After a good night's sleep I made sure that all the rooms got at least two wakeup calls the next morning. I went down to have breakfast around 9.30 am and half the team had already finished their breakfast while the remaining decided to skip it. Ten minutes later Soumya showed up for breakfast and I felt she appeared focused about the game. I just wanted things to be as normal as possible so she does not feel any extra pressure and hence I refrained from asking anything specific about the game. Out of the blue she just asked me about the “Remember the Titans” dialogue that I had told her the previous day! I repeated the dialogue to her and she kind of nodded her head in reassurance. I was already quite happy as her question reflected her positive attitude and that is the first sign of success! She left the breakfast table around 9.50 am at which point I did not realize the exact time. I had promised our team charm Padmini (Paddu is what I have nicknamed her) that I would be in the tournament hall before the round started to wish her good luck since Paddu believed that it was her good luck charm! To maintain this good luck charm, I gobbled up my cereal quickly and ran to the tournament hall and I reached there just in time to wish Paddu and also Soumya for their games.
Mrunal was there doing her routine pre-game tasks, clicking a few snaps and wishing the players before the game while trying to cover up all her anxiety about the final game with her big smile. She had never missed the beginning of a single game through out the tournament and there she was when it mattered the most giving her players the moral support that they needed.
As the games began the first thing that struck me was that both the Indian players Soumya and Kiran had managed to get the same position on the board. While this was not quite unexpected, it was also not what my expert 'hunch' had told me the previous day as you have seen in my previous blog. Kiran and Yildiz were going faster while Soumya and Kubra were following suit to reach the following middle game position.
This position is reasonably popular in the Anti-Marshall system and Soumya had picked 10.Nbd2 here as we studied a game in this tournament where Yildiz was convincingly beaten by the Chinese GM Zhang Xiaowen and we were impressed with the proceedings. The first deviation came in Kiran' board as Yildiz chose 10...Nbd7, a move that she had not played often in the database, we had focused more in 10...Na5, however we did work on this move too. After 11.c3 Nc5, to my surprise Kiran played 12.Bc2, a move that we had actually discarded the previous day, not that it was bad for white, but we felt it was not giving any advantage for white. We had seen 12.axb5 as an option. For a second, I was wondering if Kiran had seen something else later that night or in the morning, but then I dismissed that idea and understood that she had just forgotten the exact moves we had seen since this was not the main choice we had prepared. At this point Nigel Short was standing right next to me and I mentioned to him about how Kiran had played a different move and he mentioned that he recalled a blitz game he had played against Anand in that position as Black. My immediate question was about the result and he said he won with black, that was not good news at all for me! Though this was not a fatal blow, I started getting nervous as a win for Yildiz would clinch the issue for her leaving Soumya with no chance for a gold medal irrespective of her result against Kubra.
At this point Kiran's board started to slow down and Soumya's board started to catch up. It was almost ten minutes and I was not allowed to stand inside the playing area anymore, but the worst part was from the spectator area I was only able to see Kiran's game clearly but not Soumya's. Given that we had studied the position back home, I was able to make out the moves in Soumya's game from a distance by some reasonable guess work.
So there it was the position that we had actually considered seriously had occurred on Soumya's board. I was extremely delighted but at the same time scared. I felt the Turkey team would have definitely taken a look at that position since Yildiz had already taken a beating from Zhang as mentioned earlier.
Keeping my fingers crossed and walking across the spectator's area I suddenly noticed the first deviation in Soumya's game from Kubra. 15...Bf8, 15...Qd7 was played by Yildiz against Zhang and Zhang managed to get a good position after 16.Nh4. I tried to recollect what exactly we had seen against the Bf8 move, but could not manage to refresh my memory. I started getting nervous again, but then I told myself “The things I manage to forget, no one else in this world would!, I am quite abnormal when it comes to memory and so there was nothing to worry about the situation”. I am not sure if it was the pressure or the fatigue that made me forget that simple idea, but the truth is I actually did forget it!. Soumya obviously was not the one to forget her home work for this crucial game. She took about 10 minutes to make her move 16.axb5 and after seeing the move it all started coming back to me. White was threatening to win a pawn with a simple double attack after 16...axb5 17.Qb3 and black has not defended against the threat. In fact it was the our good friend Rybka who made us realize this threat existed when Adhiban suggested 15...Rb8 the previous night. Soumya promptly decided to accept the pawn sacrifice that was offered by her opponent given that we had analyzed taking the pawn against 15...Rb8, this was bound to work as well. Things were not clear from outside as I could not find any clear compensation for the sacrificed pawn for black, but Kubra continued to show a lot of confidence both in her body language and the clock.
By now Kiran had managed to get a very comfortable position against Yildiz. Kiran was also boozing with confidence in her mannerism during her game. Though she was terribly sick when she was playing, her body language managed to deceive her opponent quite well. Yildiz started utilizing more time on her clock and eventually giving white a comfortable middle game position to play.
