A grand birthday present

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

SANDIPAN CHANDA turns 20 on August 13. It's probably going to be his happiest birthday ever. But he had no idea it would be so when he went to Spain in June in search of that one more norm that would make him India's ninth Grandmaster.

Somehow he wasn't feeling very confident of himself. He wasn't sure if he could complete his GM title at the Benasque Open International tournament.

His fears about his inadequate preparations for the tournament proved misplaced though. He did get his norm. And Kolkata became India's first city to have three GMs (Chennai, still the country's largest producer of chess talents, has two).

Excerpts from an interview he gave to The Sportstar from Pardubice, Czech Republic, where he was playing in the Czech Open GM tournament.

Question: How confident were you of your norm chances when you left for this twin tour of Spain and the Czech Republic?

Answer: Actually I was not so sure. In fact I would not've been surprised if I didn't make my norm. You know I had a feeling that the preparation was not good enough. But I was proved wrong of course!

You had a session with your close friend GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly prior to the tournaments. How helpful was it?

It was very useful. We worked mainly on openings. Normally his way of preparation is quite to the point. I thought I would try to learn from it this time around.

How often do you two work together?

We were in the Alekhine Chess Club together at first. And then at the Goodricke National Chess Academy (GNCA) since its beginning, along with my other friends Neelotpal Das, Saptarshi and Nisha Mohota.

I have spent a lot of time studying chess with Ganguly. This year, we have worked together twice so far.

How did you two become very close? And what do you think of Ganguly as a player?

He is a very strong player. And he's going to be even stronger for sure. He is a person of strong nature. He is a hard worker, and he can work extremely hard towards the goals he sets for himself.

We were playing together from our childhood, and then we also went out together to play tournaments. And we became good friends.

What is the contribution of GNCA to your career?

Quite a lot. I joined the Academy when it opened in 1994. My game truly shaped up there.

How did you begin playing chess? I heard you were taught the moves by your cousin.

Actually I have a vague memory regarding it. I think my cousin taught me the Indian System. Then later I learnt the chess proper. I used to play with my father and people of my neighbourhood, and a cousin (not the same one).

I began to play more seriously when I was introduced to Mr. Paritosh Bhattacharya, who was actually my first coach. He took me to the Alekhine Club, where he was one of the few coaches. It was from there that it all began.

Which do you think have been your best performances?

I played well in the Goodricke tournaments in 2001 and 2002. The Aeroflot Open (Moscow) and the Benasque Open, both this year, are my other memorable tournaments.

Which has been your best game?

My game against Victor Korchnoi in the Goodricke tournament in 2000 is a very memorable one for me. It ended in a draw.

You have a contract with Solingen in Germany's Bundesliga. How has been the experience playing in the German league?

It's nice to play in the same team along with so many strong players. I scored 5.5/8 on the eighth board.

Which areas do you think you should work more on in your game now?

I should work on the openings, which I am doing now. And I should also try to develop my strategic understanding of the game.

How do you look back at your only National `A', in 2000?

I had to win my last game against GM Dibyendu Barua to be in the Olympiad team. But I lost and was very upset.

Looking back, I feel my opening preparation was very bad, and I had to fight basically right from the beginning from difficult positions.

Why do you think you could not qualify for the `A' as often as you would've liked to?

Actually, I qualified only once, from Bombay in 1999. It is somewhat strange indeed that I failed to qualify the last three times. Probably due to different reasons. Perhaps my preparation was not enough. I mean the preparation of the mind as well, not just chess alone. You have to prepare yourself psychologically too, to play good chess.

Now you no longer have to bother about qualifying from the National `B'. As a GM you'll be seeded directly to the National `A'.

I missed the National `A' in the last three years. I want to give my best now and to see what happens.

Who are your favourite players?

I am not too crazy about anyone in particular. But I do like Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand.

You have been playing abroad regularly. Do you think there should be more open GM tournaments in India?

There are some international open tournaments every year in India. But there should be more. If the number of tournaments increases, there will be a lot more GMs in India. I hope sponsors would come forward and help the All India Chess Federation.