A prize-fund of Rs. 35 lakh, spread over three rating-restricted events in the Delhi International chess tournament, is the new bench-mark for those organising chess events in the country.

Though it is high time India played host to at least one ‘elite’ event annually, the one starting in the Capital on Saturday is good enough for those aspiring to match wits with some quality opposition at home.

Russia’s Boris Grachev heads the record field of 192 — last year it was 173 — in Category ‘A’ where only those who have touched a lifetime rating of 2000 or above are eligible to take part.

With the leading Indian chess players repeatedly staying away from this event citing lack of “conditions” (pertaining to adequate appearance money and worthy accommodation), it is not surprising to find the strongest Indian challenger in the field is ninth seed M. R. Lalith Babu.

As a result, overseas challengers, including three Russians among the top-four players, are set to dominate the title-race. Even in last January, when Ukraine’s Andrey Baryshpolets won the title, the best-placed Indian was Deepan Chakkravarthy in the 10th spot!

In the 10-round event, there are 21 Grandmasters and 20 International Masters in the fray. For the talented youngsters, the biggest lure is the opportunity presented by the event to make Grandmaster, Woman Grandmaster, International Master and Woman International Master norms.

So far, only four Indians — R. B. Ramesh (2003), K. Sasikiran (2005), Abhijeet Gupta (2008 and 2014) and Surya Shekhar Ganguly (2009) — have managed to beat the field since the inception of the event in 2003. Going by the quality of foreign players, this list is likely to remain unchanged when the event culminates on January 16.

Concurrently, the Category ‘B’ will also be played over 10 rounds and is limited to those rated over 1600 and below 1999. So far, over 500 entries form the field for the event that ends on January 12. The following day, Category ‘C’ will commence. Here, the entries are likely to touch 800.

The top-10 seeded players:

1. Boris Grachev (Rus, 2652), 2. Ivan Popov (Rus, 2650), 3. David Alberto (Ita, 2597), 4. Anton Demchenko (Rus, 2596), 5. Yuri Solodovnichenko (Ukr, 2581), 6. Vitaly Sivuk (Ukr, 2566), 7. Mikhail Mozharov (Rus, 2599), 8. Vladimir Belous (Rus, 2557), 9. Adam Tukhaev (Ukr, 2556) and M. R. Lalith Babu (Ind, 2553).