National C’ship: Karthikeyan eyes hat-trick

For the next fortnight, 14 players will battle it out for the National title at the four-star Lemon Tree Premier in Patna.

M. Karthikeyan is the favourite to win the National Chess C'ship.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Seldom has the National chess championship found the venue befitting the stature of the flagship event of the game in the country. In over 50 editions, either the players have pointed to the unacceptable conditions or the organiser has found it difficult to find raise the necessary resources to make the event presentable.

Without doubt, there have been exceptions and pleasantly, some organisers have done justice to the premier event.

In sharp contrast to the last edition at Lucknow, where the first round was postponed by a day and the first five rounds were players across multiple venues, this time the men from Bihar have ensured the players may not have much to complain about.

For the next fortnight, 14 players will battle it out for the National title at the four-star Lemon Tree Premier. M. Karthikeyan will be eyeing a hat-trick of National titles in what is being seen as the strongest field in the 55-year-history of the event. After all, the average rating of the field is a whopping 2480!

Million-rupee prize fund

The players battle for a million-rupee prize fund. The winner gets Rs. 2.50 lakh while the 14th-placed takes home Rs. 20,000. This year, none of the seeded players – based on National rankings – showed any interest in being part of the field. As a result, 13 qualifiers from the National challengers have joined defending champion Karthikeyan to form the field. As per the rules, the National champion will be part of the National squad for any team event, selected on the basis of ratings/rankings.

Owing to “Chhatt Puja,” the biggest festival of the state that ended on Friday morning, the organising committee here found it tough to get the necessary manpower till this afternoon. But before Saturday’s first round, the ‘battle-ground’ was expected to be ready for some fierce encounters.

The playing hall on the second floor, overlooking the busy Exhibition Road, adorns the photographs of all 14 players besides, world champions Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.

The players (with ratings):

1. M. Karthikeyan (2578), 2. Aravindh Chithambaram (2573), 3. S. L. Narayanan (2568), 4. M. R. Lalith Babu (2525), 5. Swapnil Dhopade (2516), 6. Himanshu Sharma (2510), 7. Abhijit Kunte (2503), 8. Debashis Das (2494), 9. Deepan Chakkravarthy (2477), 10. Arghyadip Das (2434), 11. P. Shyam Nikhil (2422), 12. S. Nitin (2415), 13. R. R. Laxman (2392), 14. Sammed Shete (2310).

First round pairings:

Laxman-Dhopade; Kunte-Karthikeyan; Chithambaram-Arghyadip; Shete-Debashis; Chakkravarthy-Himanshu; Narayanan-Shyam; Babu-Nitin.