Divya Deshmukh moved closer to retaining the title after an uneventful 30-move draw with Isha Singh in the 10th and penultimate round of the MPL National women’s chess championship at Kolhapur on Wednesday.
With 8.5 points, Divya’s overnight one-point lead stood sliced by half following a 44-move victory for Mary Ann Gomes (8) over Srija Seshadri. An exciting finale is in the offing on Thursday.
Sharing the third spot was the victorious duo of top seed Vantika Agarwal and Bhakti Kulkarni at 7.5 points. Vantika got the better of former champion Soumya Swaminathan and Bhakti came out stronger against M. Mahalakshmi.
Eight players, though out of the title race after aggregating seven points, stayed in contention for a place among the top 10 prize-winners.
A victory for Divya would have effectively ensured her the title with a round to spare. But all credit to Isha for snapping the four-game winning streak of the in-form defending champion. In an equal battle, the players held a pawn-majority on opposite flanks and their defensive approach led to the signing of a peace-treaty.
In contrast, some proactive play from Mary enabled her to checkmate Srija to keep alive her chances of regaining the title. Though Divya has a marginally superior tie-break score after 12 rounds, Mary has reasons to hope for the seasoned Bhakti Kulkarni to end Divya’s unbeaten run on Thursday while being optimistic about her own chances against Rucha Pujari.