Undeterred Vidit Gujrathi keeps nervousness at bay against top guns halfway into Tata Steel Masters

The Masters’ leg of Tata Steel Chess is one of the premier events of the chess world. Nicknamed the ‘Wimbledon of Chess’, it had, until this year, only seen the participation of four Indians – Manuel Aaron Viswanathan Anand, Pentala Harikrishna and Adhiban Baskaran – in its rich 81-year-history.

Undeterred Vidit Gujrathi keeps nervousness at bay against top guns halfway into Tata Steel Masters

Vidit during the fourth round of the Tata Steel Masters. Credit: Alina L’ami

This year, another young and rising Indian grandmaster, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, made his way into the Tata Steel Masters, having won the Challengers segment last year. For Vidit, this is a very special opportunity. It is the first time that he is playing in a closed event of such stature.

“I haven’t really played in many super tournaments so far. I have played in events where I played 2700 rated GMs every round, but this is something different,” Vidit told Firstpost on the first rest day of the tournament.

But how exactly is this different in comparison to the other tournaments he has played? Vidit says there really can’t be a comparison.

“It’s a very long event so it really tests your stamina. Also, it holds special importance in the chess world. It has a long tradition, all the greats of the game have played and won here. It can’t really be compared to the other events which I have played before,” he explained.

This is the biggest tournament of Vidit’s career thus far and he has ensured to do everything right. Vidit has not come to Wijk aan Zee alone. He is accompanied by his long-time coach and current second, GM Alon Greenfield of Israel. Talking about GM Greenfield’s role, Vidit said, “It is mainly opening preparation. But there are also a lot of other factors as well, mainly psychological stuff. So it makes a big difference. I am really finding it useful.”

By his Elo rating of 2695, Vidit is ranked thirteenth in the fourteen player field and could hardly be called a favourite. However, the Nashik-based grandmaster is known to beat the odds.

Six rounds into the event, Vidit has not only remained undefeated but is also sharing joint second place alongside Viswanathan Anand and Ding Liren, having scored 3½ points. This is an enviable start, even for the jaded elite in the field – and for a newcomer like Vidit, perhaps a dream.

But it is key, Vidit says, not to be swayed by the initial success. In a very pragmatic manner, he tries to play every game individually, without being affected by previous outcomes.

“I usually try not to keep any expectations. Of course, everyone wants to do well, that’s no big surprise. So, like everyone else, I also want to perform well. Apart from that, I really didn’t think of any goal as such.

“It has been only six rounds thus far. There are seven more rounds to go. The performance could have been better, but in hindsight, it’s easy to say these things.”

It seemed what Vidit was alluding to was his fifth round draw against Vladimir Fedoseev, where he was winning late in the endgame. But he soon clarified “I think that (the game against Fedoseev) was one of the good games that I played here. A proper hiccup would be my first game against Duda where I was worse and I was defending a very unpleasant position.”

Another important game – perhaps, the most important game – in his run thus far was his game against Magnus Carlsen. Like he had done in their previous matchup at the 2017 Isle of Man Masters, Vidit held up well against the world champion and could have gone into a theoretically drawn endgame after 35 moves.

However, Vidit erred at the crucial moment and had to fight tooth and nail to cling on to a draw. The game that should have ended in about 40 moves went on for a full 131! But in the end, even the mighty Magnus tipped his hat and conceded a draw.

“Actually, before that game, I had bought a book about Carlsen’s endgames. During the game, I felt that I should have read it,” Vidit said with a chuckle after surviving the world champion’s trademark grind.

“I think his move g4 was quite unnecessary. He did well later to play 48.f3. If he doesn’t play f3, I am in time to play e4 and then it’s very difficult to hold. As in the game, I think, I had no particular chances,” Carlsen said about the game.

Seven more rounds remain in the event, and the challenge isn’t going to get any easier for the Indian number three. He is still to play some of the top seeds like Vladimir Kramnik, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Viswanathan Anand and even Anish Giri, the top Dutch player whom Vidit had famously been a second to. But regardless of the accomplishments of his opponents, Vidit remains undeterred and is looking forward to playing each game as it comes.

“I was nervous initially but once you start playing, there are other problems to worry about. There is absolutely no time to get nervous, to think why I am here

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 14:37:28 IST

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