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The Rediff Interview / Krishnan Sasikiran

'Feels good to be in the top 50'

Twenty-one-year-old chess prodigy Krishnan Sasikiran is just back from China after winning the Tan Chin Nam Cup International Open, where he beat players ranked higher than him. Just before winning the tournament, the FIDE had released its international rating list for July and Krishnan Sasikiranthe young Grandmaster from the suburb of Nanganallur in Chennai found his name among the worldís top 50 players, ranked No. 40, with 2650 Elo points. He is only the second Indian after Vishwanathan Anand to touch the top-50 mark.

A very satisfied Sasikiran, who leaves for the Czech Open on July 19, spoke to Shobha Warrier about his recent triumph, three tournaments he will be playing in the coming weeks, and his future plans.

Congratulations on winning the Tan Chin Nam Cup International Open. Several players who participated in the tournament had Elo points above 2600 but you won. How tough was the tournament?

It was tough; much tougher than many other tournaments I played recently. I would say, of all the tournaments that I have played in the last seven months, this was the toughest. The average rating of the players was around 2600. So, at least eight opponents were very tough.

To combat the strength of such formidable opponents, did you use any different tactics?

Not much, actually. The only thing I was careful about was... I didnít take much risks. With black, I didnít take any risks. With white, I normally try to win, but I didnít take any such risk this time. That is a normal strategy practised by many players. You canít say it is anything special.

Why were you so careful with white also?

I didnít want to take any risks mainly because the opponents were very strong. Till recently, I used to look for winning positions all the time, irrespective of the strength of the opponents. Now, I have decided to be a bit more cautious.

Were you playing more of a defensive game?

Not exactly. I tried to win by taking minimum risks. If I get a chance to win, I grab it, but I donít go all out for a win, risking my pieces.

Did you plan this strategy even before going to China?

No. Your strategy changes with the way the other players play. To tell you the truth, I didnít plan much. I just played my natural game, but taking less risks. Instead of taking risks, I agreed for draws.

My main aim was to get some Elo points. For that matter, from any tournament, more than winning the tournament, my aim is to get some Elo points. In China, my aim was to collect 5-10 Elo points, and I did collect some eight points from this tournament. I am happy about it.

Once the tournament started, did you expect to win?

No, not at all. These days, I donít think about the result at all. I donít expect anything from any tournament. Once you go there with a lot of expectations, there will be too much pressure on you which, I feel, will hamper your play. It is better to go to a tournament without any expectations. When you are not expecting anything, you will be relaxed too. This attitude helps me concentrate on my game.

You were declared winner in the tie-breaker...

There was no tie-breaker game; they took the average of all the players, and my average was better than the rest, and that is the tie-breaker mechanism through which I became the winner.

How did you celebrate the win?

I didnít celebrate at all. I donít generally celebrate. The organisers had given us a dinner that night, and you can say that was the way I celebrated!

Were you very happy with the win?

Not very happy. The truth is, I was not exactly happy with some of the games I played. I played 2-3 games quite well, but I made some mistakes in around 5-6 games, which, I feel, could have been avoided. I need to improve my games.

After the win, did you call home and break the news?

I donít generally call my parents, especially after winning tournaments. They donít expect my calls too. I know they will come to know the results from the newspaper! The last time I called was when I came second in the Under-16 Nationals!

How different was playing in China? Was this your first visit to China?

I was going to China for the second time. I had been to Ten Yang in 1999. I was expecting Qingdao, where we played the tournament, to be the same as what I saw in 1999, but I was amazed to see the difference over the last three years. It has changed so much that I could not recognise the place.

The hotel where we stayed was very good, and the playing conditions too were extremely good.

Did you go sightseeing after the tournament?

I donít generally go sightseeing at all. I am not interested, actually. I prefer sitting in the hotel playing chess. Then, of course, we only had half a day free. The very next morning, we left China. A few players stayed back in China but I had to come back immediately because I had to collect my German visa. Remember, I am going for the Czech Open on the 19th.

From December last onwards, you have been on a roll, winning all the tournaments you have participated in. What has changed in your game that suddenly there is a difference in the results of all the games?

It is very difficult to answer the question. I think there is a gradual improvement in my game. I think the change happened after the World championship in Moscow last year. I had lots of psychological problems during the tournament. I had no courage to face the higher-ranked players. I was scared of facing them. I was scared of losing too. I felt quite uncertain about many things. The fear reached such a level that it was very difficult for me to even continue playing chess. I was in a very bad shape, psychologically.

The prodigy with his fatherAfter I came back from Moscow, I had hours of discussion with my father. It was only after talking to him that I realized where I was going wrong. He told me not to worry about the result. Till then, instead of concentrating on the game, I was concentrating on the result. Because of that attitude, I couldnít perform to my potential. My father made me realise that if my attitude changed, it would help me, if not today at least tomorrow.

From that day onwards, I started playing chess without bothering about the result of the game. My only aim was to perform well and enjoy the game. This attitude made me a more relaxed player. Once my approach to the game changed, the results too changed.

So these days, you are not at all bothered about winning or losing the gameÖ

Yes, winning a game or a tournament does not make me overly happy. Similarly, losing a game or a tournament will not make me very disappointed or sad. I am always relaxed.

The last time I talked to you, you said your aim is to reach 2600 Elo points. Now that you have crossed 2600 and reached 2650, what is your next target?

I have accumulated my points in the last seven tournaments, and I have accumulated the points against not-very-strong opposition. So, first of all, I want to stabilize the 2650 points that I now have. After that, I want to improve and reach 2700! But what I have to do is work a lot on my game and improve myself in all categories.

Have you already started working on your game?

My priority now is three tournaments that I am going to play in the next month. I am going to play in the Czech Open, which will start on the 19th of July. It will go on till the 28th. After that, I will participate in the British Open, which will start on the 29th of July and will go on till the 10th of August. After that, there is a Rapid Chess tournament, starting on the 14th of August. It will end on the 19th. So, there are only tournaments for the next one month!

It is the All India Chess Federation that has arranged these tournaments for the top six players from India, and they will take care of our stay, etc. This way, we can have more exposure.

So, only after finishing these three tournaments, I will start working on my game. I want to work on my game for a month or two before going for any other tournament.

You said it was the All India Chess Federation which has arranged the tournaments. Are you planning to participate in major international tournaments on your own?

Maybe, later. At present, I have no such plans. Let me work on my game for some time. After that, let me see. See, I have been playing continuously for more than six months. Now, I have to sit and work on my game.

In the last seven months, you have played around 90 games but lost only three. Where then are the areas that need improvement, according to you?

I think a general improvement is needed. I also feel that there are a lot of problems in my openings. I have to improve there. Of course, the middle game and the end game also need improvement. That is why I feel a general improvement is necessary.

According to the new FIDE rating, you are in the worldís top 50 chess players, and you are only the second Indian to reach such heights. How do you feel? Were you expecting this?

Feels good to be in the top 50! But, I must say, itís nothing special. I need to improve a lot. After the Goodricke tournament, I knew this would be coming. I had around 2300 Elo Points and I was gaining 20-22 points then. So, I was expecting to reach somewhere near 2650 Elo points by this time. Anyway, it is a good feeling to be in the top 50!

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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