Tuesday, December 31, 2013


India is one of the rapidly rising countries in the world when it comes to chess. It is obvious that the National Premier Championship which was a 14 player round robin event was very keenly followed by all the chess players in the Nation. The tournament was extremely strong category 10 event with an average rating of 2493. It was held in Jalgaon, Maharashtra from 16th-30th December.
The starting list of the tournament was extremely impressive. With two players Parimarjan Negi 2671 and Sasikiran Krishnan 2666, who are in the top 75 players in the world, playing this tournament, it gave this tournament an entirely different stature. Add to this list the two young and dangerous GMs of India, B Adhiban 2569 and Lalith Babu MR 2569, both who are just 20 years old and you get a very keenly contested event.


Krishnan Sasikiran became the National champion by scoring 10.5/13 and thus pocketed the winner's purse of 2,50,000 Rs (approx 4200$). In Hindi, Sasi= moon and Kiran= ray of light. Sasikiran's play in this tournament was as soothing as the moonlight! Sasikiran won the championship with 9 wins , 3 draws and 1 loss at the hands of the runner up B Adhiban.  He played with strong determination and had some deadly opening preparation. After all he was Anand's second for the World championship match with Carlsen. Fearing some deep novelties, most of the players stayed clear off the main line openings but those who were brave enough to play the main lines, were in for some really tough time. Sasi would gain time on the clock with his excellent preparation and then finish off his opponent! Take for example his game against GM Debashis Das(2507)


In a well known position of the Catalan, Sasi unleashed the deep Novelty of Qd1-e2 in a position where 5 games by top players like Alekseev,Tomashevsky, Dzagnidze,Stohl and Yevseev had continued Nc3-d5. In fact Sasikiran had analysed the position in so much depth that his opponent Debashis Das had absolutely no chance. This example just about sums up how superior Sasikiran was amongst the field. The last time Sasikiran had become the National Champion was in 2003. So what happened in the intervening 10 years? Sasikiran didn't play the tournament! So even after a gap of 10 years, he proved that he is quite superior in India than the rest with his excellent performance. Here is a small video potraying what he had to say after his victory:


Born in 1992, this young lad from India had already stamped his authority as one of the best players from India when he played some amazing chess in the FIDE World Cup 2013 to reach the 4th round of the event beating players like Alekseev, Safarli etc on the way. Once again he proved that he is really one of the biggest hopes from India when he scored 10/13 and finished runner's up in the National Championship. In fact Adhiban was the only player in the tournament who could inflict defeat on the champion Sasikiran. However he himself lost to IM Ashwin Jayaram (2487) which jeopardized his chances of becoming the champion.
Adhiban is an extremely self confident player and backs himself to beat the best. In the above picture you can see him preparing himself for the game with listening to music just 5 minutes before the game. He has his own ways like sometimes wearing a cap, carrying energy drinks like gatorade, eating huge bars of chocolates during the game. But what's important is that he performs and India is proud of this young talent! Here is a small extract from his game with the eventual winner.

(58) Adhiban,B (2569) - Sasikiran,Krishnan (2666) [E15]
Bhavarlal and Kantabai Jain 51st Nationa Jalgoan (9.2), 26.12.2013
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.g3 Ba6 5.Qb3 Nc6 6.Nbd2 Bb7 7.e4 d5 8.cxd5 exd5 9.e5 Ne4 10.Bg2

In the very topical line of the Queen's Indian, Adhiban played his bishop to g2. You might ask what's the big deal about this move? Only that this position has been reached 33 times previously and great players like Morozevich, Navara, Sargissian, Riazantsev etc have all continued Bd3. The young Indian GM came up with this very natural move which turned out to be a theoretical novelty and thus ended in a superb win for him against the higher rated Sasikiran. Just shows that there is still a lot of scope for creativity in opening play. 1–0


Lalith is one of the brightest talents in India. He is born in 1993 and was on fire in this tournament. He was neck to neck with Sasikiran till round 11. He scored heavily with 9 wins. However 3 losses was too much which relegated him to the 3rd spot with 9.5/13. You can understand how ambitious he is when you know that he was disappointed with his performance even after increasing 16 elo points from the tournament. With such hunger in his belly and ready to work hard for unending hours, my dear readers please make a note of this name. His name is sure to crop up again and again at the highest level soon!
Here is a small example of Lalith's resourcefulness in the tournament:

Lalith as black was defending this inferior ending since many moves. It seems that black is almost lost here as the white bishops are too strong. The a6 pawn is about to fall. But here Lalith came up with an amazing idea! 1...Bb5!! 2.Bb5 ab5 3 Bb8 Kf7 4.Bd6
A truly brilliant concept by the 20 year old Talented GM. He has just one pawn for the bishop but the white bishop sits uselessly on d6 doing nothing and the white king has absolutely no entry squares! A draw was immediately agreed! Study like play, wouldn't you agree?!!

