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Tomorrow is another day & there's another battle to win

Natalia, Kasparov, Anand, President Putin, KGB, Panchenko, Ekaterinburg and Vijayawada have all fascinated Sorokin, the mind-bender, says A. JOSEPH ANTONY

Sorokin and Natalia Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

REALITY IN India was far removed from the Raj Kapoor films Maxim Sorokin grew up on, back home in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Since 1990, he has visited thisnation more than 10 times and not all the romance of celluloid could mask some harsh truths on this ancient land. "India is still foreign to us, especially the new language we encounter as we move from State to State.

Nor are the pavements as clean as they appear to be in movies, " said the Russian chess wizard, who's herefor an eight-match face-off over 64 squares with Vijayawada's ownKoneru Humpy.

If behind the success of the man, there is a woman, it's his wife Natalia Sorokina, who with an ELO rating of 2266 is favourite in the ongoing international round robin FIDE-rating chess tournament. A little rusty from lack of match experience, her two early losses she has set aside, to down Andhra runner up D. Laxmana Rao.

Chess is what brought this couple together. When it's summer in their mostly frozen homeland, husband and wife leave their 15-year-ld daughter behind with Natalia's parents. Life can be lonely for Sorokin, who's away for over six months of the year and nothing like a little wifely tenderness away from battle in the non-violent world of the chess board.

The sport hardly tires him, for his appetite for it can be quite huge. Barely after hedraws a game with Humpy, he's back in his room for an on the boardwar with his wife !

Of Jewish stock, Sorokin was born to physicist parents, his father a scientist and his mother a professor in the subject. With physics in his genes, joining the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology two years too soon (his beinga precocious talent) was a logical thing for young Maxim, who dropped out two and half years into the six-ear course, bitten by the chess bug.

Nor was the science compatible with religion, his practice of its beliefsnon-existent, although Natalia believes in a supernatural power.

He feels the pangs to find his physics peers in prestigious posts all over the world and wonders if he did the right thing by making mind games his livelihood.

Not that he regrets the 'move' of his life, for he's a fairly well-known name, but not as famous he would like to be. "Talk of chess and the names that come to mind are that of Kasparov, Anand, Karpov and Fischer and I'm nowhere in that league," he admits candidly.

The conversation veers to the days of the Soviet regime, when KGB agents escorted chess players to international tournaments and of players passing on information to the dreaded secret outfit.

President Putin's precedents don't bode well for democracy, feels Sorokin, citing the example of the sole TV channel in Russia being State-owned.

So also is the reintroduction of the past tune minus the socialist chants to the present national anthem.

Accounting for his popularity, Sorokin says Putin's stance on Russia being independent on international issues has given a rebirth to patriotism.

People trust their leaders too much and the vastness of the nation given them little access to their rulers. Putin's spiralling popularity displays a drift in a dangerous direction.

The judokaleader has, however, given martial arts a boost, just as his predecessor Boris Yeltsin supported tennis, a favourite game of the burly ex-head of State.

Sorokin's hometown of Ekaterinburg, was previously known as Catherinesburg, named after Empress Catherine.

For a while, under the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics (USSR) the city was named Sverdlovsk. Located in the foothills of the famed Ural mountains, the city had little to offer Sorokin, since chess is not very popular there, making him seek greener pastures.

On the collapse of the confederation, Sorokin feels it was too artificial to last, the mix-up of various nationalities having little in common, a potent source of problems.

Nonetheless, the Socialist State did provide some security on shelter, a must for the biting Russian winters and food, essential for survival.

Sorokin has not been seen to lose his cool, a temperament ideal for a chess player. Getting easily flustered has contributed to the downfall of genius such as that of Victor Korchnoi.

This Russian chess player prefers a walk to let off steam, if any or a game of table tennis. He has also trained himself to remain unaffected by things unrelated to chess, especially in the run-up to a game.

In the background is Natalia, who breaks into a smile easily ora giggle, which perhaps makes Sorokin see the lighter side of life.

His proficiency in the craft he attributes to his renowned coach Panchenko.

"The progress of my career is thanks to having good coaches and my being attentive to them," says Sorokin as he stifles a yawn.

Tomorrow is another day and there's another battle to be won.

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