European eye-opener

GM Lalith Babu in practice.The trophy that he won in Barcelona recently, is on the left.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

Grandmaster Lalith Babu (Elo 2529) had a coaching stint with Elizbar Ubilava, who was once the ‘second’ to World Champion Viswanathan Anand, and also took part in four GM tournaments in Europe. J. R. Shridharan has the details.

Eighty days. Four countries. Three tournaments and one trophy. After such a gruelling schedule, Grandmaster Lalith Babu (Elo 2529) has returned home mature and focussed. Thanks to the Sports Authority of India’s (SAI) sponsorship, which he got by virtue of becoming the National junior champion, the 20-year-old GM travelled to Spain for a coaching stint with Elizbar Ubilava, who was once the ‘second’ to world Champion Viswanathan Anand. He also took part in four GM tournaments in Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Spain winning the Barcelona Open and garnering 25 Elo points in the process.

“The three-week stint happened to me at the right time of my career. He (Ubilava) made crucial changes to my style of play. I was too defensive and he made be a bit more aggressive. He introduced new openings and fine-tuned my middle game. My pet opening was Carokann. Now he has added more weapons to my armoury.”

A resident of Vijayawada, Lalith said the best advice he got from the seasoned coach, known for his expertise in endgames, was about the chess board. “Ubilava is not happy with the modern players preferring gadgets to board. He felt playing on a board would yield better results as then it’s like you are playing in a tournament game. He felt that the players’ eyes should always admire the squares on the board,” Lalith pointed out.

The bespectacled under-graduate stayed with his coach, who lives in a village close to Madrid, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. “I used to play with him close to 10 hours after jogging and table tennis sessions in the morning. He used to create positions of players like Anand and Gelfand and asked me to solve them.” Lalith said that the Spanish coach often compared chess to mathematics and suggested different books for different problems. “Sometimes, I would spend over five hours solving the problems.”

After enhancing his expertise, the young GM set out to measure up with some of the best GMs by playing in tournaments in Europe. He took part in the Forni Di-sopra in Italy and garnered five points out of nine. Later, he travelled to the Netherlands to play the Liedian chess championship, which had a strong field. “We had more than 15 GMs from Germany, England and the host nation taking part. I was tied for the second place with 6.5 points out of nine. I did not lose a game and drew with top GMs rated above me.”

The tourney at Pardubice in the Czech Republic provided yet another opportunity for the young GM to rectify his mistakes. “I played the longest match of my life against Romanian GM Nisipeamnu, which lasted eight hours. I also played the shortest, dispatching a German GM in just 20 moves.”

The last tournament in Barcelona turned out to be a memorable one for the Indian GM as he went on to win the trophy, tallying an impressive 7.5 points in nine rounds. “Honestly, the field was weak and we had GMs from Cuba, Columbia and from other South American countries.”

Non-stop chess for close to three months made Lalith homesick and compounding his miseries was the non-availability of Indian cuisine. “The only place where I gorged on Indian food was in the Czech Republic. There was one restaurant serving roti and sabji.

Lalith wishes to put all his newly-acquired skills to use at the National ‘A’ championship scheduled for October. “My aim is to win the title as it would help me qualify for the world championships and the Olympiad,” the GM signed off.