Beating Magnus Carlsen isn’t easy, and it takes a special effort to get past the world champion, be it any format. Judging by the way he eased past the Norwegian, Musunuri Lalith Babu is very very special! The reigning national champion has finally broken through into the big leagues, and is one to watch out for.
Hailing from Vijayawada, this young man created history in February by defeating world champion Magnus Carlsen in rapid chess at the PRO Chess League. Lalith Babu achieved the International Master norm at the Asian Junior Chess Championship in 2008. He became Grandmaster in 2012 and was part of the Indian team which won bronze at the Chess Olympiad in Norway in 2014.
His mother Padma, who has been the pillar behind his success, claims that chess has been an integral part of Lalith’s life. “Since his childhood, he has always occupied himself with chess. He lives and breathes chess. He wouldn’t go to any parties or festival, but only play chess,” she remembers fondly.
Here is how the conversation went with him…
How did you start playing chess?
I started playing in second standard. My mother introduced me to G Muralikrishna, my coach, during a summer camp and that is how my journey began.
Whom did you look up to during your early days?
Back when I was young, I didn’t know any player. In 2005, I got to know about the various international players and world champions. At that time, I used to look up to Anotoly Karpov, the world champion from Russia. I used to follow his game and strategies.
How was it becoming national chess champion?
I have wanted to be national champion since the last four years. I got really close in 2013, but made a few mistakes and lost. So I have been trying really hard to win it since then. It meant a lot when I won it last year
Any fond memories which you have of this tournament?
I enjoyed myself throughout the tournament. During this championship, I didn’t think much and I played without any pressure. I think, being an underdog, really helped me in winning this.
Recently, you also defeated Magnus Carlsen in Rapid Chess. What do you have to say on this?
There are very few tournaments in which I get to play against European Grandmasters and it was a wonderful opportunity for me to play against him. Defeating him was one of my happiest moments. I was in the driving seat throughout the match.
Any special preparations which you made for this match?
No special preparations. I played my usual game throughout the match.
How do you think chess can be made more popular in India?
Every sport has a league, but there is no league for chess. Look at Kabaddi, the popularity increased tremendously with the inception of leagues. We have a Maharashtra League but a league for the entire Indian contingent will do a lot of good for chess.
What has been the most memorable moment in your career so far?
2012-2014 has been my most memorable years so far. I became grandmaster in 2012 and I won my first Olympiad medal in 2014. I started playing in the international circuit in 2009, but I had to wait 3 years to become grandmaster as I missed out on a lot of European tournaments, primarily because of lack of sponsors. So, becoming a grandmaster was quite special for me.
What are your future goals?
My current ELO rating is 2531. I want to enter the 2600 club. In the long run, I want to improve my rankings and enter the top 30.