Climbing the rungs steadily

RAKESH RAO

THE emergence of a new Asian junior chess champion from Tamil Nadu is nothing new, really. After all, the State has remained a hallowed nursery for producing exponents in this cerebral sport. Therefore, when Madurai-lad Deepan Chakkravarty claimed the boys' title in the Asian junior (under-20) championship in Marawila (Sri Lanka) recently by upstaging the favourites, it did not come as a surprise.

A happy moment. Deepan Chakkravarty with his mother.-R. V. MOORTHY

In contrast to Deepan's performance stood Tania Sachdev's surprisingly gritty display on way to the honours in the girls' section. Hailing from a place like Delhi which has no chess tradition worth mentioning, Tania made many sit up and take note of her largely undermined prowess. In the process, she nosed ahead of several other Indian girls.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, upbringing and outlook, both Deepan and Tania were equally keen to go higher up the ladder. Clearly, the triumphs in the continent's highest age-group category could not have come at a better time for these promising youngsters. At the same time, both owed a lot to Kazakh trainer Evgeny Vladimirov, who was engaged by the All India Chess Federation to train those representing the country in various overseas competitions.

Come to think of it, Deepan has been playing well in the age-group championships in the past few years. In fact, this student from Dolphin Matriculation High School collected Asian bronze medals in three age-groups - under-10, under-12 and under-14. In 2000, Deepan won the National sub-junior championship besides claiming a silver in the under-14 category of the Commonwealth Championship in Sangli.

This February, Deepan just missed the medal-bracket in the Asian under-18 championship, which was held as part of the Asian Open at Bikaner. But in the following two weeks, Deepan made amends by achieving his maiden International Master's norm when Raipur hosted the Chief Minister's championship.

Notably, his victims at Raipur included Woman Grandmaster S. Vijayalakshmi, followed by the National 'B' champion Sriram Jha, Uzbek Grandmaster Dzhumaev Marat and Jayant Gokhale. His 50 per cent score from 11 rounds earned him 21 rating points. However, he had bumpy rides in the National (under-18) championship and the Asian Youth championship and lost 31 points.

On course to his recent title-triumph, Deepan had avenged the loss suffered to strong Iranian GM Ehsan Ghaem Maghami at Raipur besides beating IM and teammate S. Kidambi. Truly, Deepan emerged a worthy winner.

With support of Rs. 5,000 per month from Sterlite Copper, Deepan could barely manage to meet his expenditure while taking part in tournaments. Hopefully, with Wipro believed to be thinking in terms of extending all help to Deepan, this 15-year-old can now hope to scale greater heights. After P. Hari Krishna and Aarthie Ramaswamy, Wipro is likely to add the names of Deepan and Dronavalli Harika to its list.

The future holds a lot for Deepan. The Asian junior crown has also made Deepan an International Master besides giving him a nine-game GM-norm. These gains are sure to boost his confidence to a new high.

Much of the same can be said of Tania too. This soon-to-be-16 girl from New Delhi's Modern School (Vasant Vihar) has been showing plenty of promise. However, she remained far too inconsistent to translate all her hardwork into stunning results. No wonder, her rating has not been keeping with her true playing strength.

Tania Sachdev poses with the first prize medal and the certificate she won at the Asian junior championship.-R. V. MOORTHY

Consider this. Though Tania had claimed the age-group bronze in the World under-12, gold in the Asian under-14 championships, a bronze in the previous edition of the Asian junior championship, she had not earned the admiration of the older players. But last year, Tania chose the right stage to dispel a few doubts over her playing skills.

In what should go down as the biggest surprise in the history of women's National 'B', Tania finished runner-up to Bhagyashree Thipsay at Visakhapatnam. Several experienced players followed Tania in the qualifying race for the prestigious National 'A' championship.

After a five-month lay-off from chess owing to her Class X exams, Tania made an understandably rusty return to the game in the Asian Youth championship. Like Deepan, Tania too performed below expectations. She won one and drew the other eight matches. Even in her debut in the women's National 'A', Tania had let go of many promising positions under pressure failing to manage her time better. The consolation came in the form of victories over Saheli Dhar-Barua and Bhagyashree Thipsay.

Tania was disappointed with her performance. So she decided to take a quick, short break from the game and spent some time in Mumbai. Later, it was under the watchful eyes of Vladimirov that Tania learnt a few things about mental toughness. Tania, for all her extrovert ways, still remains a person who lacks self-belief and the street-fighter instincts. For Tania, this is one area where Vladimirov promises to make a big difference in the near future.

The Asian junior crown, which brings with it the Woman International title as well as a nine-game Woman Grandmaster's norm, has indeed been a 'jackpot' for Tania. For someone still to give a WIM norm-performance, the completion of the title is surely a dream come true. From now on, things are going to be far more challenging for Tania. It remains to be seen how she handles the pressure of expectancy.

Being the Brand Ambassador of Hughes Software Systems helps Tania meet all chess-related expenditure. All she needs is a well-chalked out preparation-and-competition chart. Once that is ready, the onus will be on Tania to execute the 'winning plan'.