So with the 2,3,4 seeds of the tournament taking the first 3 spots of the event, What happened to the top seed of the event, Parimarjan Negi.
Sasikiran(left) with Parimarjan Negi are very good friends!

Parimarjan Negi who was the top seed of the event with an impressive elo of 2671, had the worst fortnight of his life as he scored just 5/13 and lost 38 elo in the tournament. Negi who was at one point the youngest Grandmaster in the world, just couldn't find his bearings in the tournament. After the event when asked about his experience, he said: " It was one of the better organized tournaments I have seen in India. Unfortunately for me, I was completely out of shape. Except 1 or 2 games, I was making huge blunders. With such calculation it was simply impossible for me to compete. Everytime I had good positions, I would spoil it with a single move. I think its time for me to go back and have a long think about what went wrong and try to change it in future."

These are the final  standings of the tournament. To get to know how an individual performed in the tournament, you can click on his name.

GM Sasikiran Krishnan 2666 10.5
GM B Adhiban 2569 10
GM Lalith Babu 2569 9.5
IM Thejkumar 2452 8
IM Ashwin Jayaram 2487 7
GM Deepan Chakravarthy 2462 7
IM Debashis Das 2507 5.5
IM Stany G A 2397 5.5
GM Vishnu Prasanna 2523 5.5
GM Parimarjan Negi 2671 5
IM Shyam Nikhil 2420 5
IM Akshat Khamparia 2409 4.5
IM K Rathnakaran 2411 4
IM G Akash 2343 4

The top 3 players of the tournament performed extremely well. But we must not forget IM Thejkumar MS. The man who finished 4th in this tournament.

32 year old IM Thejkumar is a very special player. He has an excellent positional style and likes to squeeze the minutest of advantages. However he is special for one more reason. He made all his 3 GM norms even when he was not an IM. In the past few years he has slowed down a little but with this strong 4th place finish and a GM norm performance in this tournament, I am sure we can see a resurgent Thejkumar pretty soon! He was the only one who had a chance to finish in the top 3 of the tournament. However a last round defeat at the hands of Adhiban ended that chance. Yet his game against Sasikiran is a must watch for the beautiful endgame trap!

(73) Thejkumar,M. S (2452) - Sasikiran,Krishnan (2666) [D23]
Bhavarlal and Kantabai Jain 51st Nationa Jalgoan (11.3), 28.12.2013


Black is unconditionally winning. But Thejkumar's last move of Kg3-h4 was his last trap in the position offering the g2 pawn. The trap is so beautiful and subtle that even a strong player rated 2666 like Sasikiran fell for it!  48...Qxg2? 49.Qd8+ Kf7 50.Qd7+ Kg6 51.Qe8+ Kh6 52.Qg6+!!

What a stunning blow. As Sasikiran recalls after the game, he completely missed this move. All his attention was focussed on Qf8 Qg7 Qg8 but then he just starts pushing his queenside pawns.. So he had seen the idea of stalemate but not the move Qg6! The queen can be taken in 3 ways but unfortunately all of them end in a Stalemate! 52...hxg6 ½–½

The other players also played some exciting chess. The thing to note was that there were absolutely no grandmaster like draws except for a game or two. All the players fought tooth and nail and as Sasikiran rightly said after the tournament, playing uncompromising chess is the only way to improve. Here is one more gem of the event in which IM Akshat Khamparia made a Tal like sacrifice against Lalith Babu and won the game!

(54) Akshat,Khamparia (2409) - Lalith,Babu M.R (2569) [A50]
Bhavarlal and Kantabai Jain 51st Nationa Jalgoan (8.5), 25.12.2013

25.Qxe5!? A stunning queen sacrifice by Akshat who played in the style of Mikhail Tal. The 25...dxe5 26.R1xc5 Bb7 27.Rc7 Qd8 28.Bh3 g6 29.Rd7 Qb6 [29...Qf8 would have won for black.] 30.Rcc7 gxh5 31.Be6! the two rooks and bishop are good enough to weave a mating net around the black king. 31...Rb1+ 32.Kg2 e3 33.Rd8+ Kg7 34.Rxf7+ Kh6 35.Rf6+ Kg7 36.Rf7+ Kh6 37.Bf5 

A brilliant game by Akshat which was not hundred percent acccurate but was good enough to get him the game of the day prize. 1–0

Maybe for a day, the spirit of Tal entered IM Akshat Khamparia's body!

