Lalith’s fruitful journey

What is 20-year-old GM Lalith Babu doing to climb the chess rungs? J. R. Shridharan finds out.

After touring two continents (Africa and Europe) for 45 days and playing three tournaments, the 20-year-old Grandmaster Musunuri Lalith Babu finally reached Madrid City. The long-drawn-out on-board tussles and nerve-wrecking preparations for three major GM tournaments had taken a heavy toll. But a warm reassuring hug from veteran GM Elizbar Ubilava brought him back to life and helped him add more intricate moves to his arsenal in the three-week-long training stint with the 63-year-old chess wizard.

Lalith is back in Vijayawada after a four-month long sojourn — playing and training for the future endeavours — with a one-line advice from his mentor, who once took care of World Champion Viswanathan Anand’s preparations as his Second — “You should always face new positions on the board, for which you should play more tournaments against more number of players.”

Lalith first landed in Port Elizabeth to defend the Commonwealth title he had clinched in Chennai. But under pressure he lost his crown and settled for third place. “The new format by the World Chess Federation (FIDE) made my outing more stressful. To make the tournament competitive, the organisers allowed GMs from non-Commonwealth countries also to participate. The field became strong with the participation of players especially from Ukraine and Russia.”

Next, Lalith strode into Pardubice, situated on the banks of river Labe in the Czech Republic and finished third. But the next destination — Vlissingen in The Netherlands — had something special for him, as he crossed swords with his favourite GM and a senior Indian counterpart — Pendyla Harikrishna (2709). “For the first time I faced the on-board gauntlet from Hari anna and it was a special moment for me.”

Lalith vividly remembered the two-hour-long 20-move game that threw many surprises at him. “I made no special preparation for the tie. I was not under pressure. Hari anna usually plays e4 but he befuddled me by playing a new variation. He also committed a blunder and lost the advantage and settled for a draw.”

Incidentally, Lalith emerged joint winner with 7.5 points, while Harikrishna finished joint second with seven points.

Says Lalith: “Ubilava is happy as I gained 83 ELO points (2500 to 2583) after my first training stint with him in 2012. To test my competence, he advised me to take part in three strong open tournaments in 2014 — the Gibraltar GM tourney, Aeroflot GM tourney (Moscow) and Cappelle-la-Grande Open at France — in which GMs with more than 2,600 rating would participate. Next year will certainly be an acid test for me.”

Eager to fulfil his dream to represent India in the Olympiad, World Championship and World Cup, Lalith will be taking part in National ‘B’ championship in Bhopal from October 12.

“The National ‘B’ will be crucial as the winner will qualify for National ‘A’, from which Indian teams for the three prestigious tournaments will be picked,” Lalith said.