Meenakshi emerges unlikely sole leader on dramatic day

S. Meenakshi beat Nandhidhaa, while Mary, Bhakti, Swati also picked up victories in the 44th National women’s premier chess championship on Monday.

P.V. Nandhidhaa (extreme left) taking a look at the game between Soumya Swaminathan and Bhakti Kulkarni in the ninth round of the National women's premier chess championship at Surat.   -  P. K. Ajith Kumar

On a dramatic day that saw the fortunes fluctuate on crucial boards, S. Meenakshi emerged as the unlikely sole leader after the ninth round of the Iwasa 44th National women’s premier chess championship.

She defeated overnight joint-leader P.V. Nandhidhaa in the all-Tamil Nadu encounter to move to 6.5 points at the Surat Tennis Club on Monday. Chasing her, half-a-point behind are defending champions Padmini Rout, Bhakti Kulkarni and Nandhidhaa.

The other big news of the day was the defeat of Padmini, who had been sharing the lead with Nandhidhaa. She was beaten by top seed Mary Ann Gomes, for whom the result has come a bit too late in the day, as she is in the seventh place with five points.

“It would have been better if I had got such a victory a couple of rounds earlier,” admitted Mary after beating Padmini in 45 moves of Sicilian Maroczy Bind variation. “I could win this game because she overstretched herself a bit, I feel. She could have drawn the game comfortably, if she wanted to.”

Read: Padmini, Nandhidhaa post wins, share lead

She was speaking shortly after the reigning champion resigned, with Black about to get another queen on the board; the ‘a’ pawn had reached on the second rank.

Some time later, Meenakshi had actually transformed one of her pawns into a queen against Nandhidhaa. The younger woman was distraught after losing the game in 88 moves; a win in this game would have put her in an excellent position for the title besides getting her a WGM (Woman Grand Master) norm.

Playing from the white side of a Philidor Defence, she had a clearly better position before she blundered with her rook on the 38th move and allowed Meenakshi to come back into the game. Much to her dismay, she entered an inferior rook-and-pawn ending, which was always going to be difficult against an experienced WGM.

The day was just as bad for Soumya Swaminathan, who blundered her way into a mating net. The third-seeded former champion had reached a winning position in their Catalan game, having gained material.

Bhakti, understandably, was smiling broadly after the 38-move game, as she suddenly found herself in with a chance for the crown. “I was lucky today,” she said.

In the important games in the penultimate round on Tuesday (December 5), Kiran Manisha Mohanty takes on Meenakshi, Srishti Pandey meets Nandhidhaa, Bhakti plays Padmini and Sakshi Chitlange faces Soumya.

The results (ninth round):

P.V. Nandhidhaa 6 lost to S. Meenakshi 6.5; Padmini Rout 6 lost to Mary Ann Gomes 5; Soumya Swaminathan 5.5 lost to Bhakti Kulkarni 6; Swati Ghate 5 beat Sakshi Chitlange 4.5; Samriddhaa Ghosh 3 drew with Srishti Pandey 1.