers to his cap, Anish is ranked 5 in the world and the number 1 Dutch player.
Anish was here in Eindhoven to inspire the children from local chess clubs before the kick-off of Tata steel Chess 2020. Twenty-year-old, Jorden Van Foreest accompanied him to challenge the local talents and to pose for pictures as well. Jorden is ranked 110 in the world.
I decided to have a chat with both the Chess pros. While Anish was busy giving interviews one after the other Jorden was amusing himself challenging some Chess noobs. One little boy was trying to distract Jorden with giggles and cacophony.
Local chess enthusiasts were having a go with professionals. While Anish Giri walked over to my table. I was ready to make use of the time, determined to make the most of it. His firm handshake and pleasant smile seemed to tell me that I was dealing with no ordinary person.
Q: You were born in Russia, spent your formative years in Japan and landed in The Netherlands as a teenager (14). Where do you feel you belong? (Anish was pleasantly surprised at this question.)
I don’t find a particular attachment to any place. My idea of national identity is very different from what is usual. Though I am nostalgic of Russia, my sense of belonging is diverse. I have travelled to Nepal as a child and I speak some Nepali. I am quite comfortable in Russian, speak decent Japanese and Dutch. Nonetheless, I prefer speaking English to native Dutch because I feel I lose the edge when I speak in Dutch to a Dutch person.
Q: What was your experience in Japan as an expat?
I was just 8 then and I remember falling prey to language jokes. A classmate of mine taught me foul words in the guise of pleasantries and the whole class was having a good time at my expense. We lived in an international neighbourhood and that helped me to adapt quickly. I was a good student in Russia and I wanted to do well in Japan too so I vigorously worked hard to stay on top. And I did.
Q: When did you first start playing chess? And was it an instantaneous attraction?
I started around 6. My mother is my first chess guru. She taught me the rules and from then on I took to it like a duck to water. My mother has a queer way of looking at chess, she says “Chess has a way of selecting its own people”. So here I am!
Q: How many hours do you practise? What is your daily regime?
I don’t really count! Most of my time is invested in playing chess. The statement of “No time” only reflects on priorities with your time.
Q: You are active on social media? Do negative comments disturb you especially when you are in the middle of tournaments? Do you abstain from social media when you play big tournaments such as Tata steel chess masters (10 to 26 Jan)? (laughs)
I noticed that I got more negative comments when I am winning and the opposite when I am losing. After some time, you become immune to all this and it’s easy to get over the negativity.
Q: (Anish and his Georgian wife, Sopiko are parents of a cute 3-year-old boy. Sopiko was awarded woman grandmaster in 2009) Your son was born when you were playing a tournament? How did that feel? Could you concentrate?
My son was born a week earlier than expected so I missed his birth. Luckily, my son was born on a rest day. I was on a day trip, my guide was explaining about the place and I was getting these text messages of my wife’s labour and son’s birth. Beyond a point, I could not process any information what my guide was talking to me. I was only hearing, I was very excited and overjoyed. I took a while to convey this to my guide and excused myself to be a bit aloof to enjoy the moment.
The next day, I won but it has nothing to do with my son’s birth because when I play, I only concentrate on my game, nothing else is on my mind then.
Q: Born to two grandmasters, does your son shows interest in chess?
My son is now 3 and he understands a few basics. However, he does not like to see me in suits because he knows when I am suited up I am going to a tournament. So he says “no chess, don’t go”
Q: You played Round 3 against Vishy Anand who is double your age, how does that feel? Would you play professional chess at that age?
Vishy Anand and I go a long way. I like to take him to Indian restaurants. I do like Mango lassi and so does my son. Vishy Anand was way up there when I am was growing up and is still up there when my son is growing up. I really don’t know if I would play when I am 50.
Q: Since you have such diverse upbringing and diverse experiences growing up in 3 different countries, I am curious which is your comfort cuisine and comfort food?
Though I like Italian, Indian, and Russian, I am most comfortable with oriental cuisine. While my favourites are Ramen noodles and sushi, I do like to crunch on papadam. (Remember, I have Nepali roots).
Q: What is your sage advice for the little children who take to chess?
I would say “try it out”. A little bit of chess is definitely good for everyone, especially it improves concentration. Firstly, a child needs to grasp the rules of chess and above all “love the game”.
Tata Steel Chess 2020 comes to Eindhoven for Round 5. More info at https://www.tatasteelchess.com
For Eindhoven News: Beena Arunraj
Features Editor-in-chief, Eindhoven News.