The average age of the tournament was 23.5 years, which is really young for such a strong tournament. I think it was precisely because of this reason we could see some great fights on the board and some exemplary camaraderie off it. The players would meet after the games were over and play a game of cricket or football. In the breakfast or dinner room the players would all be having fun and crack some great jokes! In fact sometimes even chess would be discussed seriously! It was really a great lot of 14 players!

All the 14 captured in 1 slide!
Bottom L-R Adhiban,Lalith,Debashis, Middle L-R Thejkumar,Akshat,Sasikiran,Deepan,Ashwin, 3rd Row L-R Stany, Parimarjan. Last row L-R Ratnakaran, Akash, Shyam, Vishnu.

The venue for the championship was the Jain hills in Jalgaon. The place is away from the noise and hustle bustle of the city. It was such a serene and beautiful place that the players really felt relaxed and at ease. There was no pollution. Only fresh air, more oxygen and more oxygen means better brain functioning and better brain functioning means great games on the board! All in all a great selection of Venue by the Organizers.

A Beautiful view from the Jain hills in Jalgaon!

A huge thanks to Ashok Jain, Vice Chairman, Jain Irrigation: The company that owns the jain hills.

While I was at Jalgaon I decided to take a small video tour of the venue and to give you an idea as to what exactly were the conditions in which the players stayed, ate, analyzed and played. Here's the video:


If you have been to India, you will know that the people of this country, cherish the food that they eat! Hence good food is extremely important for the players in order to show some great chess.
The food provided by the organisers was excellent and in general a meal would consist of the following items:

A full fledged lunch!
From top L-R Pickle and salt, Salad, Papad, 2nd row L-R Tomato soup, Rice, Rajma (beans), 3rd row L-R Cauliflower vegetable, Water gourd vegetable, Curd.


A Maharashtrian couple statue dressed in their traditional wear, welcome you at the entrance of hall.

The Chief Arbiter of the tournament, Prof Anantharaman who is not only the best International Arbiter in India but is an extremely well educated man who was the Head of Chemistry department in the college where he used to teach a few years ago. Now Chess is his life! :)

Pravin Thakre: The chief co-ordinator of the event who was so kind and receptive. He would fulfill each and every wish of the players.

The organizers and Aribiters kept finding new ways of letting the players know how much time is left for the round to begin everyday! In this way, the zero tolerance rule didn't come to effect in any game!

One of the Participants in the tournament K Rathnakaran wears a typical south Indian Lungi which is supposed to be extremely comfortable.

There were lot of monkeys near the venue. You give them a banana, and you will have an extra supporter!!

Young boys who used to come from the city of Jalgaon in order to help the Organisers. In that process they too learnt a lot and became better players!

The Organizers kept high quality pens as the game of the day prize. This motivated the players to give a little extra to win the symbolic prize!

As I bid adieu to Jalgaon I will remember these beautiful sunrises each day, the cool breeze, the pollution free air, the sumptuous food and the wonderful hospitality of the organizers! 
But as they say all good things come to an end and so does this tournament!

Sasikiran, the winner of the tournament will represent India in the FIDE World cup 2015. Also the Olympiad team will be selected on the basis of this tournament. In order to increase the importance of National Challengers and National Premier, all the players who played these tournament will have 75 points added to their rating.(for caculation basis only). Thus, the National champion + 4 other players based on this new rating(as calcuted with addition of 75 pts) will be selected for the Olympiad.  But Harikrishna Pentala who didn't play this tournament, I think need not worry as at 2706 he will still find a spot in the Indian team.

Also the top 6 players from this tournament will get an exposure trip, the expenses of which will be paid by the Indian Government. 
About the Author:
Sagar Shah has an elo of 2304 and 2 IM norms to his credit. His main aim is to become a GM in chess as well as a professional chess journalist. He loves to cover chess tournaments as that helps him to understand the game of chess, that he loves so much, even better.
Sagar Shah's Blog: www.sagarteacheschess.blogspot.com

You can download the games of this tournament in PGN from this link:

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Monday, December 30, 2013

Post National Premier: What Players have to say.

