Indian chess is set to turn a new leaf. After over 50 years of a two-tier National championship, this month will see the coronation of the National champion here in a single event.

The National championship, beginning at the Gurjar Desh Charitable Trust hall here on Saturday, could well be remembered for ending decades of confusion arising due to the presence of two ‘National’ champions every year.

In December 1967, the National ‘B’ was introduced in Poona (now Pune) to determine the qualifiers for the National championship, thereafter called the National ‘A’. In 2009, National ‘B’ was rechristened as an equally-confusing “National Challengers” and National ‘A’ became
“National Premier” without serving any purpose.

Last December, it was decided to return to the format last seen in 1966. To lure the bigger names, the prize-money was enhanced to Rs. 20 lakh. The winner’s share is Rs. 5 lakh while the 10th finisher receives Rs. 75,000.

Since the event is being played concurrently with the Asian Continental championship in Manila, the cream of Indian chess is missing. Though Viswanathan Anand was never expected to be back, most of the other leading names are in Manila.

Abhijeet Gupta, the 2011 champion, leads the pack of 19 Grandmasters, two GMs in-waiting, 22 International Masters and a Woman Grandmaster in this 13-round event.

Second seed M. Karthikeyan, winner in 2015 and 2016, is back for more. Vaibhav Suri and 2017 runner-up Aravindh Chithambaram, seeded three and four, are seeking their maiden title. The top four seeds are ranked between eighth and 11th in the country.

Among the veterans, seven-time winner and country’s oldest Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay is back in the hunt.

In terms of quantity, too, the response from only 165 players, has left the AICF a tad disappointed since it expected to rake in more money from the entry fees, particularly the ‘donor’ entrants. The entry fee for those qualified from state or under different categories
is Rs. 3,000. In comparison, the ‘donor’ entry-fee is pitched at Rs. 10,000 from those not otherwise qualified. This amount is shared equally by the local organiser and the AICF.

Over all, the event promises plenty of surprises before the ‘big names’ assert their superiority in the second week.