The National championship makes a return in the same calendar year. Nine months after Arjun Erigaisi and D. Gukesh began their march from Kanpur to stardom, the same platform will offer a similar opportunity to a number of established names, all ready for the challenges from the young brigade.
The 11-round flagship event opens at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here on Thursday, with newly-married S. P. Sethuraman being the rating favourite among around 200 players. With local boy Vaibhav Suri pulling out, the 2011 champion Abhijeet Gupta will be the new second seed.
As compared to the field seen in the previous edition, the number of Grandmasters has fallen from 22 to 17, International Masters from 30 to 26, the number of titled players from 70 to 63 but overall, the field is marginally bigger.
Till late evening on Wednesday, there was uncertainty over the participation of Grandmaster Vishnu Prasanna, better known these days as the coach of Gukesh.
Moreover, it is a matter of concern that only three players - Sethuraman (ranked 9th), Abhijeet (19th) and Leon Mendonca (24th) - from the country’s top-25 list are around for the country’s richest Nationals, offering Rs. 30 lakh as prize-money.
Some players have prior commitments to play in overseas events but several others are wary of the hidden playing strength of some of the lower-rated names in the field. The fear of losing their carefully-collected rating points from comparatively weaker fields in overseas Open events, is seen as the main reason for the large number of notable absentees.
At the same time, it allows some others to hog the limelight, much like what Arjun, Gukesh and P. Iniyan did in March. In fact, Arjun and Gukesh did not look back and went on to temporarily break into the top-20 of the world.
With the All India Chess Federation continuing to host the women’s National championship concurrently, this time at Kolhapur, no leading woman player is in the fray here.
The top-10 seeds:
1. S. P. Sethuraman (2642), 2. Abhijeet Gupta (2601), 3. Leon Mendonca (2566), 4. N. R. Visakh (2544), 5. M. Shyam Sundar (2526), 6. Aronyak Ghosh (2521), 7. Koustav Chatterjee (2508), 8. P. Iniyan (2507), 9. Karthik Venkataraman (2503), 10. Swapnil Dhopade (2499).
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