TWO MORE TO GO
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If everything goes as planned, Himal Gusain, the enigmatic chess player from Chandigarh, will achieve the next two International Master (IM) norms by the year end. Of course there is still lots of time, many more tournaments to play, many mountains to scale and many inner demons to fight. But he has already taken the step, a rather giant one, towards achieving the goal. Two days after achieving the first IM norm at the fourth Odisha International Grand Master Open Chess Championship, where he scored seven points out of 10 to claim 16th position, Gusain, with a new-found confidence, was again playing the mind games with top grandmasters and international masters from other countries. He finished at the 16th place despite being seeded 51 in the tournament.
Right after the tournament, 18-year-old Himal took off to Pune, to train with former Indian GM Abhijit Kunte for a month before the tedious season ahead of him. "Winning the first IM norm was a very special moment for me. Looking back at the year that has gone by and the way I have performed in the current year, I was confident of achieving the norm at Bhubaneshwar," chuckled Himal, who is the highest FIDE rated player in Chandigarh with a rating of 2271 and might see a leap in his rating to 2311 by July 1. No one from the neighbouring states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir has come closer to achieving the first IM norm, thus making Himal the first player from the region to do so.
The year had started with a bang for Himal, as he annexed the Chandigarh Chess Championship for the sixth time in a row. Before that, in the last season, he had taken part in the Asian Youth Chess Championship at Philippines and the World Youth Chess Championship held in Brazil. He took heart from his performance at Philippines where he finished a credible 10th, but it was Brazil where he gained 35 points despite securing the 15th position, a performance which he accepts was the cornerstone of his success in the current year.
The past performance might not guarantee success in the present, but Himal doesn't mind taking a walk down the memory lane, to get that thrust and motivation to push harder. "In the last two tournaments, I played against lots of international masters and grandmasters and managed to drew and even beat some of them. It gives me lots of courage. There is still much to be done and many more goals to achieve," added Himal, a student of SD College, Sector 32. Himal drew with two Grandmasters, Deepan Chakraborty of India and Grandmaster Stupak Kirill of Belarus, and needed a win against International Master C Parveen Kumar to get the IM norm in the last round. He also won't mind taking another look at the trophies that he won in the past: the All India Open Chess Championship that he won in Shimla in 2008, the runners up trophy from the All India Open Championship held at Kota.
Born to win
While still at school, it was during a summer vacation at his ancestral home in Dehradun where Himal first tried his hands at chess, with his uncle at the other side of the chess board. While he was still young to master the game, he did come close to doing that during a chess tournament at the school level in 2002, where Himal finished runners-up in his age category in his first attempt.
With no formal training, his father, Pushpinder Gusain, took Himal to participate in the Under-9 category in the nationals held at Lucknow. The tournament was a reality check for the son-father duo as Himal managed to garner 3and half points to finish at 122 out of 140 players.
"That was when I understood he needed proper training. Though sometimes I also indulged in the game, I knew he needed better coaching to polish his skills," shared his father. From Abhinandan Vohra to DS Negi to GB Joshi, help and coaching came from all directions, that further kept Himal pushing towards north.
When at home, time is divided between playing football and chess on his computer. "I never do mind exercises or yoga. I just play chess on the computer and also study about the game, the top players and game plans," he said. The attention, however, is still on the remaining tournaments in which he can achieve the two IM norms. "The next IM norm tournament will be played at Vishakapatnam in October and then at Kolkata. I am confident that I will be able to get the remaining two norms by year end," signed off Himal in a confident sound.
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