Sanity returns to National Challengers Championship

The tournament, that faced rough waters last year, is set to return with 13 Grandmasters and 17 International Masters.

Third seed M. R. Lalith Babu, top seed Aravindh Chithambaram, Padmini Rout and Mary Ann Gomes are all set for the National challengers chess championship in Ahmedabad.

After a year that saw the two-tier National chess championship hit an abysmal low, a sense of sanity was bound to return ahead of the 2017 season. The decision of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) to make the 2016 edition of the National Challengers championship an “unrated” event was scorned at, by the players, arbiters and the organiser alike.

The National championship that followed in Lucknow proved to be an organisational disaster too. The situation reached a point where the top brass of the AICF rushed to venue to save the event from being called off midway.

Mercifully, the “rating” status of the Challengers event, starting on Sunday, has been restored. As a result, the 13-round event inaugurated by cricketer Parthiv Patel here on Saturday, is sure to witness serious intent leading to high intensity of competition, something that was missing in the last edition.

No wonder, the number of entries that stood at 167 last year, has risen to 253 this year. Like last year, the field is headed by young Grandmaster Aravindh Chithambaram who will be keen to make amends for his poor ninth-place finish last year. Second seed S. L. Narayanan, too, has reasons to give off his best in order to erase memory of his dismal 15th place finish.

Since the event offers nine spots for the 14-player National championship, 13 GMs and 17 International Masters have entered the fray. In indication of the depth in the field can be gauged from the fact that there are 30 players rated in excess of 2300 that include 16 rated above 2400.

Mary Ann Gomes and Padmini Rout, who have completed hat-trick of National ladies titles by turns in the last six years, are part of the strong field. Lalith Babu is back in search of his maiden title in the championship.

For the first time, N. Srinath and Himashu Sharma will be playing as Grandmasters. When the city last hosted the championship in 2006, Himanshu finished runner-up. GM-elect M. S. Thej Kumar will be looking for 18 rating points to meet the 2500-point stipulation and become Karnataka’s first Grandmaster.

In short, plenty of surprises are in store once the initial rounds produce some predictable results.

Leading players (those rated above 2400): 1. Aravindh Chithambaram (2579), 2. S. L. Narayanan (2564), 3. M. R. Lalith Babu (2529), 4. N. Srinath (2524), 5. Swapnil Dhopade (2516), 6. Himanshu Sharma (2514), 7. Abhijit Kunte (2505), 8. Debashis Das (2493), 9. M. S. Thej Kumar (2481), 10. Deepan Chakkravarthy (2466), 11. Tejas Bakre (2464), 12. Swayams Mishra (2455), 13. P. Shyam Nikhil (2447), 14. S. Nitin (2421), 15. Arghyadip Das (2419), 16. S. Satyapragyan (2410).