At the end of a tournament, its always nice to hear what the players have to say about their play, about the arrangements and regarding their future plans!
And the National Premier had all the top players of the country, so it will be interesting to hear what each of them has to say. Besides you will get to know them better.
So I decided to take an interview of all the players and compile it in one video!
Have a look at it!!

Rd.12 Sasi Closes on the title

The twists and turns dont come to an end at the National Premier Championship held in Jalgaon. As the 12th and penultimate round began today, Sasikiran was leading at 8.5/11 along with Lalith Babu. Adhiban trailed the leaders with 8/11. But Adhiban had the chance to take one of them down as he faced Lalith Babu in Rd.12. And just as he had beaten Sasikiran a few rounds ago, Adhiban didnt return empty handed after the hunt! He beat Lalith Babu with the white pieces in a long endgame battle in the classical Nimzo Indian. On the other hand, Sasikiran made short work on Rathnakaran from the White side of Benoni Defense. This means that Sasikiran is now in sole lead with 9.5/12. It seems like Sasikiran will be the hero of the Movie called National Premier 2013, But dont jump your guns too soon. Adhiban is just half a point behind and in case of a tie on points, Adhiban will be the champion as he has beaten Sasikiran in their direct encounter.
Tomorrow the last and the nerve wracking round 13 will begin 10 AM IST. As Sasikiran takes on Shyam Nikhil, we can say that he is the favourite to win the title. On the other hand Adhiban has his work cut out as he faces the in form MS Thejkumar with the black pieces!
Yet when the clock is ticking and the stakes are high, our mind starts to lose control. Things start to get blurry and blunders do occur from even the best. Tomorrow is really a huge round. The winner not only becomes the National Champion, gets an assured seat in the Olympiad as well as next National Premier but also a direct entry to the next World Cup! Add to that the sum of 2,50,000 rs and you know that both Adhiban and Sasikiran will give all that they have to win!
Who do you think will win? Your guess is as good as mine! Stay tuned for live action from Jalgaon tomorrow!
You can watch the live games on this link:



Ratnakaran in pensive mood before the round.

ASHWIN vs SHYAM 0.5-0.5





AKSHAT vs VISHNU 0.5-0.5

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rd.11 Joint leaders and Stalemate

At 1 pm on 28th December, the climate is pleasant at Jain hills in Jalgaon, however the temperature is rising at the National Premier Chess Championships! With last 3 rounds to go, its really a battle between 4 players for the top honours. This is how they stand.

1. Sasikiran 8/10
2.Lalith Babu 7.5/10
3.Adhiban 7.5/10
4. MS Thejkumar 7/10

The 5th place is held by Deepan Chakravarthy who is on 6/10 but I think he cannot fight for the the pole position now. So its down to these 4 champions now!
Yesterday was an extremely crucial round. Lalith had the half point lead, i.e 7.5/9. Sasi trailed him at 7/9. But the best part about the 10th round was that Lalith and Sasi faced off each other. Sasi knew that this was a do or die situation for him. For if he didnt beat Lalith, then he would race even further ahead. But this amazing player who has been India no. 2 for a long time showed his class as he won the high pressure encounter! 
The roles had been reversed! It is now Sasi who leads the tournament with 8 out of 10. Whats even more favourable for Sasikiran is that he now doesnt have to face any GMs in his last 3 games while Lalith and Adhiban are yet to face off against each other in round 12.
The Dark horse in the title race will definitely be Thejkumar. After his first round loss to Lalith Babu, Thej has been playing some excellent chess to be in the 4th place. Today he faces the leader Sasikiran! Will Thej be able to make the tournament more interesting by beating Sasikiran! He definitely has it in him to beat world class players! And, If that happens then this National Premier will really make the pundits go crazy as then all the 4 players will have a chance. But as of now Sasikiran is a clear favourite to become the National Champion!
Rd 11 which begins in a hour from now that is at 2 pm IST will be a belter! Dont miss it! You can watch the live games on the following link:

Something Unbelievable happened today! Sasikiran was cruising to victory against IM Thejkumar on the top board of National Premier 2013. It seemed as if Sasi would maintain his lead. After all he was 2 pawns up. But then Thejkumar deviously set his last trap for the game. He offered the g2 pawn to Sasi who unflinchingly accepted it! What happened next was simply astonishing. The white king had absolutely no squares to go to and Thejkumar produced a brilliant Stalemate idea! 

