Aravindh holds the aces

Aravindh Chithambaram looks the favourite since he is yet to face a large number of players who are struggling for form in this event. In the next three rounds, he plays Deepan, Narayanan and M. R. Lalith Babu.

Aravindh Chithambaram, the second seed at 4.5 points enjoys a half-point lead over Karthikeyan and Narayanan.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

As the half-way mark is approaching in the marathon 13-round Khadi India National chess championship here, those forming the cream of the field are already doing the front running.

The top two seeds — Tamil Nadu’s duo of defending champion M. Karthikeyan and leader Aravindh Chithambaram – along with third seed S. L. Narayanan occupy the top three positions after six rounds. Not surprisingly, they are the only unbeaten players left in the 14-man field.

The first half of the gruelling event has already seen a few surprises, some fabulous display of end-game technique from Aravindh besides some great attitude from the only untitled player in the fray, 18-year-old Sammed Shete.

READ: How the players fared after six rounds

Aravindh, the second seed at 4.5 points enjoys a half-point lead over Karthikeyan and Narayanan. This is mainly due to Aravindh’s tenacity to search for victory in a seemingly equal, and probably drawn endgame like the one seen against Swapnil Dhopade.

Aravindh, who turns 18 on November 9th, produced a masterclass in endgame for the lesser mortals. Even Dhopade could not help admiring the resilience of his young rival.

Shete, less than a month older to Aravindh, could have well been the talk of the contest had he not missed opportunities to nail Karthikeyan and R. R. Laxman in successive games. For a debutant, these misses were clearly due to lack of experience of playing in such a strong field.

But what followed was commendable. Undeterred by letting two Grandmasters off the hook, Shete returned to the board believing that his time would come. And it did, on the every next day against 40-year-old Abhijit Kunte. The seasoned campaigner underestimated the potential of one move by Shete and paid dearly. Shete neither rued the missed opportunities nor showed any nerves while pinning down Kunte in quick time.

As things stand, Aravindh looks the favourite since he is yet to face a large number of players who are struggling for form in this event. In the next three rounds, he plays Deepan, Narayanan and M. R. Lalith Babu. Should he stay undefeated against these Grandmasters, the lack of form of the last four rivals — S. Nitin, P. Shyaam Nikhil, Himanshu Sharma and Debashis Das — could well see the youngster finish with a flourish.

Seventh-round pairings

Deepan Chakkravarthy (2) v Aravindh Chithambaram (4.5); S. Nitin (3) v M. Karthikeyan (4); S. L. Narayanan (4) v Abhijit Kunte (2.5); M. R. Lalith Babu (3.5) v R. R. Laxman (3.5); Sammed Shete (2.5) v Swapnil Dhopade (2.5); P. Shyaam Nikhil (2.5) v Arghyadip Das (3); Himanshu Sharma (2) v Debashis Das (2.5).