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Unlike Sachin Tendulkar, the other teen sporting sensation of the late 1980s, Viswanathan Anand, didn't have to get a bloody nose before earning the respect of his rivals. But only the cricket-crazed or chess-challenged will say that facing Waqar Younis or Wasim Akram across 22-yards was more intimidating than taking on Anatoly Karpov or Gary Kasprov across a chess board. There are fascinating parallels and contrasts between two of India's biggest sporting stories. The two child prodigies grew up in an era when the walls of the country's sports academy bore the message "competing is more important than winning". Anand and Tendulkar pursued and achieved international excellence at a time when Indians weren't in the habit of dreaming big.
Playing a team sport more popular than chess, Tendulkar might have faced fewer hurdles than the 18-year-old who became India's first grandmaster in 1988. It was a time when Indian chess was far from the global centre, lacked institutional support and survived on the interest and obsession of the individual. Anand emerged from such a set-up to challenge Karpov and Karpov, products of the far more systematic and traditional Russian academy. The second half saw him marry the analytical powers of the computer with the more classical elements of chess to devastating effect, especially in the championship wins over Vladimir Kramnik in 2008 and Veselin Topalov in 2010.
Anand's legacy may be counted in terms of the championships he's won, but there is another statistic that some may prefer. He was India's first grandmaster in 1988. A few days before Anand relinquished his crown this November, the All India Chess Federation released a statement saying India had 35,200 rated players, more than any other country in the world. He might not have war wounds but he does have a chestful of medals not many can match.
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