The Qg6 move that you can see in the picture which is usually seen only in books or studies, today occured on the board!It was amazing fighting spirit by the GM elect Thej! To create a trap against a 2669 player which is so subtle that he falls into it calls for great creativity and resourcefulness! And Sasikiran inspite of drawing such a winning position had such a huge heart to analyze the game and laugh at his own mistake!! What a champion! After the game Sasikiran said," All this while I was just thinking about Qf8 Qg7 Qg8 idea and then I cannot take the queen because of stalemate but I can just start pushing my queenside pawns! But when my opponent played Qg6 it came as a total surprise!"

Its such moments which make chess more than just ratings and results. It reminds us that its a sport where there is ample scope for beauty and creativity!!

Thus the standings have again changed! Lalith who won against Deepan which was also a crazy game is now in joint lead with Sasi at 8.5/11. But the tie break is direct encounter which means that Sasi is currently in the first place as he has beaten Lalith. But on the 3rd spot lies Adhiban who is on 8/11. Bear in mind that he has beaten Sasikiran so if at the end of it all if Adhiban manages to tie with Sasikiran, he would be the champion. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves! As tomorrow Lalith Babu and Adhiban face off against each other, it will be a game to cherish! And Sasikiran will take on Rathnakaran who on his day can play some gems! Its all boiling down to an exciting finish. Lets see what happens tomorrow at the best chess tournament in the country!! 








VISHNU vs STANY 0.5-0.5

Saturday, December 28, 2013


Abhijit Kunte( born in 1977) is an Indian chess Grandmaster and for those playing chess is an absolute chess legend. He has so many achievements that it is really not possible to mention all of them here. But here are a few:

1.Two time National Champion in 97 and 2000.
2.Winner of British chess championship
3.Silver medallist at commonwealth chess championship
4.He has played olympiad for India on 4 ocassions
5. Won so many medals for the country at World and Asian level.

More than all this he is a smart and intelligent person with an excellent sense of humour and It was a sheer pleasure to interview him. Here is the interview for you!

(SS stands for Sagar Shah and AK for Abhijit Kunte)

SS: How did you start playing chess?
AK: I started playing chess because of my sister, Mrunalini Kunte. At that time, very few girls used to play chess. Mohan Phadke spotted her and wanted her to come to his class. In 85-86 going to a chess class was an entirely new concept! The funny thing was that the fees were just 10 rs per month! And he gave us 50% concession! So when my sister went to the class on the first day, she was the lone girl! So she kept the condition that someone should accompany her otherwise she wont go to the class. I still remember it was a Saturday afternoon and I was playing a cricket match and my mother called me back and asked me to go with Mrunal.

SS: So you must have been really upset?
AK: Well what can I say! India lost a good cricketer! (laughs!)

SS: But gained a good chess player!
AK: I will reserve my comment on that! (more laughter!)

Though India lost a promising cricketer in Kunte, he still keeps his ties with cricket!

SS: Were you like an extremely talented chess player in your childhood? Like lets say by the present standard like Adhiban or Lalith or Vidit?
AK:I dont know. We just used to play chess. There were not many books, no laptops. So mainly we would play at home, then at the class and then go and play at the tournaments! So it was more fun than the present standards. I didnt really take chess seriously in my initial stages as all the focus was on my sister Mrunalini. She was an excellent player at that time. I on the other hand would keep winning some age group nationals! But I started to take chess seriously only in 1997 i,e when I was already 20 years old.

SS: So you were not sure about making a career in chess?
AK: Yes I was not at all sure about it.

SS: How was Abhijit Kunte as a student?
AK: I was a pretty good student. I cleared my graduation B com with distinction, then I did Diploma in Business Management with distinction, then I did my Masters in Management Science (Finance) and that too with distinction!

SS: Wow! Thats quite an impressive list of educational qualifications you have got! So coming back to chess, Who was your role Model in chess when you were young?
AK: We were brought up by seeing Anand. So it was always Anand who was my role model. But I like the games of Garry Kasparov!

Vishy Anand who is 8 years elder to Kunte has always been his role model!

 SS: You became a GM at the age of 23. Who were the people instrumental in your success?
AK:  First of all my parents for their support. Without them it would have been impossible. My two coaches helped me a lot. They were Mohan Phadke and Arun Vaidya. I was working with Arun Vaidya from 1992-94. And finally my employer Indian Oil which supported me a lot. Without the support of a sponsor its very difficult to excel in sports. So these are the people who have played a major role in my success.

