It was 2 pm in the afternoon and as always I was packing my bags in the last minute to catch a flight at 5.30 in the evening. For some reason it has become extremely difficult for me not to finish any task before its ultimate deadline in my life. The clothes lying around; the non stop phone calls pouring in; one hand automatically answering the chat windows in my laptop and at least 5 different last minute errands to run, the scene did not look any different from all those trips I had planned in the last 10 years except one major part, this time I was packing my bags not to travel and play in a chess tournament, but it was to travel as a coach for a chess tournament.
About a month ago I received a call from the Indian Chess Federation requesting me to accompany the Indian junior chess team as a coach for the World Junior championships to be held at Argentina. Though I am a very active player and active players do not take up such offers in the professional chess world, I felt this would give me a different perspective about things and said 'yes' to the idea. There was a lot of questioning from my friends and family as why would I be interested in doing this? But I was pretty clear with my reasons, to look at the game of chess from a different perspective, to contribute to Indian chess in some form or the other, remember I am not getting paid to do this! And of course not to forget the great beaches in Argentina.
I was accompanied by some of the players in the Chennai airport and rest of the team assembled in the Mumbai airport from various parts of the country. The funniest thing was that none of us had our passports in our hand when we left to Mumbai. The Argentinian visa had taken so much time that our passports had to be delivered in the last minute in the Mumbai before we boarded the international flight. We were all keeping our fingers crossed as we arrived in the Chatrapathi Shivaji airport in Mumbai, if even a minor error had to occur it would have been disastrous.
As we passed the immigration check in Mumbai airport one of our team members, Shyam Sundar was asked by the officer wittily if he knew the National Anthem when Shyam mentioned he was going to play in the World Junior Championship as a part of the Indian team. It took us more than an hour to get past 300 off people lined up in the security check line. Finally we boarded our first long flight to Johannesburg around 1.30 am on 21st October 2009.
Nothing personal but South African airways is one of the most unfriendly aircraft I have every boarded in my life. The only time I saw any of the crew members smile was on TV when they played that safety instruction video of theirs! Most of the questions were dodged without a proper response with almost a sense of rudeness. If this 9 hour flight with this unfriendly crew was a problem for us, we were just getting started, our next flight from Johannesburg to Buenos Aires was a 11 hour flight!
Finally we arrived in Buenos Aires completely tired and exhausted, but our trip was nothing close to getting over. A one hour bus ride followed by a two hour flight and another one hour bus ride was still left in our itinerary.
We reached our destination around 2 am on the 22nd October. After sorting out the room arrrangements we just crashed.
Unfortunately for us, the first round started at 5 pm in the evening, the time around which the jet lag would kick in for the players. Around 6.30 pm I realized that I was almost fainting down to the floor and I started feeling bad for the players as it would be really difficult to play under such circumstances. As a result we had a few upsets, firstly our top woman player Mary Ann Gomes, also the number one seeded player in the tournament suffered a surprise loss against a lower rated player. Another young talent and the current World Under 14 girls champion Padmini Rout took a blow from a lower rated player. It is the double round day today and there is plenty of games to come by... Will write with more updates in the future.