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Lalith Babu shares some of his secrets from the win at Shanghai Cooperation Cup 2018

by Sagar Shah - 23/11/2018

Lalith Babu has had a topsy turvy year 2018. He started the year as the national champion, winning the premier title in 2017 ahead of many strong grandmasters. He won the national rapid championships 2018 and was the runner-up at the national blitz 2018. It seemed 2018 would be the year when he would break into 2600, but then things didn't pan out the way he had imagined. However, Lalith is a class act and can always come up with spirited performances in the strongest of events. AICF decided to send some of the top finishers at National Premier 2017 to the Shanghai Cooperation Cup 2018 in China. Lalith Babu, who started as the sixth seed, showed some superb chess and took home the first prize. In this report we have an interview with the winner where he speaks about his event and also shares with us a secret of why China is progressing at a rapid pace in the world of chess.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Open 2018 was held from the 14th to the 22nd of October 2018 in the town of Xingtai Hebei. | Photo: Atanu Lahiri

Players from six nations including China took part in this event. India sent three of its players to the tournament. They were GM Lalith Babu, IM Arghyadip Das and IM S. Nitin. The manager of the team was IM Atanu Lahiri. This is what Atanu had to write on his Facebook page about the arrangements at the tournament and the town of Xingtai, "A dry arid landscape at the base of Taihuan Range has been transformed to a rich eco farm which hosted the SCO Open Chess Championship in China. The huge farm employs more than 2000 people with apple orchards and parks. If there is a single reason why the country is propelling towards being the next superpower of the world,it is the people whose labour continues to produce miracle in every field."

Nitin finished 16th out of 55 players | Photo: Atanu Lahiri

Arghyadip Das finished 22nd | Photo: Atanu Lahiri

Lalith Babu played a phenomenal tournament and secured the first place ahead of five GMs and 14 IMs. He took home the prize money of Rs.10 lakh | Photo: Atanu Lahiri

Rankings after nine rounds

Rk.SNoNameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
16GMLalith Babu M RIND25187,01,0551,0
211IMLi DiCHN24677,01,0550,5
317IMDai ChangrenCHN24337,01,0549,0
41GMZvjaginsev VadimRUS26446,50,0449,5
520Xiang ZeyuCHN24096,00,0450,0
63GMOparin GrigoriyRUS26246,00,0446,5
714IMVokhidov ShamsiddinUZB24466,00,0349,0
813FMNigmatov OrtikUZB24565,50,0544,0
98IMMa ZhonghanCHN24965,50,0541,5
1018Chen Qi BCHN24255,50,0447,0
115GMTan ZhongyiCHN25275,50,0441,5
1216IMBao QilinCHN24345,50,0440,0
132GMZhou JianchaoCHN26255,50,0352,5
144IMXu YiCHN25365,50,0349,5
1510IMLou YipingCHN24855,50,0339,0
1612IMNitin S.IND24615,00,0545,0
1724FMZou ChenCHN23865,00,0543,5
1826WIMZhu JinerCHN23605,00,0444,5
1925Lin YiCHN23615,00,0444,0
2019IMKhoroshev NikitaUZB24165,00,0440,0

Complete list of final standings

After the tournament ended ChessBase India got in touch with the champion and did an interview. Here are some insights into the mind of Lalith Babu:

 

Sagar Shah (SS): How did you decide to play in 2018 Shanghai Cooperation Organization Chess Open?

Lalith Babu (LB): I really wanted to play Isle of man but due to late registration I couldn't get entry so I decided to play the twin GM tournaments in India (Gujarat and Goa) and then 15 days before Gujarat open I got an email from AICF saying that we have received an email from China tournament and we are willing to send our National Premier players for this tournament and that is how I have decided to play in this event. I would like to thank AICF for giving me the opportunity to play in this tournament.

 

SS: You started off as the 6th seed, what were your expectations going into the tournament?

LB: Before this tournament I played in Gujarat GM open. Started off well but something went wrong at round 5 and from there its a downhill. Especially last round, Queen Blunder it's still a shock to me. Same day I started off to Beijing via Delhi from Ahmadabad. Swayams was traveling along with me till Delhi. We were discussing about the Tournament and my 'great' performance! It triggered legitimate introspective process. Sometimes the right thing gets done for wrong reason and sometimes, unfortunately, the wrong thing gets done for the right reason. And that blunder boasted my self-morale.

SS: People consider Chinese players to be under-rated. The same is said about Indians as well. As you have now played in both China and India, whose level is higher in general - Chinese players or Indian players?

LB: I feel both India and China players are quite strong and underrated. After SCO Open I had the privilege to visit one of their Federation office. I've witnessed a fantastic feat. All the national players work under the same roof as a team. They've always got each other's back and that gives them (Chinese) the edge. I think we should also experiment with the same idea.

This is the building where Chinese National players practice together | Photo: Lalith Babu

Entrance of the building | Photo: Lalith Babu

The hall to practice together | Photo: Lalith Babu

Fitness is always important | Photo: Lalith Babu

Healthy food specially prepared for chess players | Photo: Lalith Babu

SS: You played solidly in the tournament without losing a game! Which was your favourite game?

LB: The one with Nitin. I found an interesting trick. And also the one against Xu Yi.

 

S. Nitin vs Lalith Babu, round 4

Lalith knew this idea for Black in the two knight's in the Caro Kann. The knight goes from a6-c7-b5.

The knight jumped to a4 making use of the weaknesses in White's position. Of course, taking it would mean that the White king is just too weak, so Nitin tried to defend by keeping the knights on.

Lalith was in good form and sacrificed his knight on a2

The queen moved to d2 and it seemed as if White had everything covered, but here Lalith came with something special. Can you find it?

The queen moved to b2 and Nitin had to resign in a couple of moves!

Check out Lalith's fine win in the queen endgame against Xu Yi:

SS: How was it playing the last round with one of the most creative players of our era Vadim Zviaginsev?

Lalith Babu against the top seed of the tournament Vadim Zviagintsev in the last round. Zviagintsev is well known in chess circles for his innovation 1.e4 c5 2.Na3!? | Photo: Atanu Lahiri

LB: He is strong player and I had heard that endgame is his forte. I didn't have much time to prepare because the last round started a bit early at 8 a.m. The previous day during dinner I had a discussion with Arghyadip (Das) bhaiya and he said he might play g6 Bf5 line. I also thought it's not a bad opening for him to play (to win with black pieces). During the game, in the opening I got comfortable position. I could have achieved some advantage with Nd2, f3 and Bf2 plan but I chose another variation (which I thought I was slightly better at) he played strategically and the game ended in draw.

SS: You became the national champion in 2017 and then you also won the national rapid champion 2018 and national blitz runner-up. It seemed like the breakthrough year for you. But the year didn't pan out that way and your rating is still 2529, what is the missing element?

LB: Inconsistent performance and my poor choice of tournaments. And a lot of things needs to be tweaked in my chess play

 

SS: What are the next tournaments lined up for you?

LB: Next I will be playing in National Championship held at Jammu and hopefully in Gibraltar( if I get entry😀) 

A big thanks to Atanu Lahiri (left) for the pictures used in this report

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