`I need successes like this to keep myself motivated'

Barua is the most unpredictable player in Indian chess. On his day, he can create magic. But there are also days when he can be a little pedestrian.

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

PENDYALA HARIKRISHNA was right. On the eve of the Commonwealth chess championship, incorporating the International Open tournament, the defending champion had predicted that the Commonwealth champion would be an Indian.

GM Dibyendu Barua gives some tips to eight-year-old Rucha Pujari during the Commonwealth championship in Mumbai. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

"I can't say who will win the Open tournament," he had said, "but the Commonwealth champion will definitely be from India."

Harikrishna was actually making a safe bet. For, there were only a handful of strong players from the Commonwealth nations other than the host.

He had also added that he was confident of his own chances in retaining the title. Another player he had in mind must have been Krishnan Sasikiran, the second seed and the player in form. He may also have thought about two other talented young Indian Grandmasters, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Abhijit Kunte.

One is not so sure if Dibyendu Barua's was the first name that came to Harikrishna's mind when he made that prediction. But then, Barua is the most unpredictable player in Indian chess. On his day, he can create magic. But there are also days when he can be a little pedestrian.

At Hotel Tulip Star in Mumbai though, the 36-year-old GM from Kolkata had more number of good days than bad ones. He lost only one game, to Zhang Peng Xiang of China in the sixth round, and was in a bit of trouble in another one, against compatriot R. B. Ramesh. Barring those two games, he played solid chess. It was certainly one of his best performances in the last few years.

"This was my best performance since the National `A' championship in Delhi," he said. He was referring to the 2001 championship, which he won, pushing behind younger and stronger rivals such as Sasikiran, Kunte, Ganguly and Harikrishna.

When he was very young himself, Barua was called the wunderkid of Indian chess. In India only Viswanathan Anand could claim to be more gifted.

A completely original player, Barua became India's second GM in 1991. That was a year after he had won the gold on the second board for India at the 1990 Chess Olympiad in Yugoslavia.

He is a genius, especially in the end-game. He would escape even from seemingly hopeless situations.

Theoretical knowledge is certainly not his strength. "When I grew up, I could not afford the chess books, which were not readily available in India at the time," he had said in an interview once.

But he made up for his lack of preparations with his sheer talent and grit. "I've seen him drawing with GMs after losing a pawn in the opening," Praveen Thipsay, his teammate on many occasions, had once told this writer.

Excerpts from an interview Barua gave shortly after he won the Commonwealth title in Mumbai. Question: What were your expectations for this tournament?

Answer: I wasn't expecting too much because it was a very strong tournament, with so many good players around, such as Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Sasikiran and Evgeny Vladimirov. I wanted to play well and to gain some Elo points if I could.

This is your best performance in a tournament for quite some time.

Yes, it certainly is. I am happy with the results of course, winning the Commonwealth title and finishing fourth in the Open tournament. I am also happy with the way I played here. I had only two bad games, and I wasn't making any obvious mistakes. I didn't have many bad positions. In fact, I was in a winning position against Igor Rausis in the eighth round, when I accepted his draw offer.

Does winning the Commonwealth title mean a lot to you?

Yes, it does. It is always nice to win titles. Winning the Commonwealth title is very important for me because there were many strong players in the fray.

You finished ahead of your Indian rivals, who are stronger in rating and are better prepared than you.

It is very gratifying, in fact, to finish ahead of them. Our young players such as Sasikiran, Harikrishna, Ganguly and Kunte are very talented and they have many privileges, which the players of my generation didn't have. There are more tournaments these days and they get training from reputed foreign coaches such as Vladimirov at the right time of their career.

You are one senior player who regularly finds a place in the Indian team, despite stiff competition from the younger players. You won the National `A' in Delhi a couple of years ago, and only recently you qualified for the World championship. What keeps you going?

I am determined that I will continue playing chess only if I can maintain a certain standard in my game. I won't play the game only for the sake of playing. So there is a constant urge within myself to excel all the time. I want to give my best all the time. I have been a member of the senior Indian teams since 1988. That is 15 years, and it is a long time. And performances like this one encourage me to continue. And at this stage of my career, I need successes like this to keep myself motivated.

So what would you like to do when the motivation is no longer there?

You mean after I retire as a player? Well, I would like to do some coaching.

So many youngsters participated at the Commonwealth championship. Were you impressed with anyone?

I thought G. Rohit and Prathamesh Mokal played very well. Both look very promising. Then I am impressed by Parimarjan Negi. For his age, I feel he is really good. It is good that today's children are getting so many opportunities, which were not there when I was a kid. During my time there was only the National juniors, whereas today you have age-group tournaments in so many categories.

What do you think of Vijayalakshmi's performance here? It was she who gave you tough competition for the men's gold in the Commonwealth championship.

It was an incredible show by Viji. I have been watching her for many years, but I have never seen her playing as well as she did here. It was a great performance to come second in the men's section.

Are you disappointed with your wife Saheli's performance here? In the last Commonwealth championship, held in London, she had a bronze in the women's section, while you had a forgettable tournament.

Of course, Saheli could not do well here. But she's been short of match practice. When she played at the Asian team championship in Jodhpur, just before the tournament here, she was taking part in a tournament after a gap of nearly seven months.

What do you think of the organisational aspects of this tournament?

It was very well organised, no doubt about it. The organisers did a very good job. They conducted the tournament at a five-star hotel, where they also accommodated the GMs and the WGMs. I hope there would be more tournaments like this in India.