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Talk about a busy schedule in the festive season and Fiji’s chess champion Manoj Kumar (pictured) is someone who certainly has his hands full.
Marking exam papers, managing a part-time bookkeeping job and devoting up to five hours daily to perfect his chess moves may seem to be a bit of a task but not for this schoolteacher, who is a walking machine not because of his ability to perform complex calculations to win ‘battles’ but the fact that he has two metal plates and 12 screws in the left arm.
Candidate master Kumar is preparing for next month’s Oceania Zonal Championship and a strong performance will see him become the first Pacific islander to attain a Masters title from world chess governing body FIDE.
This will be the eight-time national champion’s fourth outing in the Oceania championship.
Last year he missed out narrowly in Gold Coast after finishing with five points from a possible nine and six was needed for the Masters rating.
Kumar also took part in 2001 and 2007.
The globetrotter, who has carried Fiji’s flag in international chess events hosted by countries like Spain, Germany, Italy, Australia and New Zealand, has set a peculiar trend in the three Oceania championships as he has always played and lost to Grandmasters in the opening round.
“I think its funny that after beating me all these Grandmasters went on to win the championship,” he said.
“Last time, I played well and went up to 36 moves in my first game and then the next five moves were where I had to resign. Grandmasters are exceptional players. They’re professionals, chess is their bread and butter. They play in tournaments all over the world and make a living out of the prize-money.”
Kumar is an attacking chess player and it’s in the middle game where he is at his tactical best.
“At the moment I’m preparing for my opening moves. Chess is divided into three parts. It’s the opening, middle game and the end game.
“Right now I’m putting more effort into my opening. What I used to do was mostly prepare for end games. But I found out recently that my openings against top players at Oceania have been poor.”
He said it worked well in Fiji as his opponents were not strong in their openings and it gave him the chance to dominate.
“This is what I’ve learnt, stronger players play a solid opening especially in the zonal.”
Kumar teaches Economics at St Vincent College in Tailevu. He has a bachelor’s degree in education and has been teaching for 12 years.
Originally from Amy Street in Toorak, he attended Nehru Primary School, Dudley High School and MGM.
“I learnt to play chess when I was in Form Three. My friends learnt it from their uncle who played socially and they taught me,” he said.
“I really enjoyed it. Three years later, I came to know about competitions being held at the Hoodles House. I played for a while but left it for three years because of studies.
“Then I got hold of a nice book – 60 most instructive chess games. I studied lot of games and it stimulated my mind so much that I knew my game had moved to another level. That was in 1996.”
In two years time, Kumar won his first national championship and held the crown until year 2000. He won again in 2003, 2007, 2008 ,2009 and 2010.
Happy to be Fiji’s top player but Kumar is not totally satisfied.
“I think I would be very happy if I play well and get a FIDE Masters title. That’s the challenge for me. You have to work very hard for it and if I can get that then I feel I have achieved something big in chess.”
Initially soccer and rugby were the sports that he preferred. Also it was during of the Indo-Fijian oval ball games where he broke his arm, got 21 stitches and had plates put in it.
“I was so much into soccer and suddenly there was a switch. It was the no referee, leave the ball and kick the man kind of soccer. I played striker and I used to get a lot.
“I was passionate about soccer but a lot of stamina is needed for it. My favourite teams are Arsenal and Chelsea.
“I like rugby but now I prefer watching and not playing.”
Chess is as demanding as soccer and rugby, also similar in a lot of ways like Kumar has experienced.
“Chess requires full dedication and hard work. You have to sacrifice a lot of your time in order to improve your game,” he said.
“There is gym work to do because you have to be physically fit too. At times during games you become tired, make lazy moves and that’s the end of it.
“One of the most important requirements is a good sleep. You can forget about boozing. You can’t just like in most sports, it’s that simple. Boozing is like you preparing to lose games. I’ve experienced that with Friday night drinking and getting it in the games, the next day.”
Kumar feels chess defines the character of a person.
“A game of chess is a good feeling. The way you play on the board, every move you make is either a pain or delight. You enjoy making a good move, it’s intrinsic.
“After making 10 moves, you become yourself. If you’re a careless person it will show. If you’re a stubborn person, you will put up a big resistance. A defensive player will have the ability to take pressure. An aggressive player will show it on the board and will eventually lose. Similarly passive players will hardly do any attacks. They will wait for you to attack.
“Basically chess is like fighting a war. The mind behind the moves is yours. You’re the general in the war.”
It was former French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, a powerful military and political leader, who said it best in the 1800s, ‘soldiers fight the war and generals get the credit’.
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