Grandmaster couple

ONE of Aarthie Ramaswamy's prized possessions is an old clipping from The Hindu. It's a small single column news, headlined `Arthi stuns Ramesh.'

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

R. B. Ramesh with his wife Aarthie. "No doubt I have become a better player because of my sessions with him," says Aarthie about her husband. - Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

ONE of Aarthie Ramaswamy's prized possessions is an old clipping from The Hindu. It's a small single column news, headlined `Arthi stuns Ramesh.'

She cherishes it not just because that was one of the first headlines she made as a budding chess player in Chennai. The famous player she checkamated that day in Chennai is now her lifemate. Thirteen years later, she still recalls her victory fondly.

``No, it wasn't a simultaneous display or anything,'' she is quick to clarify, ``It was a proper game of chess, played in normal time control, at a weekend tournament organised by the T. Nagar Chess Academy in Chennai. I was nine then.''

That was in 1990. Today Aarthie, 22, and R. B. Ramesh, 27, are India's first Grandmaster couple. They attained the distinction when Ramesh completed his GM title last month. Aarthie had got her Woman Grandmaster title a year ago. They married last August in Chennai, hometown to both as well as to Indian chess.

``It's a feat we're proud of,'' says Ramesh with a smile. ``And the pressure was on me, as Aarthie had already done her bit.''

The competition was from the Thipsays: Praveen had become a GM long ago, and Bhagyashree needed just one more norm for her WGM title. They are in fact one of India's first couples in chess.

And there are in chess more couples than in any other sport in India. Dibyendu Barua and Saheli Dhar, Anupama Abhayankar and Raghunandan Gokhale, T. S. Ravi and Saimeera, Vasanti Khadilkar and C. S. Unni, Sudhakar N. Babu and Krishna Jhagirdhar...

``I think it's always good that chess players marry each other,'' says Saimeera. ``If your husband is from any other profession, he may not be able to fully understand your problems. You may have to stay away from home for long periods during tournaments, and you may need a lot of time for yourself at home too, to prepare for your games. And of course professionally also a chess-playing husband is of great help.''

"Amazingly, during the six months since our engagement, I lost just two games out of about 80," says Ramesh proudly. - Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

Aarthie can't agree more. She has now got her coach all to herself, that too free of coast. Cupid had struck sometime after Ramesh began to train Aarthie. ``Her mother wanted me to help her out,'' says Ramesh, ``and though I never was keen to be a coach, I thought there was no harm in working with a talented player.''

Aarthie completed her WGM title and won her maiden National `A' title (last year) after she started working with Ramesh. ``No doubt I have become a better player because of my sessions with him,'' she says.

He says he too has gained a lot from being a coach. ``I found out that when you have to teach someone something you have to learn it yourself first. So I was forced to work more on my own game.''

Ramesh became not just a better player after his association with Aarthie. He became a luckier player. ``Amazingly, during the six months since our engagement, I lost just two games out of about 80, before the National `A' championship at Kozhikode,'' he says much to the delight of his new wife, who nods her head approvingly.

That period has by far been the most productive period in Ramesh's career so far. He won his maiden National `B' title. He won a GM tournament in Delhi, an Open tournament in Lucknow, and completed his title.

He had scored his maiden norm at the Biel International Open in Switzerland in 2001 and the British championship in Torquay in 2002. His performance in Britian was nothing short of sensational.

He was seeded 23rd behind many strong GMs, but he chose the occasion to remind everyone what a talented performer he was, as he won the title as well as a prize-money of 10,000 pounds.

But his career didn't quite take off the way he expected after that. Yet again, he became a consistently inconsistent player. But the second half of 2003 finally saw a more mature, pragmatic Ramesh. He was no longer the aggressive player who showed little interest in defending inferior positions.

``It's the change in my attitude that has brought me success on a regular basis in the last few months I believe,'' he says. ``I have become more practical, and more determined. And now when I win something, I'm happier than before, because I know there's Aarthie to share my joy; she knows herself the importance of success in sport.''

``He's now defending bad positions better,'' chips in Aarthie. ``I think he's becoming a more allround player.''

Ramesh can be accused of having had an unfair share of luck after the wedding. His wife isn't exactly playing the best chess of her career now (she had a terrible National women's `A' at Kozhikode, where ironically, a fortnight later, Ramesh too had a disappointing National men's `A').

``Of course I've had some bad tournaments of late,'' says Aarthie. ``But I'm sure I will be able to get back to my true form before long.''

Indian chess also hopes so. Because she's undoubtedly one of our most talented players. She can be ruthlessly attacking, and is better equipped in opening preparations than most Indian female players.``But she needs to be more consistent,'' says her husband.

True. She was the National champion last year, but a year later she was placed ninth in the same competition. ``I know I have to play well more often,'' she says.

And she's young enough to overcome the flaws in her game. Her biggest moment came in 1999 when she won the World under-18 championship in Spain. It remains one of the most significant achievements by an Indian in chess.

Ramesh and Aarthie are now experiencing something most newly-married couples do: the pleasures and difficulties of setting up a new house of their own. ``We moved to a new place recently,'' says Ramesh. ``So the best part of our time is spent on the house. We have hardly worked on the game together after the wedding.''

Once they have set up their home, they would start setting the chessboards again. They hope their journey together on the black and white squares would now be less difficult and more enjoyable. (Ramesh could also make history as one half of India's first GM brothers: his elder brother G. B. Prakash has completed his three norms and needs only to score 2500 Elo points to get his title).