Andhra's astounding success

FOUR of India's six champions from the Asian youth tourney speak Telugu at home. But G. Rohit, Lakshmi Praneetha, P. Lakshmi Sahithi and S. Ravi Teja weren't the only winners for Andhra at Kozhikode. Y. Sandeep and I. Ramya Krishna won silver medals and V. Chaitanya took the bronze.

The message is indeed clear: Move over Tamil Nadu. Move over Maharashtra too. Andhra is here.

Today this Southern State is the best nursery for chess talent in India. Pendyala Harikrishna was the first prodigy to emerge from there. When he won the World under-10 title in 1996, he was the first Indian to win a World title after Viswanathan Anand lifted the World juniors in 1987. Koneru Humpy won the World under-10 girls' title a year later. And together the two little World champions paved the way for a chess revolution in their State.

Andhra's astounding success in the mind sport is no accident though. And it has to do with more than the wonderful feats of Harikrishna and Humpy. The Government support is a vital factor.

"It's the encouragement that the children get from the Government that is bringing in these great results," said Koneru Ashok, Humpy's father and coach. Humpy herself received Rs. 25 lakhs when she won the World junior title in 2001 and a plot for constructing a house. Harikrishna was also rewarded in the same way.

But the most striking thing about the Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu's development programme for chess is the decision to gift a laptop computer to all the National age-group champions from Andhra. It shows a clear vision. A laptop is of utmost use to a chess player, and it's a vital tool that most people can't afford.

The Government is of course pleased with Andhra's rich haul from the Asian meet. "We are happy that our children have done the country proud yet again," said L. V. Subrahmanyam, vice chairman and managing director of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, who has played a significant role in the promotion of chess in the State.

"My predecessor R. Subrahmanyam had already drafted the sports development policy, but chess wasn't included because it wasn't an Olympic sport," he said. "Andhra was already making rapid strides in chess, so I included it in the programme, and chess has been a priority sport for the last three years."

Last year the Government had organised a coaching camp under Russian coach Alexander Lyssenko. "It was a huge success and we would be holding more such camps in the future," said Subrahmanyam.

The Andhra Pradesh Chess Association secretary V. R. Bobba said he was planning to conduct some camps for the coaches. "Our coaches are doing well, but they have to improve their knowledge further. We require good coaches so that we can continue producing champions," said the secretary who is himself a coach. His most famous ward is Harikrishna.

Whole-hearted support from parents is another reason for the chess boom in Andhra. But as it often happens, the parents could put undue pressure on the children.

Many of Andhra's young players do not attend school; they devote their entire energy on chess. "I don't think it's the right thing to do. Children should be made to attend the school," Bobba said.

He said his association wanted to produce 10 World champions from Andhra by 2010. "I'm confident that we'd be able to do that."

And who can say that Bobba is just daydreaming?