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Knight and dawn

other Updated: Aug 25, 2007 04:46 IST
B Shrikant
B Shrikant
Hindustan Times
chess

Never heard of B Adhiban? Or R Ashwath? How about Ashwin Jayaram and Mehar Chinna Reddy? No?

In the next few years, you will. They are young standouts in Indian chess promising to take over from the Anands, Humpys, Harikrishnas and Sasikirans.

The last six months have been fertile for Indian chess. This is partly owing to the form of the established stars like Viswanathan Anand, Koneru Humpy, P Harikrishna and K Sasikiran. Equally, it is due to the exploits of the Gen-Now members mentioned above, all between age 12 and 18.

Anand is safely perched at the top of the world chess rankings in classical chess and maintained his supremacy in the rapid form by winning the Mainz Chess Classic for the 10th time; Humpy achieved Super Grandmaster status by winning the Kaupthing GM Open and finishing fifth in the Dubai International Open this week. Harikrishna finished joint second in the Montreal Open in Canada and joint first in the 5th Marx Gyrogy memorial earlier this month.

Earlier this month, freshers Adhiban, Ashwath, S. Nitin, P. Shyam Nikhil and Swayams Mishra won the World Youth Olympiad in Singapore. This was the first-ever team title for India at the world level, an honour even the likes of Anand, Humpy, Harikrishna and Sasikiran missed in their career.

“That was an amazing result for Indian chess,” said D.V. Sundar, honourary secretary, All India Chess Federation (AICF). “We had expected a medal from the boys, but not gold. They overcame some strong opponents. We are doing exceedingly well in the age group tournaments and have some good junior players, particularly in the 12 to 16 age group.”

India has 15 Grandmasters (GMs) and 52 International Masters (IMS) among a total of 124 titled players in the last rating list put up by Fide in July. This pales in comparison to Russia, which has 173 GMs, 439 IMs among 1715 players with titles. But the fact that the Indian GMs list swelled from 3 to 15 in less then a decade proves the success rate is impressive. What adds lustre to this growth is that this success has come despite the usual problems of financial constraints, lack of exposure, limited tournaments in the national calendar and limited opportunities available. In fact, India would have more top-notchers if not for the fact that it loses many players due to lack of encouragement.

However, recent success has reinforced India’s reputation as the fastest growing chess nation in the world.

The young and the restless, led by the 13-year-old chess prodigy Parimarjan Negi, are not bothered by reputations, are not afraid to storm ahead on the 64 squares, winning tournaments, bagging ELO points, norms and titles, making giant strides in a sport that originated in India centuries ago but has been dominated by Russia and the erstwhile Soviet Republic and some European nations.

Take the case of Abhishek Das from West Bengal, who bagged IM norms in his first two international events during a Europe tour by the Indian juniors last month, beating some strong players on his way. Five other Indian youngsters made norms in the same tournament at Balaguer in Spain at which Das claimed his second IM norm. Abhijeet Gupta of Bhilwara, Rajasthan, completed his third GM norm and now needs to take his rating to 2500 to become India’s 16th Grandmaster. Arun Karthik made his maiden GM norm, Soumya Swaminathan earned an IM norm while Padmini Rout bagged her WIM (Women’s International Master) norm.

Das is but only a representative of this young breed that also includes players like Ashwin Jayaram of Kerala, SP Sethuraman and MR Lalithbabu of Tamil Nadu, Vidit Gujarathi of Maharashtra and Mehar Chinna Reddy of Andhra Pradesh. The last two, at 13 and 12 years, respectively, will be the youngest players at the National ‘A’ chess championship to be held next month in Chennai.

One reason for players to gain skill at a young age is that chess coaching is available to them early thanks to the internet and chess softwares, says GM Pravin Thipsay.

“Unlike my times when we had to depend on books for knowledge of recent developments in the game, players today get coaching information rather easily,” says Thipsay. “You buy a software like Chessbase and you get around 30 lakh games to study and prepare yourself. Earlier the books used to have a few hundred games. So that way things are easy. But this also means it is tougher to succeed because everyone is well prepared. What has impressed me is the work they put in and their dedication.

“Recently, I played a young player and he made a move that was used by (Vassily) Ivanchuk in a tournament just three days ago. I couldn’t ask him whether he knew the move or picked it up from the Ivanchuk game, but that is the extent of preparationthat they do.”

Sundar says the AICF is taking special interest in the development of young players and plans to provide them regular international exposure.

“It is easy to get good chess coaching through computers and the internet, so we are concentrating on providing them more exposure by sending them to play abroad so that they can earn norms and titles,” he said.

Thipsay approves of the plan. He says, “If they are nurtured well, they have the potential to not only catch up with the seniors but do even better than some of them.”