Tuesday, 2nd September 2014

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Chess a kind of war game

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About 25 years back chess was included in the curriculum at Royal Primary to improve the brainpower of children. About 25 years back chess was included in the curriculum at Royal Primary to improve the brainpower of children.

This note is supplementary to your account (which appeared in these columns on February 10) of the progress of Romesh Weerawardena to the title of International Master and those who had the potential but chose to pursue other interests. Chess is said to have been one of the inventions (a flying craft among them) of Ravana, King of Lanka. In the game, the King was defended by foot soldiers (pawns), cavalry (knights), elephants (bishops) and chariots that doubled as castles, with his Queen as the most powerful piece on the board. It was a kind of war game distinguished by strategy and tactics that served the twin processes of attack and defense.

 Given the variety possible in manoeuvres, knowledge of the moves and of patterns of making them does not suffice – an umpteen number of ‘positions’ are possible. While the outcome is determined by force, ‘force’ is itself determined by the disposition of the pieces and pawns. Mastering all that takes a lot of study and such knowledge must, ideally, be enlivened by imagination. However gifted, a player might need guidance. Trainers/coaches are there to provide such guidance on the principle of ‘to each according to his/her need’.

Initially our chess enthusiasts learnt from books and/or from each other. I have written about those times some years ago and, to use a terminology now more current than ever before, if a ‘market’ exists for such information it could be supplied. A change came in the 1970s when, with the support of the Soviet Embassy, professional coaches of the highest calibre came here. A testing of the waters was made by Grandmaster Dr. Nikolai Krogius, who had been one of Boris Spassky’s trainers. He played an exhibition game against young Arjuna Parakrama who was then seen as our best bet for the future - (I saw his brother, Christopher, as the more gifted). That game was played either at Galle Face Hotel or at the Samudra, the old, whites-only, Colombo Club that by then housed the Tourist Board.

Following GM Krogius’s visit, we had IM Karaclaic of Yugoslavia for a specific coaching stint. I believe our top players, all around 20 years old, gained much from his guidance. Our international experience was limited to the team tournaments against the south Indian states. Among those who participated were Manuel Aaron the first IM from India (though Sultan Khan had won the British Championship and defeated Capablanca, Alekhine and other GMs in the 1930s), IM Ravisekhar, the All India Champion at the time, and IM Ravikumar. Dibeyendu Barua who was of world championship calibre (I have been told that he was the first GM who was a Buddhist), played here much later in the Asian championship.

To prepare for the Olympiad in Buenos Aires in 1978 we hosted our first international rating tournament in which players from the Philippines, which boasted the first Asian GM, Eugenio Torre, and IMS Mascarinhas and Ruben Rodriguez, the latter also a world title contender, participated along with the Soviet GM Lutikov. Lutikov was joint winner with Aaron.

The Soviets gave us GM Vasyukov as coach for the national team led by Arjuna Parakrama and Harsha Athurupane. Vasyukov, who had been around the top in Soviet chess (his analysis of a famous game, Spassky-Fischer at the 1970 Olympiad is itself a classic), required an interpreter. The beautiful young woman detailed for that task had helped make that training camp up in a circuit bungalow in Senkadagala memorable for the GM.

The logistics of our participation at the Olympiad were also memorable for the wrong reasons. I raised some money from the national Banks to fund the journey for three players; the fourth, Sunil Weeramantry, who played Board One, came down from New York. The cost of his air-ticket Rs. 10,000/- (at the time one US $ was six rupees) was later reimbursed by Arjuna. On the playing arena, Sunil had been diddled out of a win by Small from New Zealand: a matter of time control. Small had confirmed that the initial 40 moves had been made - and claimed the game on ‘time’: only 39 moves had been made. Karpov and Korchnoi had come for the Olympiad after their marathon encounter in Baguio, (so had Spassky from Paris), and Korchnoi had told our players of a similar ‘happening’ at an international tournament not long before.

Our next coach was GM Suetin, also among the top finishers in Soviet championships. A super-excellent coach and a lovely man, he was confronted by many empty seats at his sessions, altogether priceless, at the headquarters of our chess federation. Some 25 years or more ago, chess was included in the curriculum at Royal Primary to improve the activity of the brain power of children and, maybe, as an introduction to the reality of conflict in the world as we have it.

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