Vikramjit needs support


Despite no sponsor backing him, Vikramjit Singh has come a long way. “As age catches up, Vikram needs to achieve IM and GM norms quickly. If he's given sponsorship support, which gives him access to coaching, time to practice and overseas international exposure, I see no reason why he cannot become a GM,” says Grandmaster Ramesh. By A. Joseph Antony.

Street-side chess games in his native Imphal attracted bets, but fascinated seven-year-old Sougaijam Vikramjit Singh nonetheless. A. B. Meetei, a big name in the sport, lived just five minutes away.

The Rs. 40 price tag, not a small amount for his middle class parents, for Philip Robar's, ‘A guide to chess,' required a promise to his mother that studies wouldn't slacken. The queen is not indispensable, that tome taught him.

Maternal uncles scolded him: The game's nothing short of gambling. Since Manipur had no reservation counters, the 24 hours to Guwahati to merely book rail tickets was nothing compared to four or five-day journeys (only one way) to places as distant as Calicut (now Kozhikode).

With no sponsor backing, the expenses, the food and the weather were just some hurdles hampering the young player's progress. Next to no access to sound coaching, books or game-related software would have laid lesser players low, not Vikramjit.

From third in the Manipur sub junior championships, he logged 4.5 out of nine in the 1993 Ahmedabad Nationals, a sound start for a beginner. In the 1994 Calicut under 14 Nationals, he tallied six, climbing to 6.5 at Nagpur the next year.

Vikram's mother was reluctant to send her son, afflicted with fever, to the National Children's Chess Festival at the Andheri Sports Complex in 1995. Only a promise that he'd give up chess if he didn't win, made her relent.

In the fray were some of the biggest names of chess — K. Sasikiran, Tejas Bakre, Sandipan Chanda Neelotpal Das, Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury, S. Kidambi and S. Satyapragyan. It was Vikram who emerged Numero Uno and thus the National under-14 champion.

With this feat, he'd booked his berth to Brazil for the world under-14 championships, where he was ‘snapped' with the legendary Anatoly Karpov. The young lad's first ELO rating was an impressive 2205 and he kept improving till fate dealt him a big blow.

Vikram's father died in 1998 and it was a struggle for his mother to look after the family. She didn't come in the way of her son's ambitions though. He persisted with the sport to prove critics wrong.

“To me chess is a sport because you play to win, an art because it has a lot of beauty and a science because of the logical reasoning involved,” says Vikram. “It is so much like life, for the lessons it teaches and the never ending ideas that flow from it.”

Unlike Kolkata-based players, with access to the latest in chess, thanks to the Alekhine Chess Club at Gorky Sadan, Vikram had his mother ailing from diabetics to look after. While others played nine major tournaments, he could manage just two, finding his ELO rating slipping consequently.

That he was capable became evident at the 2002 Goodricke tournament, where he beat Kazhak Grandmaster Temir Bayev Serikbay.

“Lack of training and playing opportunities in Manipur would have cost Vikramjit dearly,” said Tejas Bakre.

“When we played in age group competitions, Vikram would have figured in the nation's top half a dozen. But with little exposure to international competition, the talent that was obvious in him, didn't bloom to potential and instead took its toll on his game,” felt Bakre, now an Assistant Manager with Air India in Ahmedabad.

Vikram qualified for the National A on his very first attempt, finishing sixth at the 2003 National B championship at Nagpur. While his career seemed on the ascendant, personal problems plagued further progress.

Since he had no major achievements in the next two years his appointment in South Central Railway (SCR) could only be in the non-officer cadre, although he was a graduate. Taking up a full-time job had by then become a necessity for his mother's leg was amputated due to acute diabetics.

With encouragement from SCR Sports Association Chess Secretary K. Sambasiva Rao and Manager A. Alexander, Vikram's chess career revived. In the opening round of the 2009 Hyderabad National Rapid championship, Vikram stunned second seeded Sandipan Chanda in the opening round and Tejas Bakre in the second.

“Vikram was a serious contender,” Chanda recalled. “When he should have been playing good tournaments abroad, he had to travel three to four days to take part in Indian events. It was a lot more difficult for Vikram, with things so unequal that you must consider what he achieved and under what circumstances,” he said.

“The opening is perhaps the only area where he can be pinned. If he's equal with you in the middle game, he can be dangerous. Once Vikram takes the initiative, he's very difficult to defeat,” observed Chanda.

“Vikram is an example of how to continue without complaining and on how diverse Indian chess is. He was and remains talented and deserves opportunities he so sorely missed. A month or two competing in good tournaments in Europe would do wonders for him,” suggested the former ONGC employee, now on his own.

At the second Orissa Open GM tournament last year, Vikram drew with GM Ivan Farago, defeated GM Temir Bayev Serikbay, drew with GM Vokarev Sergey and subdued International Master (IM) Rustam Kaiyerbekov.

At the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth championship, Vikram drew with GM Eltas Sarfarli (ELO rating 2610) and with Anton Kovalyov (2615). Le Quang Liem at 2645 became the highest rated GM that Vikram held to a draw in the Parsvnath tournament, also in the national capital last year.

“Despite hailing from a state such as Manipur, where a chess culture is virtually absent and there are not enough opportunities, Vikramjit has done well to get this far,” said Grandmaster R. B. Ramesh. “Younger players, not just from his state but the entire north eastern region can look up to him for motivation,” said the TN player, who quit his Indian Oil Corporation job to run a full-time chess academy in Chennai.

“As age catches up, Vikram needs to achieve IM and GM norms quickly. If he's given sponsorship support, which gives him access to coaching, time to practice and overseas international exposure, I see no reason why he cannot become a GM,” Ramesh concluded.