'We could have easily finished in the top ten'

ARVIND AARON

"CONGRATULATIONS on winning the silver medal. Can I get your reactions for The Sportstar?" This writer quizzed Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman over the telephone, in her hotel room an hour before the closing ceremony of the Chess Olympiad in Bled on November 10. "Oh! Is it silver? Are you sure? I thought it was bronze," responded Vijayalakshmi in an elated tone.

R. V. MOORTHY

The 23-year-old prolific performer of the Indian women's team, who is employed with the Indian Airlines in Chennai as an officer, was delighted to know that she had retained the silver medal she had won last at the Istanbul Olympiad in 2000. It came as a surprise as she fought a long final round game and returned disappointed after making a draw in the 14th and final round game against Israel.

Luckily, some other players, who were in the run for the silver medal, played the final round and lost or did not win and Vijayalakshmi was only disappointed till she knew that she had indeed won a silver medal. In the last Olympiad, Vijayalakshmi was in the run for the gold medal till the last round but then had to settle for the silver, with Lithuania's Viktoria Cmylite clinching the gold. This time the prestigious top board gold medal went to Hoang Thanh Trang of Vietnam and the bronze medal to former women's world champion Maya Chiburdanidze of Georgia.

Vijayalakshmi's success is unprecedented. She continues to excel in the Olympiads and India can expect a lot from her experience in this team event.

Excerpts:

Question: Does the silver medal-winning performance again show that you are steady?

Answer: Yes, in a way it shows that I am steady at least in the Olympiads although it is after a gap of two years. I am sad that I could not improve upon it (the earlier performance).

Was there anything new in your game at Bled?

There were a lot of changes taking place in my game. I had a steadier approach to the game. I was clear in my mind about what I was doing. The opening preparations were much better. I was very comfortable in most of the games here unlike as at Istanbul where I had trouble in many of the games.

The team placing dropped from 13th in Istanbul 2000 to 19th in Bled 2002. Why did this happen?

I think this is because we played badly in the last two rounds. But, in general, we really played very well. We faced seven teams out of the top 10. Our score against them was also really good. Our defeats in the last two rounds to America and Israel by 1-2 each pushed us down the placings. I expected the team to finish in the top 10 quite easily.

Did you notice that had India played Georgia in any of the last four rounds you could have beaten them easily?

(Laughs) Yes. They collapsed in the end and it is difficult to say. I think they were also tired. We lost 0-3 to them and it was quite a blow for us. You can't predict anything in this event. We were also tired having faced the strong teams in the first few rounds.

How was Ruslan Scherbakov's training different from Valery Salov's?

This time we did not have much time to prepare before the matches, unlike as in the previous edition. At Istanbul we had time and we were doing physical training and all that. But this time we could not do that as we were playing in the World Cup at Hyderabad before the Olympiad. The camps by Scherbakov and Salov were totally different. Salov was concentrating on both men and women. But this time we had a separate coach for the women's team. Scherbakov helped us out in all the openings. It was very convenient for us. Salov's camp was different in its own way. Our performances were based on their input. The camps were really helpful.

You had a great tournament this time. How do you rate the other three members?

As far as Meenakshi was concerned I expected a lot from her. I don't know what went wrong. In the first half she had to struggle a lot and by the time she recovered and came back it was too late. Aarthie was performing steadily. Swathi, on the other hand, started very well with 4.5/6 and then hit a low, which was bad for the team. Everyone was trying out something and that was important. When you are giving out your best you can never blame anyone.

Where is your career heading? The World Championship in Moscow last year did not go well. In the World Cup at Hyderabad last month you said you were in a tough pool. When you play knock-outs or championships something goes wrong. Have you analysed the reasons?

Yes, somehow these championship events are going bad for me but I am doing well in the Olympiads. The pressure in the Olympiad is much more than in the world championship. In the next world championship I will try to do better and hopefully try to get a better place. I don't know but if money is involved then I get tensed, may be.

Did the drug testing unnerve any of you?

They did the testing for Meenakshi after we played with Germany in the 12th round. I think it is basically a formality. This happened a day after you asked us if any of the players got checked. The day you called us they had checked our opponents, Belarus. We are not even bothered about the result because we know we did not take anything. First of all, I don't believe in this doping in chess. I don't think taking any amount of drug is going to activate your brain. I think this is just a formality.

Last time you played in the seven-hour control and this time in the new four-hour control, which was approved after Istanbul 2000. What are your comments?

I like this control because it is very good for me, as I don't get into any kind of time pressure. Many of my opponents were in time pressure when I had about 30 minutes or so. Okay, we are playing some events with this control already and I am very happy about this one. It is not at all a problem for me.

What next from here? What are you planning to achieve in chess next year?

I think I will be playing in the Goodricke Open in January. I do not know if I will be playing in any other event after that. I also think the Commonwealth Championship will be held in the next few months. If it happens I will concentrate on that.

Had Koneru Humpy played in the team, do you believe that the final placing would have changed for certain?

This is one question everyone is asking me. I think they should ask Humpy because it is very difficult to answer this question. This is an Olympiad. This is a team tournament. My comment will be only unfair to one of the players who had played here.

It is hard to say that one player is better, one is not. It will be very unfair on my part to say the team would have performed better had Humpy played. Humpy has played individual events but this is a team event. Individual events are totally different from team competitions.