37 years – How the world changed as Anand stayed constant on top of Indian chess


After 37 years, India has a new no.1 chess player.

Although Dommaraju Gukesh had overtaken the great Viswanathan Anand in the live rankings earlier last month, it was made official on Friday, September 1. Gukesh is now world no. 8 with a FIDE rating of 2758, Anand (now world no. 9) has 2754. While Magnus Carlsen remains world no. 1 (2839 rating) there are three other Indians in the world’s top 30: Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (world no 19, 2727 rating), Vidit Gujrathi (27, 2716) and Arjun Erigaisi (29, 2712).

Gukesh’s elevation marks the first time a man not named Viswanathan Anand was India’s no.1 since July 1986… To mark just how remarkably long Anand’s reign was, we ask one question: What was the world like the last time Viswanathan Anand was not India no.1?

None of the other Indians in the top 30 had been born yet

Well, Gukesh himself was born a FULL TWENTY years later, in 2006. Praggnanandhaa was born in 2005, Vidit Gujrathi in 1994, Arjun Erigaisi in 2003. Oh, and neither was the modern-day GOAT, Magnus Carlsen (born, 1990), nor indeed, anyone else apart from Vishy in the top 10 currently.

P.S. The next closest Indian, Pentala Harikrishna was born that very year, 1986.

There was no internet in India

Forget online chess, you couldn’t even go online in India! The company that introduced the first publicly available internet in India, VSNL, was incorporated in 1986. The actual internet itself came about only in 1995… which considering bureaucratic red tape, is at lightning speed.

Oh, and you had to wait and book a call if you wanted to call someone in another district. STD calling… If some of you can’t relate, you should ask your parents/elder siblings. Prepare to be regaled.

Germany was still split by a wall

East and West – divided by a wall in Berlin. The cold war was still at its peak, and you were either with capitalist USA or communist USSR. Meanwhile, then politburo general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev first used the term ‘perestroika’ in a public speech in 1986.

(Perestroika was a term for the restructuring of the political and economic systems of the country… arguably a significant cause for the dissolution of the Soviet Union)

Gary Kasparov was world champion

Oh, and speaking of USSR… they absolutely ruled chess with an iron fist. Kasparov retained his champion title after he beat Anatoly Karpov over 24 classical games. Twenty-four games that started on July 28 and ended on October 8… you can imagine Carlsen going apoplectic at the mere thought.

Oh, and the only non-Soviet/Russian world champion since World War II had gone missing. To this day, no one is really sure where Bobby Fischer went.

It took until Anand in 2000 to finally break the Soviet/Russian stranglehold on the World Championship again. If that doesn’t underline the non-debatable greatness of the man…

A little Argentine was world champion

A short left-footed Argentine wearing no.10 inspiring his team to a marvellous (football) World Cup triumph… Diego Maradona in 1986, Lionel Messi in 2022 – sometimes history does like to repeat itself, eh?

Steaua Bucaresti were European Cup holders

Bucaresti did it by beating FC Barcelona in the final (an utterly shambolic penalty shootout that they won 2-0).

Imagine a Romanian team winning the UEFA Champions league in 2023. Or any team outside the traditional top 5 leagues, really… Where has the romance of the Cup gone?

Alex Ferguson started on the path to knighthood

Two era-defining reigns started in 1986. Where 16-year old Anand took his place atop the Indian chess throne, across in north-west England, a young Scotsman named Alex Ferguson took on the hotseat at down-on-their luck Manchester United. Fergie retired as Sir Alex Ferguson and English league GOAT in 2013; it’s a mark of Anand’s longevity that he was atop Indian chess for a further decade after that.

From queen of Asian track to head of Indian officialdom

PT Usha was unstoppable in 1986. At the Asian Games that year she won gold in the 200m, 400m, 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay. Oh, and a silver in the 100m.

She made it all look as easy as being elected unopposed to the President’s post of the Indian Olympic Association, the post she holds today.

India were defending champions

First-time winners India, wearing all white of course, won their first ever cricket World Cup. They had also followed it up with a World Championship win (that one in all colour). People in India were now waking up to the prospect that cricket could well be their sport: including a 13-year-old kid breaking school records in Bombay.

Oh, also… Even though India were the champs, with a year to go for the 1987 World Cup, it would have been hard to argue with the statement that West Indies were the best cricket team on the planet… with a month to go for the 2023 World Cup, they are not even in it.

There was but one King Khan

Muhammad Yusuf Khan was not the absolute King he was in the 60s, but he was still the most bankable Khan of them all: he still delivered Bollywood’s highest grossing film of 1986, Karma. He was an actor so good at his craft, the great Satyajit Ray once called him “the ultimate method actor.”

You probably know him better as Dilip Kumar.

Vikram was released

If you’re a fan of Tamil movies, you’d know Kamal Hassan starrer Vikram has been one of the great hit movies of 2023. It was also one of the great hits of the year 1986… when Kamal Hassan starred in and as Vikram. OG.

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