Success follows sacrifice

BEATING the odds comes naturally to Abhijeet Gupta.

RAKESH RAO

BEATING the odds comes naturally to Abhijeet Gupta. Unlike some of the fortunate young chess talents in the country, this 15-year-old from Bhilwara has become an International Master by overcoming the obstacles off the board before outwitting the rivals across the board. No wonder, this fighting ability has made Abhijeet bring more medals to the country than any other in his age group.

Abhijeet Gupta... India's youngest IM.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

In the recent Dubai Open tournament, considered the toughest Swiss-league event in Asia, Abhijeet made his third and final IM-norm after facing seven Grandmasters in nine rounds. It was a truly stupendous showing from the youngster. In fact, he missed a possible Grandmaster norm after failing to drive home the advantage against Russian GM Sergey Volkov. A rating performance of 2499, against his own rating of 2361, underlined the youngster's playing strength in the event. Since Abhijeet had already reached the stipulated rating of 2400 last year, he completed all the requirements for gaining the title of IM. That also made him the youngest IM in the country at present. P. Hari Krishna held the National record for being the youngest IM, since 2000.

In 2002, Abhijeet entered the Limca Book of Records on becoming the youngest National junior (under-19) champion at the age of 13 years and 10 days. The record still stands. Since then there has been a noticeable change in his level of confidence. It duly showed in the rating chart that followed and he touched the 2400-mark last April. Three months earlier, Abhijeet gained 98 rating points to jump from 2294 to 2392.

In fact, since 2003, Abhijeet has been proving superior to a number of IMs in various tournaments. But the youngster reserved his best against the toughest rival he ever met. In the Commonwealth championship in January 2004, Abhijeet drew with British GM Nigel Short, the eventual champion, and created a sensation. "I had not even seen a player with a rating of 2700+ before coming here. To draw a game with a super GM like Short is like a dream. I can't believe it," were the words of Abhijeet minutes after pulling off the biggest result of his career. This was also the event where he made his second IM norm, three months after the first came in the Parsvnath International Open in New Delhi.

Not many are aware that Abhijeet has won 14 international medals, including six gold medals from the Asian, Commonwealth and British age-group categories. Of Abhijeet's medal collection his lone bronze came as a member of the Indian team in the World Youth Olympiad 2003 in Turkey. In fact, he is the only Indian to have won two successive individual silver medals in the World Youth Olympiad.

Ironically, despite his impressive track record, Abhijeet struggled to catch the eye of a sponsor. Initially, the Bhilwara Group came forward with a one-time monetary assistance and later, presented Abhijeet a laptop.

"I need to train better and improve my opening repetoire."-R.V. MOORTHY

To make sure that Abhijeet took part in all National championships and a few continental championships overseas, his father Ajay, a bank officer, relied on the loans offered by his employer. "I am proud to say that Abhijeet has taken care of his chess-related expenditure like no other youngster in the country. He understood the importance of winning a medal for the country and that in turn brought in the cash incentives offered by the Union Sports Ministry. With that money, he helped me repay the loans. What more can I say," says Ajay with pride.

Abhijeet, who speaks too little and too softly, has made it without having the benefit of testing his capabilities against tough opposition in Rajasthan. The fact that in 2001, Abhijeet became Rajasthan's senior champion at the age of 11 years and eight months, speaks of the lack of quality competition in the State. Till date, he remains the youngest State champion in the country. However, without a strong sparring partner, Abhijeet's growth as a player has suffered. Today, like all his peers, Abhijeet prepares for competitions with the help of chess software.

With chess coaching becoming a booming business in the country, players like Abhijeet could not afford to engage a worthy coach who could work towards removing the flaws in his game. It is for this reason that Abhijeet owes a lot to Nagpur-based IM Anup Deshmukh for his selfless contribution. Known in the chess fraternity for his genial ways, Anup understood Abhijeet's needs and coached him free of cost, both at Nagpur and Bhilwara. "I can never thank Anup uncle enough," says an ever-so-grateful Abhijeet.

Before leaving for Dubai, Abhijeet had a short training stint under ONGC's IM Varugeese Koshy in Chennai. Meanwhile, came the news of ONGC offering him stipend for one year. As it turned out, Abhijeet did not disappoint those behind his selection. One person particularly pleased with the young lad's performance was IM Lanka Ravi, the man in-charge of chess in ONGC and V. K. Bawa of PSPB.

"I am grateful for the all the support. At this stage, I need to train better and improve my opening repertoire. I have identified the areas of my game that need improvement. With the help of my sponsor, I am sure, I can only get better," feels the youngster. In fact, the oil major has offered to meet the expenses of one or two overseas competitions during the year. It is just the kind of support players like Abhijeet need. He is a fine example of a small-town boy scripting a success story with a difference.