“It has taken me longer than I expected to secure the Grand Master rating mainly due to a lack of permanent sponsorship”, Karnataka’s first Chess Grand Master told R. Uday Kumar during a wide ranging chat in which he discussed his motivation, and displayed his determination to win more laurels for the state.
Thej Kumar made Karnataka proud when he became Karnataka’s first Chess Grandmaster, achieving the distinction when he won two rounds in the Fomento All India FIDE rated chess tournament in Goa this September. He crossed the 2500 rating mark required to be rated as a Grand Master when he defeated Sanjeeb Parad of Goa and Arthale Varad of Maharashtra, making him the 50th Grandmaster of the country.
“It was a proud moment for me and my family. When I started my career at the age of 12, unlike today's players who start at 5, I never dreamt of becoming a Grandmaster, but my wife, who is also a chess player, encouraged me to push further. So, the credit has to go to her for supporting me through my ups and downs. During my initial days, it was my grandmother who helped me pursue my passion. Back then, the results were not going my way, but I had the self-belief and desire to achieve something in Chess, which is paying off now. I want to qualify for Super Grandmaster, for which I need to get 2,600 points; I am at 2,500 points now. The gap between games is equally vital to be up for the challenge. When I was growing up, Viswanathan Anand, who is an attacking player, was my idol. Now, I admire Russian Vladimir Kramnik who is a positional player. Since I follow that style, I love his style of play”, said Thej Kumar
But the 36 year old also has a tale of grief. “For the last international tournament though I was eligible for flight fare, the officials at the Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports (DYES), Govt. of Karnataka told me that the application was not attractive enough and my request was declined! I was really upset because the flight fare was offered to a player whose rating was lower. I wondered if the sponsorship is dependent on the attractiveness of the application or on merit. There is also a scheme at DYES for mentor training and for that too I didn’t make the cut. This not only frustrates me but I’ve taken it as a challenge and will work harder to prove my mettle”.
Thej Kumar did his schooling at the Sharada Vilas School and completed his graduation in Commerce from the D Banumaiah College. He then went on to obtain a Post-Graduation Degree in Commerce from Manasagangotri. His outstanding achievements in Chess in 2008 earned him employment in the South Western Railways as an Accounts Assistant at Mysuru.
Following his employment in the Railways, Thej Kumar was picked as part of a six member Indian Railways team which won the World Railway Chess championship title last year. After this win, the Railway board decided to reward him with 330 days’ of paid leave to enable him to concentrate on his game.
Both his father KR Shivarame and his wife support his cause unstintingly and Thej Kumar is grateful for that support. However, he is pained by the lack of support from the State Government. He says, “Grandmasters in other states are given cash awards of more than Rs 50 lakh and a house or a site. I hope our government will also recognize my talent and encourage me by providing me the same. The cash award will be helpful for me to take up high quality online coaching from an Ukrainian Grandmaster. For each hour they charge 70 dollars which is nearly Rs 4000. Last two years have been difficult as I didn’t get any sponsors for a few tournaments. But I am ready for the challenge, and my best is yet to come; I will concentrate and give my best to the state and the country”.
If the Government provides a free plot, I am ready to start an academy too. “I have undergone a lot of hurdles in my chess career. This should not happen to promising chess players. Hence, I am thinking of starting a chess academy. The academy will definitely help talented chess players whose financial conditions are poor and who can’t afford to get trained” added Thej Kumar.
The State Government on its part recognised his achievement during the Dasara festivities, with the Sports Minister felicitating him and presenting him with a cash award of Rs 10 Lakhs. But the question is, is this enough?