Soumya now was about 10 to 15 minutes low on time but had already captured the sacrificed pawn. As I was walking back and forth worried about Kubra's continuation hoping that it was not one of those pawn sacrifices that she had prepared at home with the help of the computer and her coach, suddenly something struck me near Soumya's board. I saw Vishnu trying to move away from her board with a laughter that he could almost not control. For a brief moment there I was not able to follow what was happening on her board, then I slowly manged to push the rope tied to restrain the spectator's from the players as much as possible and lean into the playing area to take a glimpse at Soumya's board.
I just could not believe my eyes, her opponent had actually not prepared the pawn sacrifice well, instead she had miscalculated a variation and ended up going two pawns down! To me this looked too easy, I came running to Mrunal explaining that Soumya had a clearly winning position and I could see her face light up with an electrifying glow!
Later on our journey back home, I had just popped a simple question for the team about the most memorable thing that each player took away from this trip. Vishnu's answer was “Seeing Soumya play Bxf7 check winning the second pawn and essentially sealing the game and the tournament”
While we were totally overwhelmed at the scene, it took only a few more minutes for Kiran to sign off a peace treaty with Yildiz. This move was definitely risking Yildiz's gold medal chances, but I guess she felt her position was not that convincing to pursue for a win and to some extent she may have been intimidated by Kiran's positive body language. But what this told us was that if Soumya managed to win from her two pawn up position, then she is guaranteed of a gold medal!!! For some reason I was not happy the way things were proceeding. Soumya had a completely winning position, but all I see is that her opponent is walking around comfortably and making her moves quite easily while Soumya was sinking into deep thought pretty much after every move.
In the mean time Karthikyean had brought down the Indian nemesis FM Bajarani Ulvi from Azerbaijan in a quick game. Bajarani had scored 2.3/3 against Adhiban, Ashwin and Lalith Babu while Lalith was the only one to manage a draw. After talking to Karthikeyan about his game which he won quite comfortably in King's Indian Samisch from the white side, I asked him to check on the time situation for Soumya. To my dismay he came and informed me that Soumya was left with 12 minutes while her opponent had 40 odd minutes. This time advantage however did not help Kubra as much, as she had to eventually accept the inevitable and resigned after a three hour battle.
The funny part here was that Soumya had not realized that she won the gold as she was unaware of Yildiz's result. She turned back and noticed that Kiran's game was done and also noticed that the White King and the Black King were placed in e4 and e5 squares respectively indicating the drawn result of that board. Now we could catch a tiny glimpse of smile on her face as she turned up and looked at Me and Mrunal confirming her tittle and we promptly nodded confirming the feat she had achieved.
Soumya came down running and literally jumped over Mrunal hugging her. She started jumping and yelling as we left the hall. Everyone in the tournament hall had turned around hearing the noise, but you know what? she did not care!!!! It was her first world championship tittle and I would not blame her if she did not care!
It was time to celebrate and that is exactly what we did! I think most of the team would not disagree if I said I went crazy for the rest of the day! Trying to touch a 10 foot ceiling did not help my existing Sheen Splint condition. Dropping my iPhone in the water, swimming bare chested in the bone chilling ocean were some of the other things that may need a mention. Karthikeyan and Vishnu shared the swimming in ice cold ocean experience with me and rightfully also shared the consequential sick flight journey back home! The Indian team had a chance to meet with Miguel Najdorf's grandson who was filming a documentary about this tournament. He decided to take a few shots of the Indian team and as he rightly quoted at the end “I was here for four days and these are the best shots I have got, you guys are crazy!”
Our return journey was very different compared to the onward one. Surprisingly the South African crew had become extremely friendly. Maybe it had to do with the fact that we were carrying three huge trophies with us! As we walked past each gate and each check point, we were bragging about the World Junior Champion traveling with us. A customs officer in Mumbai walked up to me and said “You are the winning Indian team, you guys should not be standing in line, you make us proud, walk right by” it did feel good. Accomplishing something feels good, but getting acknowledged for it is even better!
Whether it was the way Lalith's face lights up when he says “I am going to get an ice cream anna” or Shyam's profound philosophical questions in English or the 420's (Ashwin, Vishnu and Karthikeyan) constantly bullying the 412's (Adhiban, Shyam, Lalith) or Mrunal's slow motion speeches and of course Soumya and Ashwin's funniest yet purest form of Tamil, it has all given nothing but happy memories. Nothing in this blog has been exaggerated or added to make it more dramatic, these experiences are purely how I recall from my faint memory.
Cheers to team India!!!! It was a totally rocking new experience for me, and to have contributed in some form to India and the chess team makes me quite happy.
These are the two games i have discussed above...