Adhiban Baskaran: 'I believe beating top players is a part of my destiny'
Positivity, ambition, a never say die attitude and an enterprising style of play make Adhiban Baskaran one of the best and most loved chess players in India today. Recently, at the Indian National Team Championship, he proved his mettle yet again. After a rather dismal performance at the Tata Steel Masters which concluded a few weeks ago, Adhiban made a strong comeback scoring an unbeaten 8.0/9. In this interview, he talks about how he keeps himself motivated, his first ever head to head encounter with his idol Vishy Anand, his recent gold medal-winning performance at the National teams and a lot more!
In the 2017 edition of the Tata Steel Masters, Adhiban Baskaran, who was then a debutant at the event, showed the world that he too can take on the very elite and hold ground. With his spectacular performance, Adhiban not only took third place in a star-studded field but was also invited to the 2018 edition of this premier event.
This year, however, the 25-year-old from Chennai struggled with form and was unable to play up to the high standard he had set for himself the previous year. But despite all disappointment, Adhiban’s optimism was awe inspiring. Until the final round, he fought with all his might and tried to pull out a win regardless of his tournament situation or his opponent.
He was still unable to win a single game in Wijk Aan Zee but his optimism did pay off in the next tournament he played. At the 38th Indian National Teams Championship, Adhiban proved to be one of the most prominent players at the tournament. Scoring an unbeaten 8.0/9, he not only helped his team, Petroleum Sports Promotion Board (PSPB), win the event with a round to spare but also won himself a gold medal on board one.
After his phenomenal comeback, Aditya Pai caught up with the man of the moment to talk about his ever-positive mindset and his two contrasting performances.
AP: First of all, tell us how you managed to pull off such a strong performance at National Teams after what, at the Tata Steel Masters, could be termed as a poor show?
AB: Actually it wasn't just the Tata Steel, but a string of events which didn't go so well (fine, it went hopelessly bad if you insist!) at least rating wise. But the most the important thing for a comeback is to accept what happened in the present, maintain your confidence and positive attitude and have faith about the future (It is as easy as it sounds). Since I was able to balance all these I was finally able to make a perfect comeback at the National Teams.
AP: How was Tata Steel different for you this time in comparison to last year?
AB: Tata Steel this time was different because the one win which changed the tournament last time eluded me this time. If I had been able to score a win in the early games, I am sure it would have been a different event! (If only I had played Karjakin in one of the earlier rounds!). But I wasn't in my best shape/form and these missed opportunities, I feel, affected my run in the tournament adversely.
AP: In your final round game against Kramnik, it looked pretty equal in the endgame until the 35th move when you sacrificed an exchange in an attempt to make something of your 'c' pawn. What made you go for this line and what was the rationale behind the sacrifice?
AB: I overestimated my position after the exchange sacrifice and missed his Re7 move which completely cut my king off from the battle. This key detail proved to be costly. But I had a nice conversation with Judit Polgar after the event and she mentioned that she also took such decisions which resulted in many losses. It is just a perk of being an ambitious player. I have no regrets about making that decision; whether it was stupidity or bravery, you choose! [smiles]
AP: With regards to the same game, this question is about your positive attitude. Now, the tournament, if I may say so, was a nightmare for you. Being a player myself (not a very good one, but a player still), I know how desperately one might want to finish the dreaded run and go back home. But it was you who complicated matters and took risks in a more or less balanced endgame in the final round. What keeps you so motivated?
AB: Yes there were times when I wanted to just repeat the position and finish the tournament. But then I told myself, "You are better against Kramnik! It doesn't matter what the tournament situation is. You just have to do your best and try to beat him with everything you have got!"
In retrospect, this was, perhaps, completely reckless but I am happy that I did it and next time I meet him across the chess board, he will know that I am looking for revenge! About my motivation, I believe that beating these guys is part of my destiny!
AP: You also did extremely well holding Magnus for the most part of your game against him but all of a sudden the nature of the position changed and things went downhill remarkably fast for you after that. Could you tell us how the loss affected you?
AB: Yes, the game against Carlsen didn't go at all as planned. In the opening, my mindset was just wrong. Even when I got a chance to take over, I was just thinking about holding the game. I was quite upset about losing the game but then luckily I remembered a quote from the New in Chess article: "Start of a lifelong rivalry?" So I know it's not just a one-time thing and that I will get my chance again in the future.
AP: Tell us about your draw against Vishy. It must have been a special feeling to draw against someone you've idolised all your life.
AB: I think I was around 10 when I got the chance to play in a simul against Vishy Anand. Back then, I remember telling my parents that I don't want to be just another player who has played against him in a simul. I want to sit in front of him as a fellow player and hold my own.
In the game, I got a good position but didn't follow up in the best way and it ended in a draw. After the event I spent almost half a day with him going around Amsterdam and it will forever remain a special memory. I got to learn a lot about him and his phenomenal memory!
AP: Talking of Anand, he's scheduled to play for the Indian team at the Olympiad this year. How do you think this will affect the Indian team at large and you in particular?
AB: It was one of the best things which could have happened to our team! I am very excited to spend a lot of time interacting and exchanging opinions with him. Hopefully, with the addition of Vishy Anand –and if Hari decides to return – the prediction of Vidit Gujrathi, who has already said in an interview during the last Olympiad that we are going to get Gold medal this year, might turn out to be true. It is going to be a very strong team. (The other two will be decided later by rating average)
AP: Let's talk about your gold medal winning performance at the national teams. Which was your favourite game from the tournament?
AB: I had a great tournament and increased my rating after a very long time. My favourite game was against SL Narayanan as he was the higher rated among the opponents I had faced in the event and also I had previously lost three times to him in the classical format (In rapid play, I have won 2 games and I have 50% in blitz, in case you’re curious). The revenge was really sweet!
AP: Had you done any special preparation for the National Teams?
AB: Actually, playing the Tata Steel Masters really takes a toll on you. Hence the best I could do was to chill and let my power return.
AP: And lastly, what's the plan ahead? Where will we see you play next?
AB: For now I will be going to Fischer's final resting place for the Reykjavik Open. Hopefully, his spirit will be with me so I can play like him!
About the Author
Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He holds a Master's in English Literature and used to work as an advertising copywriter before joining the ChessBase India team.