Abhijit's parents who have always supported him.

SS: You won the National Premier title in 1997. Was it true that in the previous edition in 96 you finished last?
AK: Yes! And it was very funny! When I finished last I had 7 losses and 1 win. And when I finished first I had 7 wins and 1 loss! (laughs)

SS: So What exactly happened in that one year?
AK: Well, I used to play mainly junior events till that time. There werent many open tournaments in India. So whenever I would play age category events I would try to win! But when I played the National A in 1996, I was pitted against experienced IMs like Thipsay, Murugan, Prasad, Hegde, Sahu etc. So when I drew the first 2-3 games, I was already very upset that I was not winning. So i started pushing and trying too hard in every game and started losing game after game.
Also I was very bad at opening preparation at that time. Maybe even now! (smiles) But after that tournament I realised that I couldnt do without good opening preparation. So in the one year from 96-97 I worked on my openings and that paid off I think!

SS: Some of my friends told me that you used to practise night after night in your bid to become a GM. Is it true?
AK: Well that wasn't really practise. That was mainly blitz!! I can still play blitz for 16-18 hrs! So it wasnt hard work. It was more of fun. The problem was that, the people with whom I used to practise i.e Chandu Dongre, Panditrao, Wagh, Jayant , Shekhar, etc had their jobs during the day. So it was only possible to play in the nights. So they would come at 6 in the evening and then we would start. And our sessions would usually end around 6-9 am in the morning. That meant 12-15 hours of blitz! It was great fun, But of course to improve further I had to work more seriously. So from 1997-2000, I became serious in chess. In that period I won the National Juniors, then became the Asian Junior champion, won National Premier, Also finished my graduation.

SS: So from 97-2000 you worked really hard?
AK: Yes. I was also doing my Masters. So in short I had to go to college, devote some time to studying.  Whatever time remained, I would devote to chess. I didn't have much time but I am very happy about it. Sometimes it is only when you have limited time that you give your best and fulfill all your promises.

SS: Was it really difficult to get chess information back then?
AK: So when I decided to work on my openings, Informator was the only source of information. When you order an informator it comes by Sea Mail and that takes around 4-5 months to arrive. That means by the time you see the novelty it is already old (laughs). So the whole idea till 1997 was to avoid theory. I would play some offbeat line which no one would know. I cannot even imagine where we have reached today. Back then maximum 8-10 moves would be theory. But then I realized that without theoretical preparation I wouldnt go too far. So I started working very seriously on the openings.

SS: How exactly did you work?
AK: For eg if you are preparing the Scheveningen opening, then First I would take the xerox of the pages in the informator that would contain the scheveningen line. I would cut the games and paste it in a notebook. Then I would write my analysis in it. And then after a few months or years when some novelty would come and all the previous work becomes useless, then you add a page to your book and write down that novelty. It was really hard work to get information and prepare. The only sources were informator and some magazines like chess mate. Back then I had also subscribed to a US magazine called inside chess. So my basic point is that what today takes around 3-4 days to prepare, used to take around 6 months to prepare back then!(laughs)

SS: So you think in today's age of information explosion, its easier to become a GM?
AK: Yes! I think its not a tough task to become a GM. But very important is to have a strong will. And you must work hard. There are absolutely no short cuts. And your entire concentration should be only on one thing i.e to become a GM. If you have some distractions then I think its already very difficult. But bear in mind that education is not a hindrance. My philosophy is that education and chess complement each other very well. And I think that when you have more time you do less work! (laughs) So it makes sense to not leave your studies!

SS: What was the high point in your chess career?
AK: Well surely it was the 2000 Istanbul Olympiad (In 2000 olympiad Kunte beat Leitao Rafeal, Adrian Mikhalchishin,  The very strong Zoltan Almasi, talented Bruzon Batista, famous US player Gregory Kaidanov)
I also won the British Championship in 2003 but I think the year 2000 was better as the olympiad performance was good and I also won the National A in 2000 in which Ganguly, Harikrishna, Sasikiran, Chanda, were playing. I scored heavily in that tournament scoring around 14 or 15 points out of 20 odd rounds. I think winning a tournament in general is always more pleasant than performing well and finishing second.

Though Ganguly (L), Harikrishna and Kunte have had fierce battles on the board, off the board they maintain great friendship!!

