'The GM title should have come long back'

ARVIND AARON

TEENAGED Surya Sekhar Ganguly of Indian Oil, Kolkata, reached a milestone in his career when he became India's eighth Grandmaster in the just concluded Chess Olympiad at Bled.

India's latest chess Grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly wth his parents after his return from Bled.-PTI

For his talent, this title was long overdue. He completed the title making his third GM norm with six points from nine games when he played a short draw against GM Josif Dorfman of France in the 12th round on November 7. Ganguly had made his earlier norms at the Asian Championship in Kolkata last year and in the National 'A' at Nagpur this year.

The 19-year-old Ganguly shot into international fame when he became the youngest player to defeat a Grandmaster at the age of 11 years and 11 months in February 1995. His achievements have been plenty in the last seven years. Ganguly has joined India's elite GM club, which consists of Viswanathan Anand, Dibyendu Barua, Pravin Thipsay, Krishnan Sasikiran, Abhijit Kunte, Pendyala Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy.

On the personal side, he has a sister who is studying to become a medical doctor, in Russia. He is quiet with varied interests and opens up with friends. All of 19, he keeps trying and believes in hard work. He is the only Indian player without a laptop and he uses the machines of his team members when they take rest during tournaments. One of his trademarks is that he is a very creative player with plenty of hidden resource in the all-important middlegame. He is strong physically, and is shaping up his opening play.

He came to Bled with a lot of hope and left with the satisfaction of completing his long cherished GM title. Ganguly spoke to The Sportstar in an exclusive chat at the Ljubljana Airport while waiting to board a flight to Paris and Delhi on his way home from Bled.

Question: What were your plans about the GM title and your performance, when you left India?

Answer: Frankly, I was cursing myself during the last three events - in China, the Czech Open and the British Championships. In all the tournaments I missed the GM title narrowly. In fact, after being in a position to make 1.5/2 at the end, I was missing them. So I was asking myself, what is this? What is going on? When I came here I was determined to complete my norm. Generally during events I keep in constant touch with my family, my mom, dad and others. But this time I didn't call anybody or check e-mails. I was totally concentrating on my last norm. Then it came easily! I expected to finish the norm in this tournament and it ended that way. Obviously it was my best moment when I became a GM after drawing with GM Dorfman.

How was the reaction from Kolkata to your achievement? Did your people call you?

I got a lot of calls. My phone was constantly buzzing away. My mom (who accompanied him till New Delhi) is very happy, my grandfather who taught me chess, though he is paralysed now, is also very happy.

At what age did you start playing chess? What is your ambition?

I started playing chess at the age of five. I don't reveal my ambition!

When you were an International Master you knew you had to go for the Grandmaster title. Now, you are a GM and there is nothing else to go for. What are your future goals?

In the last few tournaments I maintained a strategy, to draw certain games and win a few to score something like 2/3 in general. Now that tension is not there. I can just go and play. I can just go and show my chess strength and increase my rating.

Which was your best game at Bled?

My best game was against Mark Paragua of the Philippines. It was a tactical battle. It was a good piece of calculation, good combination and good defence.

You were also lucky in one of the games in a knight ending.

Yes. I was in a hopeless position. But going by the choice of the opening I was in a winning position, so that makes things even. I blundered and then reached that knight ending you are talking about. And finally I managed to escape (with a draw).

What happened in the last round (against Iceland) and what do you think about the team's placing?

Throughout the tournament I performed well. In the most crucial moment I played so horribly. I was very upset after that. It was really a bad game from my part. I sacrificed a pawn and thought I will get some compensation but when my opponent took the pawn I realised that I was losing. There was no compensation at all. It was a total misjudgment. Regarding the team's placing, we did not play as we were expected to in the last two rounds. We came 29th, so obviously it is not a good result. But okay, it happens. May be next time we will improve.

Did the Indian team have high expectations and was that a problem?

We all are professional players. So, that is not a concern. The only problem was we all were not in good form.

Last time at Istanbul 2000 you were not in very good form, but the team did very well. This time you had a great time but the team fared poorly.

(Laughs) In the last Olympiad I was the worst player in the team. So, this time I decided I must try to do my best. It happened as you say. Let us see what happens next time.

Have you been working with a lot of other chess players? How do you work and plan your game?

Most of the time I prepare alone. Sometimes I do prepare with Barua and Sandipan and I have worked with many other top Indian players too.

Is it beneficial to have a lot of fast rising players around in Kolkata in addition to experienced ones such as Barua?

This group analysis is very important. You should prepare alone also but at the same time it is important to have a practice partner. In Kolkata, Barua, Sandipan and myself work together as we are almost on equal terms. So it is very good for us. Most of the time I learn openings. With Barua I practise at my home and with Sandipan I train at Gorky Sadan.

So, are you ready to get your laptop computer now? They say when you buy your laptop your Elo shoots up by 100. Do you believe in that theory?

I will try to put that theory to test. I hope that my office will provide me with a laptop, but I am not sure. Yes, after getting it I should improve. Right now I am badly in need of a laptop.

What are your other interests?

I like all the sports. I play cricket, football and badminton. Also I play many card games. My uncle (father's brother) is a National champion in contract bridge. My father was a former Bengal champion (in bridge). We are a sports family. Also I learnt karate for three years. I own a brown belt. Basically I am attached to sports.

You were a child prodigy. Now you are a GM. How do you look at this transformation?

I thought it (grandmaster title) should have come long back. Already I am quite late. I am not so fast.

What are your father's predictions? (his father is an astrologer too)

He is a good astrologer but normally I never ask him. (Laughs) He knows. My mother tells me but I have asked her not to reveal his predictions about me. If the prediction is that I will perform well in any tournament then I will not work hard and if it is the other way round then anyway I will not work hard! Then what is the point in asking? (Laughs) These things don't work at all.

Does it help being in a team with motivated people such as Sasikiran? Also how was the training with Anand in Chennai?

All the players are motivated and not particularly Sasikiran or Abhijit (Kunte) or Hari (Harikrishna). Basically we are a very young team and all are motivated. As far as Anand is concerned we had that camp in Chennai and it was quite helpful. We got a lot of inspiration from that camp. We also played tennis there. Myself, Abhijit, Hari and Anand played tennis.

Which is your next tournament and what are your immediate plans?

The next two tournaments are very important. First is the Inter-Petroleum where I have to play for my office and then the World Junior in December at Goa.

How did you like Bled and how do you like to compare this with the previous Olympiad?

Bled is a nice city. Istanbul was also nice but somehow I could not perform well. Our team performed very well at Istanbul and I was very happy. This time the team could not finish well. Anyway I became a Grandmaster only here. So I am happy. This experience is better than the previous one.

This time we had Kunte and Thipsay as undefeated players. Do you think they should have been given more games?

Vladimirov decided it and he must have given some thought. His logic may not match with ours. He is a great coach so, he must have thought something well only. Somehow it didn't work, that's the way it goes.