Nihal and Divya hog limelight

Doing the country proud...Nihal Sarin.-K. C. SOWMISH

India finished the overall champion, winning six medals, ahead of Russia, Vietnam and Mongolia in the World Youth Chess Championship in Durban recently.

They may have won fewer medals than last year, but the Indians still dominated the World Youth Chess Championship in Durban recently. They finished the overall champion, winning six medals, ahead of Russia, Vietnam and Mongolia.

The event also gave two more World champions to India in age-group chess: Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh, both in the Under-10 categories. India was expecting more World titles in Durban, but top seeds, such as Vaibhav Suri (Under-18) and Aravind Chithambaram (Under-16), faltered towards the end; they both had to settle for the silver eventually.

“Aravind should have won the gold really, given the great start he had,” says Atanu Lahiri, India’s coach in South Africa. “But in the latter half of the tournament, he lost two games in a row; it was the error of judgement, as he overestimated his positions, that cost him the gold. Vaibhav was pitted in the strongest section. Though he was the top seed, the second and third seeds, Matthias Bluebom of Germany and Olexandr Bortynk were as good as him, so silver is not bad in the end. But, yes, when he had the sole lead, we were hoping that he would strike gold.”

India won two bronze medals — R. Vaishali (Under-14 girls) and Luke Mendonca (Under-8). “Luke was the find of the tournament for us,” says Atanu. “It may be too early to judge him, but I must say that he is a very sharp player, from whom we can expect a lot in the future.”

He also rates Nihal and Divya highly. “It is not very often that we get a player like Nihal, someone who is thinking about the game all the time,” says the coach. “He has immense natural abilities and with proper guidance he could go a long way. Divya, too, is a very talented girl. I am impressed by her temperament, which is rather remarkable for her age.”

Divya, the 13th seed from Maharashtra, came on top of what was a well-contested event. She had, in fact, tied for the top place with top seed Bibissara Assaubayeva, with 10 points from 11 rounds. It was her superior tie-break score that fetched her the crown.

Nihal won the boys’ title outright, even after losing his last round game to Russian Dmitry Soi. But the Kerala boy’s closest rival, Nodibrek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan, was held to a draw by Mohan Kushagra on the second board. “It was that effort by Mohan that gave Nihal the title,” says Atanu. “And it was really nice to see an Indian boy’s performance helping his team-mate win the title.”

Atanu believes it was a fine performance by the Indian contingent in Durban. “We only won six medals, against the 11 we had won last year, but we must not forget the fact that the World Youth Championship is getting stronger and stronger,” he says. “More and more countries are showing as much interest as India in age-group chess. So, if India has to retain its grip on the World Youth Championship, we have to ensure that our young talents are trained properly.”

He feels there should be regular coaching camps for the kids, by national coaches. “Though most players have their own private coaches, it would be great if national coaches could spend time, say at least a couple of weeks, with them before an event like the World Championship,” he says. “We have a wide pool of young talent right across the country, but we should try to produce more world beaters, not just average Grandmasters.”

P. K. Ajith Kumar