A delightful double – one expected and another unexpected – came India’s way on 15th August 2008 with Harika Dronavalli and Abhijeet Gupta winning the World junior Girls Chess Championship and World junior championship respectively.
India thus entered the record books as the first country ever to win both the titles in the same year.
Not even the erstwhile Soviet Union, a major superpower of chess, managing to achieve this double even at the height of its chess glory.
The winning styles of both players were in stark contrast to each other but the ‘Gold medal’ was a common major milestone.
The event, played as a 13-Round Swiss League, is a long and tough event, akin to the 800-metre run in athletics in which one has to plan the pace, work out a strategy and maintain consistency.
Abhijeet, ranked 19th, was erratic in the first half, losing two games, and appeared totally out of contention but sprinted superbly in the home stretch with an unbelievable and incredible 5/5 in the last five rounds to emerge a clear-cut winner.
Excerpts from an interview with Manisha Mohite.
Did you expect it?
Abhijeet: It feels great to win such a tournament and doubly so because it was our Independence Day and interestingly or coincidentally, I won against David Howell, an English guy. Frankly speaking, before the tournament I was hoping for a top-five finish but after reaching Turkey and looking at the players list, I told myself, “It’s going to be tough.” The first half of the event was a debacle and I found myself nowhere. I consoled myself thinking, “OK. I will have to come next year and try again.”
At what point during the Championship did you feel “Yes, I can win the title”?
Actually after winning the penultimate game against Arik Braun, I was discussing with Vishal bhaiya (his coach IM Vishal Sareen) about the next game and I realized that maybe luck might just be on my side. I just had to get that victory against Howell and I might just end up becoming the champion. However, I was nervous and my coach boosted my morale by saying that it was possible to do it.
Were you satisfied with your games and which was your best victory?
In the last few rounds, I felt that I was doing pretty well or you can also say my opponent helped me a little. My best game definitely has to be against Braun because I feel that he didn’t make any obvious mistake and yet I managed to win quite comfortably.
Was there a lot of pressure while playing the last game?
To be honest, yes. I was really feeling the heat. Maybe because I was never in the fray and suddenly I was playing at the top board in such a prestigious championship. I have never won any Age Category title at the World level. The only way I managed to calm myself was by eating lots of chocolates and drinking a hell lot of water.What extra preparation did you make for this championship?
Well, nothing special, just the normal stuff which I do before tournaments.
Over the last one year, you have shown great results. Have you been training differently?
I have been training under Vishal Sareen for the last three years. We have been either working together or he has been planning my course of action.
Who are your favourite chess players?
I would like to mention a few players here. Of course, as an Indian in chess, Anand has to be your God! And he is, for me! But, when I was growing up, it was P. Harikrishna who was virtually winning everything, so I kind of wanted to be like him. Now I admire Magnus Carlsen because what he has achieved at 17 years is too huge to even comprehend.
Coming from Bhilwara, where there is hardly any chess culture, how did you take up chess?
I was about six years old when, during one of the summer vacations, I saw my dad playing with my uncle and got interested and later hooked. Then in my very first appearance at Age level national, I was the winner. I kept on winning National titles and I sort of liked accumulating trophies. After that there was no looking back.
What are your other hobbies?
You could say I am a total sports fanatic. I watch almost all sports. I like music, movies, and going out with friends.
What are the new targets and goals which you have set now?
My next goal is to break into the top 100 and for that I have to focus on enhancing my rating. I hope to do that in the forthcoming Commonwealth championship and then at Hoogevens and then another closed tournament in Portugal.
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– GM Susan Polgar