National Team Chess: Petroleum looks to regain lost ground

Petroleum looks to regain 'double'; Holder Railways men, Air-India women pose serious challenge

Rajeev Bhatt

B. Adhiban will be tough to beat in a field of 29.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

With the Petroleum sector employing some of country’s leading performers, like in table tennis, badminton and chess, more often than not, excitement remains at a premium in the race to the National team titles in these events.

As a result, the odd occasions when Petroleum is denied the honours, it becomes news.

In case of the nine-round National team chess championship, beginning at the aesthetically-designed Chess Centre of the sprawling KIIT University here on Thursday, Petroleum is more than eager to regain what it lost here in 2016. After missing the 2017 edition, Petroleum returns to this city to win back a ‘double’.

Shockingly beaten twice and held once in the 2016 edition, the then defending champion Petroleum finished fourth. This year, Petroleum has fielded its strongest-ever combination with the average rating of its five-member team being a whopping 2618!

In the past, complacency among the Petroleum players, when playing as a team, has led to embarrassment to their employers. At least thrice in the last 14 years, Petroleum began as odds-on favourite but did not finish on top.

In 2004 in Pune, eventual champion Indian Airlines stunned Petroleum and in 2010 at Gurgaon, the Air-India repeated the dose. In 2012, in Panjim, Railways ‘A’ upstaged Petroleum but the latter hung in to win the title. Two years ago, Petroleum’s pride was seriously hurt when it
drew with Airports Authority of India and lost to Railways and Air-India.

To make up, Petroleum is here with some serious firepower.

Grandmasters Surya The team of Shekhar Ganguly (rated 2650), B. Adhiban (2643), G. N. Gopal (2593), M. Karthikeyan (2585) and Deep Sengupta (2572) will be tough to beat in a field of 29.

Second seed AAI, not as experienced as Petroleum and Railways ‘A’, will rely on S. L. Narayanan, Shyam Sundar, G. A. Stany, N. R. Visakh and V. A.V. Rajesh.

Railways ‘A’, which defended the title in Petroleum’s absence last year, clearly appears the best among the rest. With four GMs – Swapnil Dhopade, Deepan Chakkravarthy, M. S. Thej Kumar along with International Masters Himanshu Sharma and P. Karthikeyan – Railways ‘A’ should fancy its chances against higher-seed AAI.

In the seven-round women section, Petroleum, defending champion Air India and AAI form the creamy layer of the 11-team field.

Petroleum, comprising Eesha Karavade, Soumya Swaminathan, Mary Ann Gomes, Padmini Rout and Nisha Mohota, faces a tough challenge from the experienced unit from Air India.

These days, Air-India’s Tania Sachdev, S. Vijayalakshmi, S. Meenakshi and Aarthie Ramaswamy neither participate nor perform very consistently. Bhakti Kulkarni could provide the cutting edge.

The leading teams (with average rating):
Open: 1. Petroleum (2618), 2. Airports Authority of India (2513) 3. Railways ‘A’ (2503) 4. Air India (2453), 5. Railways ‘B’ (2429).
Women: 1. Petroleum (2347), 2. Air-India (2309), 3. Airports Authority of India (2168).