Talented youngsters promise the world

RAKESH RAO

Koneru Humpy... one of the best in the world among women.-K.R. DEEPAK

IN sport, as in life, youth brings with it a refreshing package of ideas, approach, energy and exuberance. The arrival of youth also gives rise to hopes of better times to come.

In recent years, several talented youngsters from various disciplines have given the Indian fans much to cheer about. Barrier breakers such as Sania Mirza and Narain Karthikeyan, not to forget our young bunch of archers and shooters, have already set benchmarks for the other practitioners of their ilk to follow.

For long, it is believed that when it comes to a combination of speed, stamina and strength, Indians do not have it in them to match their counterparts from the developed nations. But where skill is the most important prerequisite, Indians have done better.

In the past, India produced a number of world champions in billiards but more recently, it is chess that has left all other disciplines way behind, giving consistent results, that too, at every level.

In fact, August 2, 1987 remains the only day in the country's sporting history that saw the making of two world champions in different disciplines. Geet Sethi claimed the world amateur billiards title and Viswanathan Anand won the World junior chess title.

P. Magesh Chandran... the country's 12th Grandmaster.-RAJEEV BHATT

Since then, chess has come a long way while cue sports has fallen short of expectations.

In the past 18 years, a new generation of chess players has gained immensely from the revolution scripted by Anand. P. Harikrishna, K. Humpy, D. Harika, and to a great extent players such as K. Sasikiran, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Sandipan Chanda are all products of an era influenced largely by the exploits of Anand. The quality and consistency of Anand's performances for well over a decade has served as a catalyst and contributed a great deal to India being considered as a power to reckon with among over 150 chess playing nations.

If winning titles and medals are yardsticks of success, then chess players have brought more than in any other sport.

In fact, only the past month saw Indians winning across continents. Besides several prestigious titles, July witnessed the making of two young world champions, one Grandmaster, one Woman International Master, four GM norms and an IM norm. Add to this, the Woman Grandmaster title-norms made by Tania Sachdev and Eesha Karavade in June and the picture looks even brighter. No sport in the country has ever enjoyed a month of such consistently glorious results. Interestingly, all these came overseas.

Neelotpal Das... two GM norms in his kitty.-C. SUBRAHMANYAM

It looks even more creditable if one considers the fact that chess playing abilities of several nations improved after Soviet players settled in Europe and America following the disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991. Though some Indians, too, benefited from the services of a few coaches from the erstwhile Soviet Union, the widespread growth of chess in the country is due to other reasons.

Much of the credit goes to Anand, whose consistency for over a decade continues to inspire the present generation of players. When Hari and Humpy returned with world age-group medals nearly a decade ago, the impact of Anand's inspirational presence among the world's elite players was clear.

The increase in parental interest, the stress on having personal coaches and a good number of tournaments available to test the preparations of the aspiring champions helped matters.

N. Srinath won the under-12 boys' title in the world youth championship at Belfort, France.-R. RAGU

Another factor that influenced the young brigade was cash incentives, offered by both the Union and State Governments, to winners of the continental titles and world age-group medallists. Thanks to these incentives, Indians not only started dominating the Asian age-group competitions but also started backing themselves for medals in the World championships. After Anand, Hari and Humpy, players such as Aarthie Ramaswamy, Deep Sengupta, Harika, Tania, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, S. Ravi Teja, Eesha, Parimarjan Negi, N. Srinath and Sahaj Grover have won medals at the world championships.

If the present teen and pre-teen brigade of Indian chess lives up to its promise, there will be a significant rise in the number of medals and medallists at the Asian, Commonwealth and World championships. What is indeed very heartening is the fact that these young players are coming from all parts of the country.

If chess power Tamil Nadu expects Deepan Chakkravarthy, S. Arun Prasad, S. P. Sethuraman and N. Srinath to carry forward its glorious tradition, Andhra Pradesh takes pride in Harika, Lakshmi Sahiti, I. Ramya Krishna, G. Rohit, Nikhilesh Kumar, D. Sai Srinivas and V. A. V. Rajesh. From Maharashtra, apart from Eesha Karavade and Kruttika Nadig, youngsters such as Akshayraj Kore, Aditya Udeshi and Shiven Khosla are promising a great deal.

Surprisingly from Delhi, a place that lacks an organised coaching structure, Tania, Parimarjan and Sahaj have been able to catch the attention of the chess world.

From the eastern part of the country, Deep Sengupta, Rahul Sangma, Mary Ann Gomes and Saheli Nath are capable of maturing into fine players.

Sahaj Grover bagged the under-10 golds in the Dubai international junior championship and at Belfort.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Anand, Dibyendu Barua and Pravin Thipsay, India's first three Grandmasters, in that order, feel that the future of the game in the country seems to be in very good hands.

