MAKING OF A CHAMPION

"I AM AWARE THAT BECOMING A GRANDMASTER is a good landmark. From now onwards, the tough part begins."-RAJEEV BHATT

It is the INTENSITY with which Parimarjan Negi works on his chess that has encouraged coaches to happily work harder with him, writes RAKESH RAO.

Here is a talent trained to triumph. Parimarjan Negi, blessed with an aptitude to excel in a brain-game like chess and supported by a team of qualified coaches, is a fine example of the making of a modern-age champion.

At 13, Parimarjan is currently the youngest Grandmaster in the game and the second youngest on the all-time list.

At an age when most children are busy learning the basics of their chosen discipline, it is hardly surprising that this Class VIII student of New Delhi's Amity International is looking for advanced lessons from a variety of accomplished trainers.

When the legendary chess genius Bobby Fischer became the world's youngest Grandmaster at the age of 15 years, six months and a day in 1958, it seemed an unsurpassable feat. But today, Ukrainian lad Sergey Karjakin, at 12 years and seven months, is the youngest GM in the world. Fischer has been pushed to the 17th spot in the list of young players to become a GM. Parimarjan has made it in 13 years and 142 days.

"In comparison, Vishy Anand, the patriarch of Indian chess, reached this milestone at the age of 18 (in 1987). He was considered very young at the time but arguably these perceptions need to be recalibrated. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the goalposts have moved somewhat in the intervening decades: one might justly say that they are now considerably wider and that even the England football team might score."

KNOWN FOR HIS SUPERIOR ENDGAME techniques, Vladimirov (left) was the one who showed the way for Parimarjan.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

These observations from British Grandmaster Nigel Short in The Guardian put things in perspective.

But full credit to today's young brigade whose favourite toys are their laptops since they help them prepare with the help of databases that have over three million games. It is this preparation that has significantly narrowed the gap between the young and the not-so-young Masters of the game. Parimarjan, too, is a product of this tech-savvy generation.

Since being introduced to the game at the age of four-and-a-half years after his father's friend gifted a chess set to him, Parimarjan has moved on with a burning desire to learn more.

If winning the Asian boys' under-10 gold in 2002, the Commonwealth under-10 title in 2003 and the bronze in the World under-12 in 2004 were evidences of Parimarjan's potential, the three Grandmaster norms in six months in 2006 reinforced the belief that he is no ordinary talent.

What sets the soft-spoken Parimarjan apart from the pack of other Indians, who have won age-group medals at the World, Asian and Commonwealth levels, is that he has been guided better.

Apart from the team of overseas Grandmasters, constant encouragement from a die-hard chess aficionado like SEBI Chairman M. Damodran — and sponsorship support from Air-India and Tata Group's R. K. Krishna Kumar — makes sure that Parimarjan is headed in the right direction.

After the early promise and performances, the turning point in Parimarjan's career came when his first coach G. B. Joshi realised it was time to use the services of better coaches. And Parimarjan's father J. B. Singh managed to bring Grandmaster Evgeny Vladimirov into the picture.

This seasoned Kazakh trainer, once part of Gary Kasparov's team of seconds, had earlier worked with P. Hari Krishna and was also the coach of the Indian Olympiad team in 2002. Known for his superior endgame techniques, Vladimirov was the one who taught young Parimarjan how to get started if he wanted to make it big. Once the importance of discipline and being physically fit were instilled, Parimarjan was a more organised player. "In India, most parents feel that playing eight hours of chess and ignoring all other activities is the best way to be successful. That's not true. Children should be encouraged to follow other interests with equal energy. In Parimarjan's case, you can see that he enjoys reading. No wonder, his grades in school are so impressive. One cannot become a complete player without education. Unfortunately, in India, parents of many chess-playing children don't seem to understand this," says Vladimirov while making a very valid point.

Vladimirov knew very well that Parimarjan had it in him to scale greater heights much earlier than his peers and would move on. "As and when Parimarjan becomes an International Master, he will not even notice it. He will look for bigger challenges and come out stronger."

These words from Vladimirov came true. Parimarjan completed the requirements for becoming an International Master during the Hastings Masters Chess Congress and went on to gain his first Grandmaster norm later in the event in January this year. It is the intensity with which Parimarjan works on his chess that has encouraged coaches to happily work harder with him. Russian trainer Ruslan Sherbakov puts it aptly, "Parimarjan has got everything required to become a top world player — a huge talent, outstanding working ability and a great passion for chess. How many times his parents called us to finish classes and join for dinner but Parimarjan's reply was always, `one more position please'."

If Sherbakov works on the opening repertoire of Parimarjan, Ukrainian trainer Aleksander Goloshchapov has started guiding the youngster on sharpening his positional understanding. Goloschchapov, who accompanied the youngster to Satka (Russia) where Parimarjan made his final GM norm, says, "We should understand that Parimarjan getting his GM title does not give us yet any serious grounds for expecting from him any fantastic results immediately. I think his promising performance in Satka is a convincing result of our not big yet, but effective work.

"And of course I remember about all his coaches, especially Vladimirov, thanks to whom Parimarjan is so convincing in ending despite his early age! In spite of the growing adulation from the chess world, Parimarjan's feet are firmly on the ground."