SS: So you were going strong, beating the best in the world, you were only 23 years old, your rating was also 2550. What happened then? Why didnt you progress further?
AK: I think I didnt have the right guidance. Not chess wise but otherwise. It was very important at that point to move out of India. Actually I would highly recommend to the talented youngsters to move out of India and start playing overseas.If you see any top Indian player in any sport, they stopped playing in India and settled abroad because the opportunity to play in India are very less. Where as when you go abroad, then the opportunities increase enormously and there are very few distractions. Also you are staying alone, so you need to earn your livelihood which motivates you to work harder and to push your self more. So I feel that was my mistake because in those times, staying in India and reaching a very high level was very difficult. Maybe now that there are more events, it might be possible but not back then.

SS: So it was not a case of lack of hardwork or motivation but improper planning?
AK: Yes. See in India we had only 2 major tournaments. And if you want to go abraod, the foreign currency limit was 500$ per year. There were so many hurdles to become the best by staying in India and thats why I say I didnt have someone to give me the correct guidance back then. I am not saying that I would have become the best but I think it was my chance around 2003.

SS: But Anand had already settled abroad, so you could have taken his example.
AK: For me Anand was more like an exception to the rule! I never thought I could follow his footsteps!

SS: Ok! You were a fierce attacker back in your hey days, How did you develop your style?
AK: I dont think I was a fierce attacker. I was an extremely good tactician. If I had the tactical opportunities then I would never leave it. So the finish to my games used to be pretty clean. But I would never go all out for a wild attack.

Kunte was a highly dangerous opponent. He would shoot tactics with great speed!

SS: How did you become so strong tactically?
AK: Thats what 12 hours of blitz does to you!! (laughs) In fact I used to have these 12 hour blitz sessions for atleast 8 days in a month. So in a blitz game you are just concerned with tactics. That helped me develop tactically.

SS: I think the readers have now got a new way to improve their tactical strength! But how do you explain that you have become such a positional player now and your games are simply devoid of tactics?
AK: Yeah I agree, my games have become very boring now! But e4 became very difficult to prepare. So I shifted to 1.d4 and to play d4 you need to develop that positional style of play. Also I did some work with Vladimirov on the endgame and control of squares and such concepts so gradually this new style evolved. But still if someone is playing for tactics, I welcome him wholeheartedly!! (laughs)

SS: As a chess player, whats your aim now?
AK: (thinks for sometime) Very hard question. I dont see that I have a very long career as a chess player now but I think before going out I need to go out with a bang!! (big laughter!)

SS: And what would that bang be?
AK: It can be anything. you will have to wait and watch.

SS: What do you think about chess organisation in India?
AK: For the middle level player i.e rating between 2000-2300, I think this below category tournaments are killing them. There is simply no opportunity for them to make money. But players about 2400 rating are pretty fine because they have a lot of international opens to play in. The number of events are huge in India but this below rating category tournaments will affect the level of chess in India.

SS: So its a bad development for chess in India.
AK: I cannot say bad but I think its illogical. Because you cannot be paid more for performing less (laughs!). In Parsvanath Open the first prize of below 1600 is 1 lakh and the 3rd prize of the open event is 1 lakh. So it just cannot be compared.

SS: You are a person with some new ideas always. For eg in 2006 you came up with this knockout rapid tournament in Pune and in 2013 now you organised the Maharashtra Chess league. How do you come up with such ideas?
AK: Till now traditional tournaments have been conducted in India. These tournaments are of course very important but along with it fresh ideas should also come up. I believe that as organisers we have to sell our top players. We have to make the top players visible to the general public. Because when children take up chess, their parents will want to know how are the best in the field of chess being treated. Like how much money they make etc. So we have to make new entrants to the game of chess believe that its possible to have a good life playing chess and your child can be one of them. Only then they will take up this sport. And these events can bring the game of chess to a new stature.
Organising such tournaments is not easy because getting dates from all the players is very difficult but if organized well, its very easy to attract the public.
The Maharashtra Chess League idea wasnt really new. It was already introduced in cricket as IPL and someone had to do it in Chess and I decided to do it!

SS: Do you think it is a problem to attract sponsors to the game of chess?
AK: No I dont think so. There are so many events being held all over the nation in the year. Where is all the money coming from. Someone is definitely sponsoring them. Ok, maybe to get in big sponsorship we must organise big events. We had a huge world championship and we were able to raise 29 crores. So if we bring in big events, we can raise the funds. So the problem is not money, the problem is organizing good events!

