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Topper talk

Shabina Khan talks to Sreekumar, the State chess champion

At the Kerala State Chess Championship, held recently at Kannur, Sreekumar walked away with the trophy. At a score of 7.5 points from nine rounds, Sreekumar was declared champion of the State. This 27-year-old beat some of the top players such as Alex Thomas and O.T. Anil Kumar to secure the first place.

With former State champion M. B. Muraleedharan, it was a slightly different story. "After forty moves, Muraleedharan offered to draw the game and I accepted it," narrates this two-time State champion.

The last time he won the same title was in 1995. "I mostly learnt the tactics on my own, but I was constantly encouraged and coached by my mentor, K. V. Balakrishnan Menon. I was nine years old when I first started playing chess. I would watch my neighbour mull the moves over. I was drawn to it and soon joined him in the game," recalls Sreekumar.

Intrigued by the game, he pursued it, discovered and learnt the moves and slowly mastered the game.

In 1993, Sreekumar was declared junior State champion. The same year, he was ranked 11th at the national level. He won the under-25 tournament the year after.

Sreekumar claims that the World Chess Federation, FIDE, ranks him 2193 in the ratings.

But it has never been a smooth sail for Sreekumar.

Weighed down by financial constraints, Sreekumar missed out on many opportunities.

"National-level tournaments are conducted in other States. As I cannot afford the travel expenses, I have to limit myself to State-level tourneys."

Even though he had qualified for the National B tournaments in 1999 and 2000, he couldn't make it. "I managed to attend the tournament in 1993 because an NRI, Suresh Kumar, offered to take care of the expenses," he says.

Sreekumar devotes his time learning new tactics and reading books on chess. As he cannot afford to buy them, he has to borrow them from his friends. He earns his livelihood coaching school children. "Some of my students have participated in various tournaments and won laurels. Two of them won the under-12 State championship. Two former students were State champions in the under-14 category.

The former world champion, the late Capablanca (Cuba), is his idol; among present-day players Sreekumar admires Kramnik.

Sreekumar does not intend to rest on his laurels.

"I want to make it to the top, to be titled the Grand Master," he says.

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