Looking for motivation

K. R. DEEPAK

Surya Shekhar Ganguly is happy to have created history in Mangalore. However, he rates his first National ‘A’ title he won in Kozhikode in 2003 as his best. The champion spoke to P. K. Ajith Kumar soon after his victory in Mangalore.

Watching Surya Shekhar Ganguly receive the champion’s trophy during the closing ceremony of the National ‘A’ Championship in Mangalore, Sriram Jha, who finished seventh, quipped, “To finish in the top six even once would be a life-time achievement for most of us, but this guy has won the title six times!”

Jha’s admiration for the champion wasn’t misplaced. To win the country’s most prestigious domestic tournament six times in a row is no joke. And it is difficult to see anyone emulating this remarkable feat.

Ganguly may have happily skipped the tournament, he may have taken a big risk by going for a short draw in the penultimate round, or he may have been a bit rattled when his lowly-rated rival refused his offer of draw, but the Kolkatan was destined to create history that pleasant and mildly cool Tuesday afternoon in Mangalore. He required only a draw in the final round against M. Shyam Sundar, who, however, wasn’t willing to agree to a short draw as is the practice in chess in such situations.

Ganguly admitted he was taken aback when the teenager from Chennai, rated more than 200 points below him, refused his offer. “I never imagined he would decline and that put me under pressure all of a sudden,” the champion revealed later.

He overcame the minor disappointment and played solidly to get the half-point he required, after 30 moves. The draw, quite uncharacteristically, was the eighth of the competition for him. Five of those draws had come in a row.

“That was very frustrating,” Ganguly said. “That is something that has never happened in my career of 20 years. I don’t draw with white pieces that often. Especially disappointing were my draws with Neelotpal Das and P. Konguvel; both those games were theory, but I wasn’t aware that I was playing a game that had been played by somebody else before.” This rarely happens with Ganguly, for he is one of the best-prepared Indian players when it comes to theory. That actually could have been one of the reasons why he was chosen as a second by Viswanathan Anand for his World Championship match against Vladmir Kramnik in Bonn recently.

Ganguly said he gained tremendously from working with the World champion. “You could see those gains in my game in another couple of months,” he said with a smile. “There was no time to put them into practice in this tournament.”

He said he couldn’t prepare much for the Mangalore tournament. “That was the main reason why I wasn’t playing at my best,” he explained. “I didn’t want to play this tournament, not just because its average rating was a lot less than mine. What is the motivation when you have won the event five times already?”

The All India Chess Federation (AICF) did manage to make him play; it would have been a disaster for the tournament, if he too, like G. N. Gopal, had pulled out in the last minute. Having said that, the AICF has got to do something about its premier domestic event if the champion and the runner-up end up losing precious Elo points, as it happened in Mangalore, and the big players are disinclined to take part. If the present format were to continue, more top players would prefer to stay away from the tournament in the coming years.

Ganguly said he was still happy that he could create history in Mangalore.

But why the gamble against Satyapragyan in the penultimate round?

“It was a calculated risk,” Ganguly clarified. “I knew I was in danger of losing the title, but my logic was: if Parimarjan Negi had to become the champion, he would have to win four games in a row, which wouldn’t have been easy for any player, and if he did manage to do that, he deserved to win.”

Looking back at his wins in the last six National ‘A’ championships, Ganguly said the first one was the most memorable. “It was an amazingly strong tournament, with Koneru Humpy getting off to a dream start, beating everyone in sight in the first stage, then P. Harikrishna making a remarkable comeback in the final stage…To win such a tournament, that too in the tightest of finishes, was very gratifying,” he recalled.