Playing a key role

More than his part as a player, Lalith Babu’s role as an unofficial ‘second’ at the Chess Olympiad in Tromso (Norway), was hailed by one and all. By J. R. Shridharan.

In India’s first-ever podium finish in the Chess Olympiad in Tromso (Norway) the role of Vijayawada Grandmaster M. R. Lalith Babu, 20, was a noteworthy one.

Playing without its top three stars from the current top five, which included former World Champion Viswanathan Anand, India stunned the world by trouncing the best of teams in the business to win the bronze medal.

Lalith, who went as a reserve, played three games in the early rounds and helped India to a flying start. He played against Syria, Cuba and Moldova and later was rested by the team management to give a chance for others to perform.

More than his part as a player, Lalith’s role as an unofficial ‘second’ was hailed by one and all.

Grandmaster R. B. Ramesh, Indian team’s coach, says in his blog: “I must apologise to Lalith for not letting him play more than he did. It was just that no one lost any games and I didn’t want to spoil the momentum with frequent changes.”

“Always positive and affirmative, that’s what Lalith is. I like to call him ‘the liquid’. He will take the shape of the role which you put him into. Sitting outside is not an easy job. Lalith did not only sit outside but he did so with a smile on his face which is so important for the other players’ morale,” points out Ramesh, who was part of Lalith’s team in the Maharashtra Chess League.

Ramesh says Lalith played a huge role — maybe a bigger one than the other four players — as he not only scored two points but also helped others to score more points.

Grandmaster Abhijit Kunte and Women Grandmaster Soumya Swaminathan, who were in Vijayawada to attend women’s World No. 3 player Koneru Humpy’s wedding reception, said that the victory was a defining moment in Indian chess history.

“The field was tough as more number of breakaway countries from Soviet Russia were taking part. Since the collapse of the Soviet regime, several nations are making their mark in the world of chess. In fact, in every edition, the quality of play is getting better and better at the Olympiad,” says Kunte.

WGM Soumya Swaminathan feels India finishing ahead of Russia, Armenia and other higher-rated countries is remarkable.

For Lalith the medal was crucial and it could well be the turning point of his life. More than Lalith it was his mother Padma, who took all the pains in explaining to the media about the significance of the medal that has been elusive for decades.

Sponsorship has always been a problem for Lalith. Adding to his woes was his laptop which went kaput. Barring Andhra Cricket Association which sponsored Lalith’s three overseas assignments, others including the State Government have always been indifferent to this Grandmaster’s on-board exploits.

“I need to buy a laptop for my practice. I am putting my parents to trouble every time I travel abroad. If I can get a job in some oil company, I will take care of myself and my chess compulsions,” says a concerned Lalith.

Lalith who was playing non-stop since April did not do justice at the Abu Dhabi Masters in Dubai where he finished with an uninspiring 4.5 points. “A couple of crucial games slipped out of my hands. For the next two months I will not take part in any tournament and I will prepare for the National Premier scheduled in November,” he signs off.