They are stars but move in different orbits; their success means they share a lot of traits but don't often get to chat about them, especially for the benefit of sports fans. We brought together Viswanathan Anand - India's greatest chess player - and Yuzvendra Chahal, who traded in a fledgling chess career to become a fixture in the India cricket team. They chatted about strategy, team, solo sports and (inevitably) selfies.
CHAHAL: From playing chess in my junior years I've learnt how hard preparation is, you really need to have a wide and deep study to do well. It amazes me how you continue to play at the highest level at 50, what does it take and how do you keep yourself going?
ANAND: Well, you said it there. Preparation is hard, you need to keep studying, looking, working on new things and learning. That's what I continue to do. I find chess fascinating and that helps a lot, because then it doesn't feel like work. Your curiosity allows you to work hard and when you find an answer, it feels rewarding. The other thing is to keep an eye out on what others are doing and try to learn a bit from them as well.
CHAHAL: You've been so versatile across formats, how have you managed to switch between them with such ease and success?
ANAND: It's a very interesting question on formats. I think there are two possible approaches to this. One, is to try to improve in your sport and keep some mental cues and when you're dealing with a specific format you switch your way of thinking around a little bit. For instance when you play faster format time controls you learn to accept more risk and be flexible and not worry about the discipline and method that you bring, and to switch back and forth.
The other thing is to just enjoy your favourite format and say well, I'm good at blitz chess or T20 if you like and you focus on that. I prefer the first because I think in the long run it gives you more flexibility if you're improving in your sport, in your methods all the time since new formats can emerge as well. It then helps you to carry a given set of skills over rather than focus too much on just one particular skill.
CHAHAL: You were struggling a bit in the lead-up up to the 2014 Candidates, which you won. How did you manage to turn things around and pull yourself through a phase when everything was going against you. How did you keep yourself motivated?
ANAND: Yes, I was struggling for a long period if you like, at least three or four years. Specifically the time after I lost the 2013 match felt like a crisis. The interesting thing is on previous occasions I've come to terms with some disappointment and then found a way of climbing back up. But for the 2014 Candidates, I did a little bit of work with some friends like Surya (Sekhar Ganguly) and (Radoslaw) Wojtaszek but mostly in that period, I ran away from chess.
I simply did not look at chess games and wanted to be away from the sport as much as possible. As a result, by the time I actually flew to Russia to play the Candidates, I was fresh and hungry again. Obviously, it's not that I planned it that way. It just worked out that way. The key was the time I spent away from the game because it was more important to heal emotionally than to do specific chess training.
CHAHAL: What would be your tips on improving positional play?
ANAND: For positional play, I would suggest you identify an area in your game, it could be a weakness, a strength you want to develop further or a kind of position you've never tried before. One good way is to find someone who's really good in the aspect you want to do better and keep their games as a kind of model.
If you examine it slowly, put yourself in their place and think what would I do here and then go back and see what they did, you'll discover their expertise not only in the choices they finally make but also, and more importantly the choices they didn't make. It's only when you try to put yourself in their place, have a list of options, compare it with what they must have seen and reason out why they made these choices , you can improve in specific areas very well.
Next up, the roles are reversed as Anand looks for some cricketing tips.
ANAND: I'm curious, what were the things you enjoyed most about chess? Were you tactical, positional, did you like openings or endgames? Also which formats did you like?
CHAHAL: It was a proud feeling representing my country in chess. I enjoyed the travel, meeting new people from different backgrounds and having a mental edge over opponents. I was a positional player with a love for endgames and blitz chess.
ANAND: I assume you indulged in both chess and cricket when you were young, when did you decide to focus on cricket? What did you enjoy/find most difficult during the transition?
CHAHAL: My father wanted me to represent the country in chess and after I did so, I pursued my passion which was always cricket. The most difficult part was the chess training and being away from my family as I was sent to my uncle's house to train for chess.
ANAND: Chess is an individual sport while cricket is a team sport. What do you find easier to influence, your performance or the team's?
CHAHAL: Having played both an individual and team sport, I'd have to say an individual performance is easier to influence because it really comes down to you in the end. In a team sport, I could perform very well and yet end up on the losing side. Of course, if the team does eventually win, it's a feeling of immense personal satisfaction.
ANAND: Do you ever think in chess terms before bowling to different batsmen/on different conditions?
CHAHAL: In chess, every move you make is dependent on possible outcomes. You always have to be a step ahead of your opponent. In cricket too, you've won half the battle if you can anticipate your opponents' move. I think I carry that skill from my years of playing chess and apply it whenever I'm bowling to different batsmen.
CHAHAL: Finally, I've been a huge fan of yours, when am I getting a selfie with you?
ANAND: Thank you for your questions. It's really nice to get questions from a cricketer who understands chess. I'd love to do the selfie the first chance we get. As soon as I fly back home, let's get it done. Maybe over a game of chess. I wish you the very best and I hope you're playing a little bit of blitz during this lockdown period.