National Chess Championship: Day of off-the-board drama

Sunday provided more drama off the board than the over-the-board action witnessed in the National chess championship so far. Some semblance of order was introduced to the championship but not before five players withdrew.

The intervention of AICF president P. R. Venketrama Raja worked and an unprecedented fourth venue was finalised in a bid to pacify those who withdrew.   -  Rajeev Bhatt (File photo)

Sunday provided more drama off the board than the over-the-board action witnessed in the National chess championship so far. Some semblance of order was introduced to the championship but not before five players withdrew and the fourth round went ahead with only eight players of remaining nine players on view.

Thereafter, the intervention of the All India Chess Federation president worked and an unprecedented fourth venue was finalised in a bid to pacify those who withdrew.

Before noon, five players – top seed Vidit Gujarathi, Abhijit Kunte, Tejas Bakre, Neeraj Kumar Mishra and Abhishek Kelkar – withdrew from the championship after finding the “playing conditions completely intolerable.” In the meantime, the organiser had moved the championship to a third venue in four days after being asked to evict Lucknow Public School on Saturday.

The organiser, ignoring the ethical and principled stand taken by these five players who sought to play with their dignity intact, went ahead with the fourth round at the new venue. It is pertinent to note that these five players, in their joint letter, described the playing conditions as “absolutely horrible.”

They stated, “Even the basic standards of playing are not met for such a prestigious tournament. Players are severely affected by all the uncertainty and chaos. This is not how a tournament of this stature should be organised.”

The players also pointed to a “clear breach of FIDE’s Code of Ethics 2.2.2 that states “Office-bearers who through their behaviour no longer inspire the necessary confidence or have in other ways become unworthy of trust."

They also cited another section, 2.2.3 that states, “Organisers, tournament directors, arbiters or other officials who fail to perform their functions in an impartial and responsible manner.” The five players also decided to apprise AICF President P. R. Venketrama Raja of the situation.

As it turned out, Raja promptly responded to Vidit’s email and asked the players not to withdraw from the premier event. Raja spoke to these players and soon asked the organiser to shift the venue to a five-star hotel, with the AICF ready to foot the bill. In fact, the proactive and gracious President wondered how the remaining nine players could choose to continue in such conditions!

The intervention by the Chennai-based AICF president, who is reaching here on Monday, bore fruits. By the evening, Hotel Renaissance was announced as venue for the remaining rounds. Tejas Bakre welcomed the change in situation and said, “Thanks to Mr. Raja and given the respect we have for his gesture, we have decided to rejoin the event.

"After all, our fight was for better playing conditions. He also agreed that the AICF would take care of the monetary losses the players suffered by changing their travel schedule.” However, Neeraj Mishra indicated he would stick to his decision to withdraw. Raja is expected to meet all the players on Monday morning. During the meeting it will be decided whether to hold the three ‘scheduled’ games of Sunday on November 23, the rest day, or extend the event by another day.

Meanwhile, in the on-board action, Aravindh Chithambaram bounced back from Saturday’s defeat to nail Sriram Jha in an authoritative manner. Playing from the black side of Kings Indian Samisch, Aravindh forced the white king to come out for a walk and caught it in a check-mating net in 38 moves.

In the other games, Ravi Teja outplayed Surya Praneeth in 37 moves, S. Nitin beat Chandra Prasad and B. Adhiban drew with R. R. Laxman.