Interview: Sharad Sudhanshu Tilak

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By Arvind Aaron in Nagpur  

For a late starter, 39-year old Sharad Tilak achieved a lot. He is one of Mumbai's International Masters and part of the mightly Union Bank of India (and Bank Sports Board) chess team which dominated team competitions till the Petroleum companies moved in a few years back. Born July 4, 1962, Tilak spoke in an exclusive chat to Chess Mate during the 39th National `B' Chess Championship at Nagpur on July 5.

Sharad Sudhanshu Tilak

Q: Sharad, tell me the highlights of your chess career?
A: I learnt the game when I was in high school, probably when I was in ninth or tenth standard. I played my first tournament in 1978. It was already 16 then. That is already late to begin with by the standard of other players. But it helped me to improve very fast because I was older and was able to understand in a much better way. By 1981 I was playing at the senior national level. My best period was between 1985 to 1995. I came in the top six three times in that period and played eight National `A'. I played twice in the Olympiad. I won the silver medal in the Asian Zonal at Doha in Qatar in 1987. I also got my IM (International Master) title for that. Perhaps that was my high point of my career. Till 1995 I was very near the top six in the `A'.

Q: So who was your inspiration? I know that you travelled and worked with Pravin (GM P.M.Thipsay) for a long time in the earlier days?
A: Pravin helped me a lot particularly during the early stages of my career. He was a much much stronger player and already National Champion in 1981. I was then beginning to grasp the basics of the game. His influence was very great in shaping the development of my career and also shaping my style to some extent because I often played the openings which he played.

Q: Did living in a big city like Bombay itself help you and your career?
A: When I started to play chess it was a boon to be in Bombay. We had this chess club in the Zandu Pharmaceuticals Canteen at Parel. Everybody, Pravin Thipsay, Awate, Hegde, Neelkantan, Sekar Sahu were the top players and they used to be in the club on 3-4 days a week in the evenings. So, that was very useful. Young players had direct contact with the top players. That time it was a boon living in Bombay. I am not sure if it is the same today because it is difficult to maintain communication with other players. That time we were all young and studying, all were bachelors so it was easy to go to the club. Now there are other priorities and responsibilities which makes it difficult to be in touch with other players.

Q: Is this evolution true? Players work hard, achieve something in chess, get a job, then get married and then they start to fail?
A: I don't think this is the normal case at all. What I feel is if he has not made some progress in some time, then the interest begins to vain. That is my observation. Because there are players who had there best performances after they got married. Even Anand for example, he won the world championship after he got married. Of course he is a professional player. So, perhaps his case is different. I don't think getting a job and getting married are such a great hindrance to chess progress.

Q: Do you attribute the chess awakening happening in India to Anand after his winning the world junior in 1987 and then subsequently playing for the title in 1995 and ultimately winning it in 2001?
A: When I was young I used to hear about the Fischer wave in 1972. That saw the explosion of chess in western Europe and United States. I feel what happened in India is probably ten times that. Perhaps his world junior victory did not get much attention it deserved. But ever since he is in the top group in the world, since then, the interest in the game has increased. If you want to attribute the rise in Indian chess to one single factor, then I would say only the Anand factor as the reason.

Q: What keeps you going today? Do you still have some chess ambitions left or do you plan to write books on chess?
A: I do have ambitions in chess. I am still not yet 40. So, it is perhaps not yet time to put all the ambitions behind me. But with the other responsibilities I am atleast not able to devote as much time to the game as I would like to. I am also not very much in touch with the game. Perhaps if I can organise my schedule in a better way I can become more competitive at the national atleast. As far as writing is concerned, that is something I would like to do very much. But not the culture that has been developing these days in chess. If I do, I will do something with some good quality. But may be a couple of years down the line I may do it.

Q: Tell us something about your family?
A: My wife Pratima is a prominent classical singer of Hindustani music in Bombay. She has a concert. She keeps busy with her music. We are in different compartments as far as our careers are concerned. I have a daughter who is eight years old. She has her own activities. I don't want to push her into chess or music. That is upto her to decide.

Q: Coming back to Anand, did you follow his match against Shirov in Teheran and the match against Kramnik recently at Mainz?
A: I have been among the fortunate generation of chess players who saw Anand grow up from a very small boy as a 13-year old playing in the National Team Championship at I.I.T., Bombay in 1983. That was perhaps his first senior level tournament in India. I had the fortune of spending a lot of time with him. We have always been very friendly. So, whenever he plays, I have personal interest and I follow his games on the Internet. Of course it makes me more happy to see him win, particularly the world championship. Because if you see the western press, I feel there is a decided bias against Anand. The western press have projected the Kasparov v Kramnik match as the world championship. That was a pretty clear. Perhaps the format has something to do with that. For that reason I was pleased that Anand won the title. Whatever the press may say, the fact remains that he is the world champion. After he defeated Kramnik in the play off, which is few days back I think that has considerably enhanced his status. There won't be too much finger pointing that he won this in the absence of this guy and that guy.

Q: Which was your strength in your playing days and which was your weaknesses?
A: I think attack and tactics were the things I was always best at. The endgame has always been a weakpoint always. I have lot a few important points due to vulnerability in the endgame. I understood, particularly from Karpov that endgame has to be studied at a younger age. Because once your mind starts to think in some pattern, it is difficult to learn the intricacies of endgame. There is a natural flair for playing the endgame which some players have in India. For example Koshy or Babu are particularly expert in the ending.

Q: What do you like to tell young chess players? Do you train players yourself?
A: I am training people but in a limited way. I teach about half a dozen students. It is something like three hours a week. My own playing schedule and my occupation with my job, makes this training schedule irregular. My students are not high at the national level but are decent players at Maharashtra level. I would like to tell young players not to avoid mainlines. I noticed this trend in the games I have seen. This is not a positive development. Study of certain sidelines enables them to get quick results. They know much more about their openings than their opponents. But this will create some problems for them later on in their careers. Of course success is an important consideration, because they have world championships in age groups and other concessions. I would advice youngsters to switch to main lines at the earliest moment they can.
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