`The win has inspired me to play in stronger tournaments'

At Hotel Tulip Star, overlooking the lovely Juhu Beach, Nguyen Anh Dung was unstoppable. He came first in a field of 137, and that too without the help of any tie-breakers. He remained unbeaten and needed only a draw in his final round game against India's Dibyendu Barua to claim the biggest title yet of his career. And the Rs. 1. 25 lakhs he won was the highest prize-money he had ever received for his exploits on a chessboard.

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

THE Arabian Sea lay tantalisingly close to his room. So close that Nguyen Anh Dung thought it was a bright idea to set it on fire. And the Grandmaster from Vietnam did that, in late April, with his skills over the 64 squares.

"I like Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand. Kasparov is so strong and I admire Anand's speed and the way he kills his opposition," says Nguyen Anh Dung. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Nobody expected the 27-year-old to come out as the Open champion of the Commonwealth chess championship, incorporating the international Open tournament in Mumbai. After all he was seeded 14th and the only significant title he won in his entire career had been the Asian junior championship. And that happened a decade ago, in 1993, in Doha.

But at Hotel Tulip Star, overlooking the lovely Juhu Beach, Nguyen Anh Dung was unstoppable. He came first in a field of 137, and that too without the help of any tie-breakers. He remained unbeaten and needed only a draw in his final round game against India's Dibyendu Barua to claim the biggest title yet of his career. And the Rs. 1. 25 lakhs he won was the highest prize-money he had ever received for his exploits on a chessboard.

He was seemingly happy at his good fortune. "This is a lot of money for me," he told The Sportstar a few hours after the tournament ended, flashing a big smile. He was also delighted to see a copy of The Hindu, which carried his picture, one day during the tournament. "Can I take this?" he wondered. "I want to take this home and show it to my people. It is nice to see that chess is getting a good coverage in India."

The next day when he was given another copy of The Hindu, which had published the final day's report as well as a picture of the winners, including himself, posing with the trophies, he was overjoyed. Back home in Vietnam, chess is only a growing sport still. In his country there are only three GMs, including himself — Dao Thien Hai and Tu Hoang Thong are the others. Vietnam's best female player Hoang Thanh Trang had won the World junior girls' championship in 1993, at Kozhikode, but she lives in Hungary. And there are some promising youngsters, such as Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son, Nguyen Viet Chung and Le Quang Liem, coming up. But Nguyen Anh Dung said his country had a long way to go in the sport.

The way he played in Mumbai suggested that he could be a very good player if he wanted to. He surely has some natural abilities and is definitely a much stronger player than his current Elo rating of 2530 would indicate. "I think he's a very imaginative player," said Chennai-based veteran International Master Lanka Ravi.

Excerpts from an interview with Nguyen Anh Dung.

Question: Did you think that you could really win this tournament?

Answer: No, not at all. When I looked at the field, I saw many strong players. So I certainly wasn't thinking about winning the title.

What then were your expectations when you came to Mumbai from Jodhpur, after the Asian team championship?

My aim, really, was to get some Elo points. And I wanted to play good chess.

How do you look back at your performance here?

I am very happy with the way I played most of my games. And I am delighted that I have won a tough tournament like this. I may have been lucky in certain games, like the one against Zhang Peng Xiang of China, but overall I thought the quality of my games was good.

So, this is the strongest tournament you have won in your career so far.

Yes, it is my best performance in a tournament by far. I haven't won anything special since that Asian junior title in Doha, 10 years ago. You may be interested to know that even in the Asian juniors I could not repeat my success. In 1995 I was the runner-up and in '96 I was fifth.

Your performance here must have given you a lot of self-confidence.

Yes, it certainly has. Now, I really believe that I could do well in higher category tournaments. If I could perform this well in a tournament, which had players of the calibre of Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Krishnan Sasikiran and Evgeny Vladimirov, there's no reason why I can't do well in strong tournaments. This victory has inspired me to play in more such events. And I want to play more in India. I would like to come here again. Do you think India will have some good tournaments soon?

Perhaps not in the immediate future. Nothing has been confirmed yet. This is your biggest prize-money too. How do you plan to spend it?

(Smiles) It's very nice to win so much money. I want to buy a laptop computer. No, I don't have one of my own. Currently I'm using a laptop of the Vietnamese team.

When did you begin playing chess?

I learnt the game from my father when I was a child. He had, however, no intentions to groom me as a chess player. He thought chess would be a good exercise for my brain. Soon I started enjoying the game and began playing in tournaments.

Did you do well in age-group tournaments, besides the Asian juniors?

Not really. I did play in the World under-18 championship in Hungary in 1994, but did nothing spectacular there. Before that I had played in the World junior championship in India, at Kozhikode, where again my performance was pretty ordinary.

When did you get your GM title?

In 2000. I made my norms from GM tournaments in Hungary. The first one was at the First Saturday tournament in 1998. The second one came in 1999.

Who are your favourite chess players?

I like Garry Kasparov and Viswanathan Anand. Kasparov is so strong and I admire Anand's speed and the way he kills his opposition.

What do you think of the other Indian players?

I think Sasikiran is a very good player. Harikrishna is also very impressive. In this tournament I thought Vijayalakshmi was excellent. The way she fought against the GMs was amazing. I feel she will soon become a GM herself.

How are the prospects for chess back in Vietnam?

I have to say that things are not looking good there. There are hardly any tournaments, and there's not much money in chess either. I think the conditions are good for chess in India. The standard of the game is improving fast. Many young children are playing the game, like we saw here. The tournaments are organised well and I find there's good publicity for chess too.

What do you do at leisure?

I listen to music. I also like to watch football on television.