"I am aware that before me there were several others who became Grandmasters at a very young age. Not everyone has been equally successful. I am aware that becoming a Grandmaster is a good landmark to reach. From now onwards, the tough part begins. No one is going to take me lightly any more. The trek up the World Ranking List will require a lot of effort. But then, as they say, life is designed to be tough. Isn't it?"

Indeed. It would be a pity if this gifted boy, with a philosophical bent of mind, right approach and direction, ends up as an under-achiever.

Anand on Parimarajan

R. RAGU

"As you grow your knowledge, worries double.

"I have met Parimarjan, quite a few times. In Corus 2005, I got to see him play. In spite of the tough competition he held his own. He seems a really cool kid, unfazed by results. For a child it is quite impressive. I think we spoke, when he got his IM title, soon after Hastings and he just seemed so calm. Clearly he has a lot of talent and is working hard. It is also very heartening to see that he has a good structure around him. His school, family have been able to support him. It is nice to see that he can enjoy being a kid and also be a prodigious talent. I think a Grandmaster title is a milestone. When you cross it, you have this problem of what to aim for. He should enjoy the title. You can only earn it for the first time, once in your life. Goals will always be there and records too. Carpe Diem (A Latin phrase that means seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future) and enjoy the events.

"Clearly he seems to be working with a lot of Soviet coaches. He has also played a few international events and, that has given him exposure and confidence. At this age it is difficult to quantify improvement. You will find a huge spurt in ratings and then a few years without much of a performance.

Just playing a lot of events, facing new players, different styles will be an excellent preparation. Whatever theoretical preparation he does, will be able to give him confidence to play and also mould his intrinsic skills as a chess player. Just play different events, formats and don't start getting obsessed about ratings or GM title. This is the fun time, as you grow your knowledge and worries double."

Records all the way

2002: Gained International rating of 2061 at the age of nine years and 50 days to become the youngest Indian on the World Rating List in April.

2003: Became the youngest Indian to hold an International Master norm by making the grade in the Offene International Bayerischche Meisterschaft at Bad Wiessee, Germany in November. His norm came when he was 10 years and 280 days.

2004: Became the youngest Indian to beat a Grandmaster. He defeated Switzerland's Ivan Nemet in the Biel Chess Festival in July. By attaining the feat at the age of 11 years and five months, he erased the 1995 record of 11 years and 11 months that stood in the name of Surya Shekhar Ganguly, who defeated Russia's Gregory Sreper in the Goodricke Open in Kolkata.

2005: Became the youngest Indian to meet the norm requirements for the International Master title during the Sort International Open in Sort, Spain, in July. By making the third norm at the age of 12 years, four months and 24 days, he eclipsed the record of P. Hari Krishna who had collected three norms in the space of less than two months in 2000 at the age of 13 years, nine months and 19 days.

Became the country's youngest International Master during the Hastings International Chess Congress in December by crossing the stipulated rating of 2400. He completed the formalities when he was 12 years, 10 months and 19 days to break P. Hari Krishna's record of 13 years, nine months and 19 days, set in 2000.

2006: Became the country's youngest Grandmaster-norm holder in the Hastings International Chess Congress in January. His record of 12 years and 330 days erased K. Humpy's effort that came when she was 14 years and 84 days in 2001. Matched Viswanathan Anand's record, of making two successive Grandmaster norms in the same month, during the Parsvnath International Open in New Delhi in January. Anand had gained his second and third GM norms in December 1987. Became the world's second youngest Grandmaster in the history of the game at the end of the Chelyabinsk Super Final at Satka in Russia in July. Made his third and final GM norm and also took his accumulated rating past the stipulated mark of 2500. Currently, the youngest GM in the world. By becoming a GM at the age of 13 years and 142 days, he broke the record of Norway's Magnus Carlsen that stood at 13 years and 147 days. Replaced P. Hari Krishna as the country's youngest GM. Hari made it at the age of 15 years and 99 days in August 2001. Matched Viswanathan Anand's record of making three GM norms in the space of six months. Anand made his norms in the second half of 1987.

His cherished performances

Most memorable result: "My last round game from the Greek team championship against Israel's Evgeny Postny (2591) was a very interesting game. I had a good advantage at first... but then... it was full of mistakes in the time pressure and in the end, he could have got a better position but he just missed a mate in two! It was quite a game."

Biggest victory: Beating Ukrainian GM Zahar Efimenko (2648) in 26 moves in the San Marino Open in Italy in June 2006.

Quickest victory over a Grandmaster: Defeated Romanian GM George Grigore (2479) in 21 moves in the Sort Open, Spain, July 2005.

First victory with black pieces against a Grandmaster: Defeated former women's World Champion, Qatar's Zhu Chen (2482) in 28 moves in the Aeroflot Open in 2006.

Biggest win with black pieces against a Grandmaster: Defeated Evgeny Postny (2591) in the Greek team chess championship in 38 moves.

Longest drawn game against a Grandmaster: Against Russia's Yuri Kuzubov (2541) in 86 moves in the Hastings Chess Congress in January 2006.

Highly satisfying game in spite of suffering a loss: His game against Russia's Alexei Dreev in the Greek team championship. He managed to fight quite well, though, in the endgame, he was outplayed.