Eighteen-year-old chess International Master Lalith Babu sounds more determined to clinch the elusive Grand Master title this year as he is just one ‘norm’ away from becoming the second Grand Master from Vijayawada after Arjuna awardee Koneru Humpy.

Lalith, rated 2492 by the World Chess Federation (FIDE), earned the second norm in April, 2010 at Chennai but the all-important final norm is not with in his reach. “I am confident of winning the norm in the forthcoming Grand Masters invitation tournament to be held at Dubai in April. I stopped playing tournaments as I was preparing for my second year Intermediate exam,” said Lalith, who is now at Goa playing an inter-petroleum tournament representing Indian Oil Company as a scholarship player. “I am playing this tourney as it is mandatory”.

Lalith hogged the limelight by winning several important titles in the junior segment but failed to make a mark in the crucial norm-tournaments. “Unfortunately a small number of norm tournaments are held in India. To bag a norm one should go abroad and play GM tournaments which involve higher expenditure. For players who do not have a sponsor it is all the more difficult,” said Lalith Babu.

Former Andhra Pradesh Chess Association secretary V.R.Bobba said that Lalith could not get the final norm owing to the emergence of more talented players in India especially among the youngsters. “Thanks to the technology chess is available on-line and several youngsters have mastered the moves to perfection. With more software available in chess these youngsters are giving a tough time to senior players who wish to grab as many points as possible to gain the norm,” he explained.

Mr. Bobba said as there were less FIDE-norm tournaments in India, the players who were close to GM title were under tremendous pressure to perform consistently well against the talented junior players. “Even a draw would upset your calculations. And it is not possible to win all the tournaments,” he added.

Lalith, who trains under the watchful eyes of his coach Murali Krishna, is keen to do well in the Dubai tournament after giving his intermediate exams in March. “Soon I will be sending my entry to the tournament committee. I also need to search for a sponsor as it would be difficult for my parents meet the expenditure,” he said with a tinge of concern.

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