"During my recent trip to India, I interacted with a lot of chess playing kids from various parts of the country for the NIIT Mind Champions Academy initiative. I was really overwhelmed to see the high level of interest among the children and the fun they had. What also struck me was the quiet dedication of their parents and in many cases, their coaches, too," was Anand's impression.

In fact, Anand kept track of the Indian performers in the recently concluded World Youth Chess Championship at Belfort and was very impressed by some of them. He chose Srinath, Sahaj, Parimarjan Negi and Sethuraman as spectacular talents and saw a bright future for them.

At the same time, Anand was quick to caution the over-ambitious parents and coaches. "There has been a proliferation of age-group category events. This may give a child a lot of motivation on a continuous basis but an age-group category event should not be the only yardstick to measure success or be the sole motivation."

Tania Sachdev... the country latest Woman Grand master.-RAJEEV BHATT

Barua, who caught the imagination of the country when, as a 12-year-old, he set the record for being the youngest to qualify for the premier National `A' championship, said, "the need of the hour is to give the right guidance and exposure to these kids."

Busy in setting up a coaching academy in Kolkata, Barua said, "I would not like others to face the kind of constraints I faced when I was growing up as a chess player. Sound knowledge of the opening theories and endgame techniques are very essential to excel in modern chess. Coupled with the understanding of the middle-game positions, these talented boys and girls are certain to do well."

Thipsay, too, saw a great future for Indian chess but warned against expecting too much too soon. "I think Hari and Humpy took time to mature and have become the kind of players that they are today. Hari was exposed to good and timely coaching (by Varugeese Koshy and later Kazakh GM Evgeny Vladimirov) that in turn helped him to stay on course for breaking into the big league.

"However, we must also remember that Teimour Radjabov (of Azerbaijan), who finished behind Hari twice in the World age-group competitions, has now moved far ahead. But in the last two years, Hari is looking good to make amends for the time lost.

"Humpy, in my opinion, has emerged as the most consistent among the younger lot. Among the women players, she is without doubt, one of the best. She proved it recently in the North Urals Cup and by reaching the World championship semifinals last year. I am sure some of the younger girls can also do as well provided they show the same approach in times to come."

Parimarjan Negi with coach Evegeny Vladimirov. The 12-year-old became the youngest Indian to hold three IM norms.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

For Grandmaster R. B. Ramesh, it is not surprising to see the young Indians doing so well. "First of all, unlike our boys and girls, the players from the West are not as desperate for success. Working hard comes naturally to most of us and we are ready to struggle. Come to think of us, even to get into a public transport everyday we are made to struggle. So our players are conditioned to work hard for success. Today's youngsters have many players to look up to. Thanks to the positive attitude and sound financial background of many parents, their children travel a lot more to play in outstation and overseas competitions. This is a very good sign."

However, the success stories from Anand to Sahaj have not helped much in bringing sustained corporate support to the game in the country.

Most deserving players, with impressive achievements to boast of, have not managed to get any financial help from big brands. One can understand that it has a lot to do with the fact that chess is not a spectator sport.

But with chess players increasingly finding more space in the print media and time on television, sponsors can back the game and make their brand more visible.

For the time being, the talented bunch of Indian chess will have to fend for itself. With Anand and Humpy being in the chess elite, in their respective sections, there is no dearth of motivation for those who wish to emulate them.

Notable performances by Indians abroad in July

July 3: Twelve-year-old Parimarjan Negi becomes the youngest Indian to hold three International Master norms after the Sort Open chess tournament in Sort, Spain; In the same event, Neelotpal Das makes maiden Grandmaster norm.

July 4: P. Magesh Chandran ties for first place in the 33rd World Open in Philadelphia, finishes second and gains Grandmaster title-norm to become country's 12th GM.

July 12: Sahaj Grover wins under-10 title in the Dubai International junior chess tournament; Prasanna Rao ties for first place in under-12, K. Priyadarshan and Aditya Udeshi take third and fourth places.

July 13: K. Humpy wins North Urals Cup in Kransnoturinsk, Russia.

July 15: K. Sasikiran wins Benasque International chess title at Benasque, Spain; In the same event, Neelotpal Das gains second GM norm.

July 17: Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury ties for the Canadian Open chess title, eventually finishes fifth; In the same event, S. Kidambi gains maiden GM norm; Tejas Bakre finishes third in the Oberwart Open chess title in Oberwart, Austria.

July 20: P. Harikrishna wins Taiyuan Grandmasters chess tournament for Sanjin Cup in Taiyuan, China.

July 24: Arjun Vishnuvardhan wins Youth chess title in the Biel International Chess Festival in Biel, Switzerland.

July 27: S. Vijayalakshmi ties for the ladies title at the Biel International Chess Festival in Biel, Switzerland. She eventually finishes runner-up.

July 28: Sahaj Grover (boys' under-10) and N. Srinath (boys' under-12) win gold medals in the World Youth Chess Championship at Belfort, France.

July 30: Kruttika Nadig becomes a Woman International Master in the Czech Open chess tournament at Pardubice.