Lalith on a roll

GM LALITH BABU, the winner of the Chennai Super Kings International chess tournament, receives the trophy from K. Shankar, President, Shipping Division, India Cements Ltd. In the centre is FIDE Vice-President D. V. Sundar.-K. V. SRINIVASAN

Chennai seems to be M. R. Lalith Babu’s favourite hunting ground. Following his triumph in the 2012 Commonwealth Championship, the 20-year-old Grandmaster won the fifth Chennai Super Kings International GMs chess tournament to earn the sobriquet ‘Chennai Conqueror’.

He also made the nation proud by becoming the first Indian to win the tournament, which had been in the grasp of foreigners. Lalith Babu and Lu Shanglei (China) logged nine points from 11 rounds, but the Indian claimed the title with a better tiebreak score. The victory is significant for Lalith as it brought him within 39 points of the Super Grandmaster title. “I will be adding 20 (points) to my present rating of 2541, and I need another 39 to join the prestigious 2,600 club,” he said.

“My coaching stint with Viswanathan Anand’s former second Elizbar Ubilava in Spain came in handy. I was able to make the right moves under pressure. I was also able to convert games heading for stalemate into wins,” said Lalith. The new rule of the All India Chess Federation has changed Lalith’s plan of action. He would now be aiming to win the National ‘B’ title, a qualifying tournament for the National Premier Championship (earlier National ‘A’). “My ultimate goal is to represent India and also qualify for the World Cup. Right now Viswanathan Anand, P. Harikrishna and K. Sasikiran have all played in the World Cup and I wish to join the league,” Lalith said.

Hailing from a middle-class family, Lalith was in a dilemma about chess as sponsors were hardly forthcoming. Thanks to the Andhra Cricket Association, he was able to take part in crucial GMs tournaments aboard, and with the support of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), he was able to hone his skills under veteran GM Ubilava in Spain.

Lalith received a pat from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who said he would follow up on the promise he had made in 2012 when Lalith became a GM. “He (the CM) had promised to give me a cash award of Rs. 10 lakh and a site for a house in Vijayawada when Lalith became a GM in 2012. I reminded him of his promise and he immediately asked his personal secretary to follow it up with the authorities,” said Lalith’s mother Padma Kumari.

J. R. Shridharan