SS: Its possible that soon you will get into full fledged organisation. So what will be your primary aim as an organiser?
AK: I think Chess in schools is a very important program that I am pursuing. You see to make chess popular, you need viewership and to increase the viewership, we need more chess educated people. And thats why it is important to introduce chess in schools. And there are benefits of playing chess as you already know. I was sent to chess because I couldnt sit still in one place. Chess solved that problem. What I am trying to say is that this chess in schools program is not just benefiting chess but also the students. So its a mutual benefit and hence a wonderful program. And once we have a huge audience then Chess will surely be easier to sell.

Abhijit Kunte is a man with a vision. His Chess in schools project is a perfect example of how to work at grassroot level.

 SS: What do you think is so special about Anand? What seperates him from other Indian players?
AK: I think sheer talent. I dont see anyone coming near him from India in the near future.

SS: That was precisely my next question. Who do you think is the next hope from India to take Anand's spot?
AK: I can say this confidently that you can have another World Champion from India. But you cannot have another Anand. This man is a sheer genius. He has been in the top 3 in the world since 1990 to almost 2012. Thats nearly 22 years! Someone being at the top of his game for such a long time. Its just mind boggling.

SS: Ok so you say there cannot be another Anand but another world champion? Who are your candidates?
AK: Frankly speaking I dont see anybody!! (laughs a lot!)

SS: Are you serious? Is it because chess players in India dont work a lot?
AK : (Becomes serious) No its not a question of hard work its about lack of opportunities! Where are the events where our top guys can play against the top players of the world. Sasikiran has been in the top 50 or 100 in the world for nearly 10 years now, but tell me leaving aside the olympiads, how many times has he played the top players of the world? So how will he become the best. Only if he continuously plays against them can we expect him to win against them. So Sasikiran doesnt get invitations to foreign top events, then Indians must organize events for him. We must invite the top players in the world to play with him. Once in a while if he plays with Nakamura or Caruana or Gelfand and if you want him to beat them, its really difficult.
Take for eg Anish Giri or Caruana. A few years ago they were equivalent to Negi but now they have surpassed him. Its only due to the exposure.
This was just an example. Thus I think its very difficult to create a champion in India. And we come to back to the point I mentioned before, that an ambitious chess player must move out and settle abroad. Then his opportunities will increase and he can really become the best.

SS: What would be your advice to chess coaches in general, as you are an excellent coach too.
AK: (laughs) I am not a good coach! But coaching is really a huge subject, Maybe we can have another interview on it some other day! :)

Abhijit has always been a good coach and a great Mentor for many young players.

 SS: This next question is also a huge topic but you will have to answer it! You are a balanced person. Means that you have excelled at chess, well qualified educationally, married at the right age, have 2 children. My question is : Is it possible to be the best in the sport and still be a balanced personality?
AK:  I think the family has to sacrifice a lot if I have to succeed as a chess player. Like everytime I leave my house, my wife has to single handedly manage everything. Take care of the children, do the household chores etc. That sacrifice from the family is essential. If the family is not ready for it then I think its almost impossible to become a sports player. And I think it really depends on your luck! (laughs)

SS: So in that aspect you have been very lucky?
AK: Yes without the support of my wife Meghana and my kids Maithili and Arnav, I dont think it was possible. Everytime I call my wife and say I was winning and stuff like that, she could have simply got frustrated and told me" you are telling me this since last 10 years!" (laughs!!) But there are always encouraging words. So I think that encouragement is very important. This time I travelled to this tournament and missed my daughters gathering. This is unavoidable but I think I am really lucky that they understand me and support me.

SS: But do you think its worth missing all this for a sport like chess?
AK: When you go back with a trophy, you see that joy in their eyes! And I think to see that joy, I can make any number of sacrifices! :) So if you are winning trophies then its fine otherwise you should not play!! (laughs a lot!!)

What a cute and lovely family! Abhijit with his wife Meghana and two kids Maithili and Arnav! 

SS: So, Mr Kunte, My final question to you is: what would you like people to remembered as: A chess player, a chess organizer or a chess coach!
AK: Definitely as a chess player!!( laughs) Once a player is always a player! and unfortunately a chess player can never come out of the " I was winning or I was better syndrome!!" (huge laugh!)  But still I always want to be remembered as a chess player! :)

Thank you so much for giving your precious time. It was really enjoyable to chat with you and the knowledge that you have shared with the people will surely help them not only in their chess career but also in life!!
AK: Thanks a lot.

I hope you enjoyed the interview. Do leave a feedback as to how you liked it.
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