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Saturday, September 15, 2001

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An Indian summer in England


BRITISH CHESS championship has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the Indians, many of whom had their first brush with stardom at this prestigious event.

The Indian tryst with success continued this year also. At the 88th edition of the championship held at Scarborough, brothers C. M. Arjun Vishnuvardhan and C. M. Gaurishankar crowned their international debuts in glory while Negi Parimarjan and Subir Sen (of Indian origin based in the U.K.) triumphed to make it an Indian summer in England.

But the title wins of Arjun Vishnuvardhan and his brother Gaurishankar came against much odds and at a time when the two were going through a difficult phase.

The 10-year-old Arjun won the under-11 boys title with 6.5 points and came third in the under-12 category while Gaurishankar triumphed in the under-10 category with seven points. Gauri struck a purple patch in this championships coming second behind his brother in the under-11 category and also finished as the runner-up in the under-9 category besides coming third in the under-8 age-group.

The good show in the British championship ended months of agony for the youngsters and their family. It all started when Arjun Vishnuvardhan and Gaurishankar won FIDE rated tournaments in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram respectively beating higher ranked players.

But allegations of rigging cast a shadow of doubt in their performance. The grapevine was that many of the higher ranked players had tanked their matches for money and the matter was brought to the notice of FIDE.

Personally it was a traumatic experience for the boys who became the butt of ridicule among their friends and even stopped going to school. Studies became secondary and they spent more time in front of the chessboard, determined to prove their detractors wrong.

The hours of hard work have finally borne fruit and it was a personal victory for their father C. M. Manoj, who was dubbed as the villain of the piece by many.

His overenthusiasm to promote his children left him friendless in the chess circles. But C. M. Manoj was least bothered and his obsession to see his children excel saw him running from pillar to post to organise funds for this trip.

``To tell the truth it was a make-or-break situation for them and the boys knew that their future depended on the outcome of this tournament. If they had failed they would have stopped playing chess,'' Manoj said.

``The boys were well aware that they were living on a shoe- string budget on this trip. I was even concerned that it would affect their game. But they did remarkably well under pressure,'' he added.

Manoj is thankful to those who came forward to help the youngsters. A travel agency issued tickets on credit and a few Gulf-based Malayali organisations chipped in with generous donations to enable them to participate in the tournament.

The boys also took part in an open tournament in Abu Dhabi on their way back to India. But shortage of funds forced them to end their campaign abruptly but not before they had made their mark in the tournament.

Both of them learnt the basics from their father, who is a pharmacist at the Thiruvananthapuram Government Ayurveda College, but they started playing seriously only three years ago and it is something which they enjoy.

Mr. Balakrishna Menon, who coached the youngsters at a camp held in YMCA, says he found the boys to be promising. ``They obviously had some talent and were sharper than other boys in the camp,'' he said.

Gauri demanded attention when he won the national under-7 chess championship in 1999 at Aurangabad and it was one of those rare medals won by a Keralite in chess.

Quality coaching and tournaments are non-existent in Kerala and though Manoj could not afford exorbitant fees for coaches, he made sure that the boys got the best coaching. Whenever they could or rather their father could afford, the boys attended coaching classes under reputed coaches in Chennai and Bangalore.

But when they were not attending coaching classes or playing tournaments, the brothers slug it out together and it is not surprising that both of them play similarly and have a liking for the same openings - English and Silician defence. And like the Willams sisters in tennis, they hate to play against each other.

Gauri, who like his elder brother, idolises Kasparov says he should learn to play fast. ``I have often run into time trouble and in British championships I had an edge over Negi but accepted his offer for draw because I was under time pressure.''

Both of them would want to play regularly in tournaments outside the State but know pretty well that it is something which is beyond their control.After a few days break, the boys will once again be back in front of chessbroad and books. They are at the threshold of a promising career and what they need is proper guidance and exposure.

M. R. PRAVEEN CHANDRAN

Thiruvananthapuram

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