Sorokin outplays Humpy

Published : Sep 18, 2004 00:00 IST

MAXIM SOROKIN is the archetypal chess product of the Soviet system. His gaze on the battle-field that the chessboard becomes, is that of an army general — cool, calm and in command.


MAXIM SOROKIN is the archetypal chess product of the Soviet system. His gaze on the battle-field that the chessboard becomes, is that of an army general — cool, calm and in command.

It was therefore not surprising that he came out trumps 5-3, against Koneru Humpy, in the Hotel Ilapuram Grandmaster eight-match series at Vijayawada recently.

The only external indication of the frenzied thinking that must have raged across his mind was the tugging at the tips of his moustache, when he rarely took his eyes off the 64 squares. While Humpy stayed rooted to her chair almost all the time, Sorokin would take a stroll, to see how his wife Natalia Sorokina was faring in the International round robin FIDE rating tournament, also staged in the same hall.

Ideal setting

At other times, he could be seen closely observing the ploys of school children mostly, almost all of them hailing from the Andhra region, of late a fertile territory for the efflorescence of chess. The setting was ideal too, the stray sounds in the second-floor hall being the whirr of the air-conditioners and the thumping of chess clocks.

The face-off was an ideal opportunity for enthusiasts to soak in the craft of these two acclaimed exponents. Parents and their children would troop in to take in the moves, relayed to a magnetic board outside the hall. A sofa set in the lobby enabled those who didn't wish to enter the hall, to catch the action on the magnetic board. Others who missed the morning engagements could be seen re-enacting the happenings with the help of notations.

At the end of each game, the two Grandmasters would analyse the moves. It was only then that one could spot an occasional smile. For anyone who cared to listen, the duo would explain the course of events with a patience that is a plus point to any player of the game. Humpy, escorted by her father Koneru Ashok and her sister Chandrahawsa would leave the venue without much delay, while Sorokin would stay back to pose for a picture with a fan or clear doubts on the game with the authority that comes with the tag of a Grandmaster.

New opening

Recapping on the series, each of the eight games, except the last, had a new opening on offer. Humpy found the middle game the toughest area, while most of the contests between the two predominantly positional players produced verdicts, with only a couple of them deadlocked. Humpy should have gained valuable experience and her tactics won the praise of her opponent, who felt her prospects at the women's chess Olympiad were bright.

In the evenings, V. R. Bobba, Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Chess Association, the organiser of the series, roped in Sorokin for a week of classes for beginners, comprising mostly school children. The lessons mostly on chess theory were further indication of Sorokin's immense appetite for the game. On one occasion, he had drawn the day's encounter with Humpy. Sorokin was back in his hotel room shortly after, engrossed in an on the board war with his wife!

The couple seemed made for each other, drawn together by the game. Both natives of Ekaterinburg, Russia, the pair could be seen enjoying their engagements at a relaxed pace. Not very conversant in English, Natalia understood most of the conversation and smiled or giggled easily, helping Sorokin perhaps to de-stress and see the lighter side of life.

The Russian travels for about six months a year and this solitary pursuit would leave anyone lonesome, explaining the accompaniment of his wife on his travels across the world. Moreover, there's little interest for chess in his native town, too. Lack of match experience finds Natalia a shade rusty but the fact remains that she has an ELO rating of 2266.

Of Jewish stock, Sorokin was born to physicist parents, his scientist father and professor mother giving him a natural inclination towards the subject.

The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology seemed the ideal destination, until two and a half years into the course, he was bitten by the chess bug.

Looking back, he felt the pangs to find his physics peers perched in high positions at various prestigious institutions around the world.

If he is to attribute his proficiency in the sport to a coach's grooming, the first name that comes to his mind is Panchenko, whom he looks up to whenever he can. Good coaching and Sorokin's own attention to chess detail have brought him this far, feels the mild-mannered Russian.

Unlike some chess players who come across as robots, seemingly sans emotions, Sorokin has definite views on almost everything, especially on matters relating to his home country.

India however is still strange to him, a new language in a new State making it more alien than ever. Right from the KGB to President Putin, Sorokin can make an engaging conversationist as much as he can be a respected thinker of this complex game.

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