Chess Olympiad: Down memory lane

India’s gold medallists at the Chess Olympiad, Dibyendu Barua and Padmini Rout, recall their moments of glory at the Chess Olympiad.

A first for India: A young Dibyendu Barua of India (left) and Gata Kamsky of U.S. in action during in a Super Grandmaster International chess tournament in New Delhi in 1990. It was a dream year for Barua as his gold medal-winning tally of 8.5 points from 11 undefeated games was instrumental in India finishing a creditable 10th in the Open section of the Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad. This was the country’s best finish until 2000 when it occupied the eighth spot.on December 18, 1990.

A first for India: A young Dibyendu Barua of India (left) and Gata Kamsky of U.S. in action during in a Super Grandmaster International chess tournament in New Delhi in 1990. It was a dream year for Barua as his gold medal-winning tally of 8.5 points from 11 undefeated games was instrumental in India finishing a creditable 10th in the Open section of the Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad. This was the country’s best finish until 2000 when it occupied the eighth spot.on December 18, 1990. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

India’s gold medallists at the Chess Olympiad, Dibyendu Barua and Padmini Rout, recall their moments of glory at the Chess Olympiad.

Since winning the country’s first individual gold medal from the 1990 Chess Olympiad in Novi Sad, Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua has often pointed out the Government’s disregard to the medal and the lack of recognition of the effort. It clearly hurt him to repeatedly explain the importance of the medal, and later plead to officials of the Union and State sports ministries to value the effort.

Today, even 32 years after his gold-winning effort, the tinge of sadness remains embedded in his heart. “If chess is not an Olympic sport, is it the fault of the players? Why can’t the Government recognise the medal-winning performances in the Chess Olympiad? With participation from over 180 countries, one can imagine the challenge that lies in winning a medal.”

Barua’s tally of 8.5 points from 11 undefeated games was instrumental in India finishing a creditable 10th in the Open section. This was the country’s best finish until 2000 when it occupied the eighth spot.

Those days, India was not the force that it is today in world chess. Anand was the only Grandmaster and Barua was looking for his second GM-norm, which incidentally came his way following his epoch-making performance.

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Barua won six matches and drew five to walk away with the individual gold medal on the second board. Anand faced the heat on the top board and ended with five wins, five draws and two losses. Those days the Olympiad was played over 14 rounds, unlike the present day’s 11.

Recalling his best performance in seven Olympiad appearances, Barua places his victory over England’s Michael Adams (in the sixth round) as his best.

“I think he was foxed by my unorthodox opening lines and later could not get away from a checkmating net. Adams was rated 100 points higher and was an obvious favourite. As a result, beating him (in 64 moves) made me very happy,” says Barua, rated 2490 at that time.

Though Barua won and Anand drew, England won the match at the expense of D. V. Prasad and Sudhakar Babu on the lower boards.

Getting ready: Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju hands over the torch to Indian chess Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua at the torch relay for the 44th Chess Olympiad, at Red Fort in New Delhi. GM Viswanathan Anand and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich are also seen.

Getting ready: Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju hands over the torch to Indian chess Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua at the torch relay for the 44th Chess Olympiad, at Red Fort in New Delhi. GM Viswanathan Anand and FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich are also seen. | Photo Credit: PTI

“Two other good wins came against Iceland’s Mergeir Petursson and Sweden’s Ferdinand Hellers, both white pieces. These players were rated 2500+ and these boosted my confidence.”

Barua recalls how he almost did not play the final round against Czechoslovakia. “Initially, I thought, by not playing I was anyway winning the gold. But before the match, I think the U.S. captain approached our team captain and requested that Anand and I play the final round since an Indian victory improved their medal prospects. I don’t really remember what exactly was the scenario then. But I played and drew against Jan Smejkal (rated 2545) after 44 moves.”

With the 44th Olympiad round the corner and India ready to host its first, Barua says, “I have always loved playing the Olympiads. Even now, I feel like being part of the team.”

Barua’s boyish and mischievous smile at this point aptly reflects the emotions behind the words. It took another 24 years before the Indian chess fraternity could celebrate another individual gold.

Padmini Rout, chosen as a reserve, belted out seven wins and walked away with the gold with a stupendous performance of 7.5 points from eight rounds in the 41st Olympiad in Tromso, Norway in 2014.

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“That was my best performance,” gushes Padmini as she states the obvious. “I remember, I was getting good positions every time and the results were to my liking.”

Rated 2318, Padmini faced all lower-rated rivals and stamped her authority by taking her time. For the record, she won five games with white pieces and two with black.

It must be remembered that Padmini’s individual effort was somewhat pushed into the background as the Indian men returned with a bronze medal — first for the country from the Chess Olympiad!

In the eight matches that Padmini figured in, India won five, drew two and lost only to Serbia.

Stupendous show: Padmini Rout, chosen as a reserve, belted out seven wins and walked away with the gold with a stupendous performance of 7.5 points from eight rounds in the 41st Olympiad in Tromso, Norway in 2014.

Stupendous show: Padmini Rout, chosen as a reserve, belted out seven wins and walked away with the gold with a stupendous performance of 7.5 points from eight rounds in the 41st Olympiad in Tromso, Norway in 2014. | Photo Credit: PTI

Though her first-round win over lowly-rated New Zealand’s Nicole Tsoi came in just 28 moves, Padmini had to produce her best in 80 moves to down Kazakhstan’s Madina Davetsbaeva, rated 2289. This also proved to be the toughest rival Padmini faced in her campaign.

“This was a tough game where I had to find a way to stop her two connected passed pawns with my knight and promote my lone pawn with the help of my king,” remembers the former National champion.

Padmini’s next four victories were spread around 50 moves and put her firmly on course for a medal.

The fifth-round victory over Austria’s Elisabeth Hapala came in 55 moves, five moves fewer than Padmini needed to beat Spain’s Yudania Hernandez Estevez with black pieces in the sixth round.

Again, playing with white pieces against the Netherlands’ International Master Tea Lanchava, Padmini emerged victorious in 53 moves in the seventh round. Next, Padmini sat behind the black pieces against Indonesia’s Ummi Fisabilillah and won in 50 moves.

“It was a good run and that brought a lot of joy to the team,” remembers Padmini.

It was the 10th round victory, in 40 moves, over Swiss girl Laura Stoeri that ensured the gold, provided Padmini did not lose the next round. Wisely, Padmini stayed away and claimed the gold.

“Yes. I took a drop in the final round (against Romania) which we drew 2-2 for the 10th place. I was happy to contribute to the team’s cause. But winning the gold remains a very special moment in my life,” concludes the nation’s only gold medallist in the women’s section.

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