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March 31, 2000


The Rediff Interview / Abhijit Kunte

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'I want reach the level where Anand is today. Give me two years' time'

Almost three years ago, till 1996, Abhijit Kunte was unsure of his future in chess. He had done nothing remarkable in the 64-square game to boast of -- something which he also admits -- and was seriously considering studies in Business Management and Law to step into his second most-cherished dream -- politics.

However, the year 1997 brought a new lease of life for the 23-year-old Punetie, as he saw a sudden rise in his performance graph -- winning the junior national title for the third time in a row, claiming his maiden National 'A' championship title after finishing last a year before, bagging the Asian junior championship at Jaipur, which also fetched him his first Grandmaster norm, and a title win in the 'Closed-GM' tournament in Calicut.

It made Abhijit think twice about continuing with the sport. Today, three years down the line, the soft-spoken youngster from a middle-class family background is proud to have carried on with his first love -- and become the country's fourth Grandmaster after Vishwanathan Anand, Dibyendu Barua and Pravin Thipsay.

Abhijit's ultimate dream is to play along with his idol Anand for the World championships, but before that his immediate target is an Elo rating of 2650 points to crown the 'Super GM' title. The ambitious youngster spoke to Rahul Singh at length about his journey to fame and his future plans.

How has life changed overnight for Abhijit Kunte, the GM?

I don't think the GM title has brought any change in my life. Yes! The only difference will be that now I will get to play more GM tourneys abroad, which is kind of an invitation, more fame world wide, but through a much more difficult path and hard work.

What does the GM title mean to you?

Entering a new world, where the more you are focused, the more you get success and recognition.

What are your future plans and what are you aiming at?

Increasing my Elo rating to 2650 (Abhijit, at present, has a rating of 2487 points). Now, since becoming a GM, there are no other titles left to achieve. So the only aim is to reach the 'Super GM' category, which is the door to get recognition at the international level, and allows you to figure in the top 100 in the world.

And if things move as I have planned, then I should not take more than two years to reach that level.

Taking you to a couple of years behind, when did the thought of becoming a GM first occur to you?

It's a dream of every child who plays chess. But about serious thinking, it was only when I got my International Master's title and the maiden GM norm in 1997. It gave me a lot of confidence and I could see the possibility of becoming India's next GM, as before that no was as close to the GM possibilities as I was.

You should have completed the GM requirements by last year only, considering the way you picked up your game in 1997-98. On the contrary, you failed miserably that year. What you think was missing in you?

Yes, I agree I should have attained the GM title in 1998 only. In fact, that was my target too. But then as you rise to the higher echelons of the game, you are required to play a more solid game. And I was falling behind in this aspect only. After winning the second GM norm at Calicut (1997), I didn't play solid chess, as I was not much prepared for the various openings. And in an attempt to cover these shortcomings, I used to take a lot of risks in the first few rounds, which used to queer my chances. As a result, the year 1998 turned out to be very disappointing for me; I could not even win a single title that year.

Another important aspect for my delay or the failure in 1998 was of not having a laptop. In today's chess, there are theories about the opening and end game changing everyday and I was not updated on all that. I used to fair badly in the higher level of tournaments. And if you loose one round, that too, in the initial rounds, then it requires an extra effort to minimise your loss.

So what brought about the change?

At the Asian Team Championship at China in October last year, I missed the final GM norm by just half-a-point and it was for the third time that I was missing the norm after coming so close to it. After that I had almost two months' gap before playing at the Asian Championship in Udaipur. So I gave myself a lot of time to prepare, through computers, books and private coaching.

But what actually sparked me was my performance at the Inter-Petroleum Team championship, Nagpur, where I got the required confidence after beating strong players like IM Ravi Hegde and IWM S Vijayalakshmi, from an absolutely hopeless position. My overall performance was also good with a total of five points from six rounds. This boosted my confidence and I went with a fresh mind to the Calcutta Goodricke tournament.

But how much did you fancy your chances at Calcutta?

What I wanted was just a good start and getting into the winning groove. So the Nagpur tourney provided me with the platform to get into the winning mood, and fortunately at Calcutta, I had a good start as I wanted. I collected four points out of five midway through the tourney, and thereafter just played it safe, settling for a draw even with white pieces, as I knew that I wanted just four draws in the next rounds to become GM. So I came to the tournament hall everyday with one objective of earning just half-a-point and not losing.

Actually, this is what I have learned from my past mistakes. I had a similar kind of position at a Grandmasters' tournament in Poland in 1998, where I required one point from two rounds, but I just relentlessly fought in both the rounds and lost.

The Goodricke tourney certainly will have a special meaning to you. Is there any other tourney you would like to say as 'the most special'?

Certainly, Goodricke has been very lucky for me. It was here that I got my first IM norm and completed the GM title. But, the most memorable tournament, apart from Goodricke, is the Calicut Closed GM tourney, where seven GMs participated. I had not even dreamed of figuring in the prize list, but I came back with a first prize trophy in my hand and also the second GM title.

Does chess makes you happy?

It gives me pleasure and enjoyment to play better and better.

Now, with the GM title under your belt, could we see another Vishwanathan Anand at the world level?

I want to play and reach the level where Anand is today. I will try my best. Give me two years' time to step into that circle.

Could you explain how you got this tag of 'being talented but lazy'?

I guess, probably, because I don't develop my game much on the bookish theories they think that I don't make any efforts to read. Actually, I prefer playing irregular games, because it's not that I don't know the theories, but I am more comfortable with the way I develop my game, not being dependent on the books. And I am getting the desired results too.

Is stepping into politics still a dream you would like to fulfill. If so, what do you aim to do after entering politics?

I have only one reason for becoming a politician. Till today, a common man has not benefited from the politicians. I want to change the system, where public comfort should be the prime objective. However, currently I will only be concentrating on my chess; but yes, politics will be there at the back of my mind. Maybe, after I achieve something in chess, at the world level.


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