In the big league

Lalith Babu... India's 26th Grandmaster.-CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR

India's latest GM Lalith Babu is aspiring for a place in the Indian team for the Olympiad to be held in Turkey later this year. He is also aiming to improve his Elo rating and break into the top 100 in the world. By J. R. Shridharan.

More than Lalith Babu, it was his mother Padma who appeared very relieved that the long wait was finally over. For the 19-year-old chess player from Vijayawada, the time between his second and the final GM norm on way to becoming a Grandmaster was agonisingly long. But when it came there was jubilation all around.

Lalith earned his final GM norm, defeating India's Deep Sengupta in the eighth round of the Hastings GM tournament in London recently. He thus became the 26th GM from India and fourth from Andhra Pradesh — after Pendyala Harikrishna, Koneru Humpy and Dronavalli Harika. Incidentally, the four GMs from the state are from coastal Andhra Pradesh, which is regarded as the breeding ground for chess champions.

Lalith (Elo 2484) bagged his first GM norm and the final IM norm in 2008. He earned his second GM norm at the Chennai Open in 2010.

Hailing from a middle-class family, Lalith soon realised that becoming a Grandmaster was not a cakewalk after all. He had to take part in several tournaments to enhance his rating. “Those were the days when the number of FIDE-rated tournaments held in India was very less. As going aboard to play involved huge expenses, Lalith became choosy about participating in tournaments,” said his coach, G. Murali Krishna.

The indefatigable efforts of his mother to get sponsors for Lalith's travels abroad to play in tournaments are well known in the chess circles in the State. “She was Lalith's shadow. She was a regular at tournaments. She was also seen in the corridors of sports administrators, seeking help. She helped the media with updates, kept egging on Lalith when the chips were down. Hats off to Padma,” said Sk. Khasim, the director of Global Chess Academy.

The role of the Andhra Cricket Association was also laudable as it pitched in to sponsor Lalith's trips to Dubai twice.

The former APCA (Andhra Pradesh Chess Association) secretary, V. R. Bobba, aptly summed Lalith's achievement: “His was a middle-class family's dream that had all the cinematic twists and turns. The best part of Lalith was he never bothered his parents with his frustrations. He knew it would take time as it involved money and he kept his cool.”

Lalith was bitten by the chess bug nine year ago. Under the tutelage of Murali Krishna, he gradually made an impact at the national-level by winning many tournaments that included the National junior championship at Tadepalligudem in 2008.

Lalith hasn't forgotten the days when he used to work on an outdated laptop to hone his skills. “It was a big handicap (for me) on the technological front. My outdated laptop had low configuration and I was unable to store all the required data and games. GMs of the world were miles ahead of me as they were all well equipped,” recollected the GM.

Having become a Grandmaster, Lalith is now aiming to win the forthcoming National ‘A' title as it would enable him to represent India at the Olympiad (to be held in Turkey) later this year. “I will also strive to improve my ratings and break into the top 100 in the world,” he said.