'The present format is very fair'

Published : Jul 07, 2001 00:00 IST


"I am getting older. I don't have the memory and energy-level of today's youngsters. So I have to work that much harder to beat the younger and better prepared players."

These words coming from GM Dibyendu Barua sounded a bit strange. At 34, it is perhaps a bit too harsh to describe himself as old. But then, Barua has his reasons. He has been around chasing success before some of the current contenders were even born.

Since Barua caught the imagination of the country as a 12-year-old in 1978 by becoming the youngest participant in the National championship, a lot has changed. But one thing remains the same - his burning desire to prove himself.

After becoming an International Master, it took Barua nine years to turn a Grandmaster in 1991. Once the pressure of gaining the GM title was over, everyone expected Barua to achieve more. But lack of funds, guidance and preparation kept Barua away from the kind of success he once promised.

Time waits for none and Barua was no exception. Younger players came on the scene and began to steal the thunder. Suddenly, the immensely-gifted Barua found himself fighting a generation of talented players. It was a no-win situation. A victory meant nothing great but a defeat took a lot away.

In fact, since winning in 1983, Barua has been skipping the Nationals every alternate year. In 1991, he gained exemption on becoming a Grandmaster. He returned to the National championship in 1998 and won the title. He gave the 1999 edition a miss "because it was not so important, no Olympiad, nothing really" but came third in the Nationals last year.

This time, it was the manner in which Barua lost the Asian Zonal title to K. Sasikiran in Colombo, in the month preceding the National championship, that spurred the Kolkata-based Grandmaster to play at his best. In Colombo, Barua had led the field until the last two rounds, but two straight defeats saw him lose out to Sasikiran.

In the National championship, it was the other way round. Sasikiran led comfortably for most part before his surprise loss to Neeraj Kumar Mishra gave Barua a chance to catch up. Barua remained in the hunt and joined Sasikiran at the end of the penultimate round and finally took the title on better tie-break score.

"It feels great to be back at the top. I needed it badly," said Barua soon after his memorable triumph. "In fact, it was better than winning the titles in 1983 and 1998 because this time the field was the toughest ever, with four Grandmasters, and Sasikiran having a rating of 2611, besides the fast-improving youngsters like P. Harikrishna and Ganguly."

Barua was particularly pleased with the way the title was decided in the championship. "I really liked the way it went - chasing Sasikiran till the end to win. I think a championship should be decided like this, and not by someone winning with a round or two to spare. I am sure those who followed this tournament must have really enjoyed it."

Armed with 'Reiki' techniques, Barua gained stamina, remained concentrated and kept a cool mind when it really mattered.

It was in the most dramatic phase of the championship - the final round - that Barua kept his cool. In the words of the champion, "I was a bit surprised by Saptarshi Roy's choice of opening. He played (Petroff Defence) something that I normally play. But I was not very comfortable with the position I got into. I was having less time, about five or six minutes for 13 moves. When it was Roy's turn to play, I went around to have a look at Sasikiran's board. I had decided that if Sasikiran was in a winning position then I would take chances in my game. I did not mind losing since it made no difference. But I saw that Sasikiran could not possibly win (against Neelotpal Das). So I came and offered a draw which Saptarshi accepted."

One of the factors that really helped Barua was the new four-hour format, in place of the seven-hour games. "I think the present format is very fair, both for the players and the spectators. I agree that the quality of game suffers, but I feel if a player is better prepared in the openings, he should not have much problems."

This was specially surprising since it came from a man whose struggle with opening preparations is well known. "Computers have helped me a great deal and I have worked a lot harder on the opening preparations. But still, the youngsters are far better prepared. So it is better to drive them out of prepared lines at the earliest," says Barua, who showed he had lost none of his originality, particularly in matches against Sekhar Sahu and Ganguly.

"I think the victory against Ganguly was one of my best ever," said Barua soon after this penultimate round battle. "Considering the situation where I had to win with black, in order to catch up with Sasikiran, it was almost an accurate win." Even Ganguly conceded that it was a great game and he had no complaints ending up losing his first match in the championship.

Now Barua plans to concentrate on the Asian championship in Kolkata, in August, to gain a berth in the World championship. The company of chess-playing wife, Saheli, has helped Barua a great deal. With no dearth of motivation and form on his side, one can hope for another repeat of Barua's "magic of old."

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