Faced with the growing playing strength of lesser-known players, most grandmasters blinked first and settled for draws, by turns, in the second and third rounds of the national championships in Jammu on Sunday.

The only exceptions were Aravindh Chithambaram and Deep Sengupta, who kept their winning sequence intact to be part of the four-player leading pack at three points. GM in-waiting P. Karthikeyan and untitled Ritviz Parab completed the leaders’ group.

Aravindh, runner-up in 2017, stopped two low-rated GMs Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury and Sriram Jha. Deep accounted for the vastly experienced international master Anup Deshmukh and young Sammed Shete.

In contrast, Commonwealth champion P. Karthikeyan had it easy against Tamil Nadu rivals S. Prasanna and S. Kannan. Parab expectedly beat Mizroram’s Lalrinmawia before surprising 20th seed IM S. Nitin.

In the first of the two double-round days in the competition, the veterans proved tough to handle for several grandmasters. P. D. S. Girinath, known to take his time to execute his plans over the board, turned the clock back and announced his comeback by drawing with second seed Murali Karthikeyan and then stunned Sandipan Chanda, seeded six.

Likewise, P. Konguvel upstaged eighth seed M. R. Venkatesh and then drew with G. Akash in a battle involving two former champions.

The day also saw the top three seeds — Abhijeet Gupta, Murali Karthikeyan and Vaibhav Suri — drop half a point each. They now find themselves in a crowd of 28 players following the leaders at 2.5 points.

Leading results (third round): Tejas Bakre (2.5) drew with Abhijeet Gupta (2.5); V. A. V. Rajesh (2.5) drew with Vaibhav Suri (2.5); Aravindh Chithambaram (3) bt Sriram Jha (2); Sammed Shete (2) lost to Deep Sengupta (3); K. Ratnakaran (2.5) drew with Deepan Chakkravarthy (2.5); P. Saravana Krishnan (2.5) drew with Karthik Venkataraman (2.5); Vishnu Prasanna (2.5) drew with V. S. Raahul (2.5); G. A. Stany (2.5) drew with Rahul Srivastava (2.5); L. R. Srihari (2.5) drew with Anurag Mhamal (2.5); S. Kannan (2) lost to P. Karthikeyan (3) (second round): Abhijeet bt Nitish Belurkar; P. D. S. Girinath drew with M. Karthikeyan; Suri bt Debarshi Mukherjee; Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury lost to Chithambaram; Sengupta bt Anup Deshmukh; Dinesh Sharma drew with Sandipan Chanda; Deepan bt Dushyant Sharma; Konguvel bt M. R. Venkatesh; Karthik Venkataraman bt Nisha Mohota; Gurpreet Singh Maras lost to Vishnu Prasanna.