The long wait is over

RAKESH RAO

RAMESH'S long wait for a big success is over. By winning the British chess title, ahead of several other contenders including fellow-Indians, this 26-year-old International Master from Chennai has proved that he does possess the temperament needed to excel under trying circumstances.

There have been times when Ramesh started off well in challenging fields but finished poorly. On several occasions, he missed a Grandmaster norm by a whisker. Gradually, such instances added up and Ramesh was labelled a 'choker'.

RAJEEV BHATT

For a pleasant change, at Torquay, Ramesh signed off very strongly and in great style, too. On way to becoming the first Indian, after Sultan Khan in 1933, to win the British title, Ramesh also completed his second Grandmaster norm.

On his return, Ramesh shared his thoughts with The Sportstar on how it all happened.

Question: How do you see the significance of this title?

Answer: The feeling of winning such a prestigious title is yet to sink in. When I won the title, I knew I had accomplished something big. But how big, I was not sure. After all, being the first Indian in a long time to triumph in this championship does feel very good. In the past, I've missed out on good finishes, but this time I am glad it ended on a very pleasant note. In terms of its significance, yes, I think it has really inspired me to work harder. I want to make this triumph a sort of turning point in my career.

At best, what was your realistic expectation from this championship?

I saw this tournament as my last opportunity to chase my second Grandmaster norm this year. So there was no dearth of motivation. As I went along, I felt good about my games. The feeling got better with every game towards the end. Once I made the norm (after winning the ninth round), the pressure was off. I went all out in the last two games. Honestly, at one stage, I did think of being involved in the tie-break games (to decide an outright winner). But the way it turned out, it did not come to that. Also, had I stuck to my earlier travel plan, I would have missed the prize-distribution ceremony. I got it changed at the last minute.

Since you shared the lead with Luke McShane and Stewart Haslinger after the penultimate round, how long did you wait to know the result on the final day?

In the final round, against Luke McShane, I got into a winning position early on. It was a different matter that he resigned two hours later. By that time, Haslinger was losing to Joseph Gallagher on the second board. This match ended about 15 minutes after I had won.

In terms of quality, how do you see your performance?

I think I played tougher matches in a stronger field when I gained my first norm in the Masters Biel Open last year. For the British title, I beat five Grandmasters. Out of these wins, the one against Jonathan Rowson (of Scotland) was very satisfying. Also crucial was the victory over McShane. I think, on my best days, I am capable of beating these players. In the eventual analysis, what mattered was that I won when I had to. After a long time, I am glad that I could get it all together.

What were the factors that led to such a consistent showing?

The 20-day camp with Evgeny Vladimirov was a big help. That was my first such stint. I was very confident after the camp but I played badly in the National team championship (at Nagpur) in June. I lost about 13 rating points. Thereafter, I tried for a norm in the Chinese tournament. I just about managed to maintain my rating there but I was not exactly happy with the way I played. Soon thereafter, I was due to play in the Czech Open. But I did not feel motivated enough. So I chose to skip the tournament and prepared hard for the British championship. Now, looking back, I can say it was a wise decision.

How were your matches leading to the GM norm?

After three wins and two draws, I needed two points from the next four games to complete a nine-game norm. In other words, four draws were enough. In the sixth round, the loss to P. Hari Krishna was a blow. But I kept my chances alive by drawing with Surya Sekhar Ganguly. Then I beat Dibyendu Barua with black pieces and Abhijit Kunte, with white, to make the norm.

Was it an advantage or a disadvantage to play familiar players especially when you are on the threshold of making a norm?

It is difficult to say, but I was quite pleased with the way I played against the higher-rated Indian players. I did not get to play Sasikiran but against the other four, I scored 2.5 points. I don't think it's a bad score. Also it was a nice feeling to finish ahead of Sasikiran, who has been in tremendous form this season.

What was the reaction of those around you when it was confirmed that the title was indeed yours?

All our players were naturally excited. In fact, Ganguly and Kunte went ahead and lifted me. But I don't think the local players were too pleased. There were murmurs that so many players from one country should not be allowed to participate in future. It is clear that they want a British player to win their championship. Last time, the winner was Joseph Gallagher who has made Switzerland his base for the last five years. This time, it was an Indian. In fact, I was not awarded the winner's trophy. The diplomatic answer given to me was that the trophy needed some repairs, so it could not be presented. Obviously, they don't like the idea of an outsider winning their title.

Overall, what were the gains from this championship?

Well, I've gained some 33 rating points, something which I've not managed from any single tournament in my career. Plus, the cheque of 7,800 pounds (after deduction) makes it even better. That apart, I am feeling very confident and motivated now. I want to work hard for the World Cup and the Olympiad. I am not very sure how many matches I'll get to play in the Olympiad, but I want to make the most of it. Thereafter, I want to become a Grandmaster at the earliest.