Stage set for 55th World junior championship

About 140 players from across the globe are competing in this Under-20 event, which was inaugurated by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at a well-attended function.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik (seated at the centre) during the inaugural ceremony of the World Junior Chess Championship at Bhubaneswar   -  P. K. AJITH KUMAR

Modernity meets history here. The capital city of Odisha in its present form may have begun to take shape only in 1948, but the area’s history is more than 2,000 years old and the site of Emperor Ashoka’s famed war of Kalinga is nearby.

It is an ideal venue therefore for an exalted event of a royal sport that is so ancient, yet so revolutionised by modern technology. The air is expectant on this pleasant Sunday evening at the KIIT University campus, where the 55th World junior chess championship gets underway on Monday.

It is not just the most prestigious tournament in the age-category chess — and there are probably more in this sport than any other — but a fairly decent predictor of future World champions, as well. Russians Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky as well as India’s own Viswanathan Anand have all won the World juniors and gone on to take the ultimate World crown.

Most exciting players

So you could expect to see some of the most exciting players in world chess in action here over the next fortnight. Among them are Vladislav Artemiev of Russia and Jeffery Xiong of the United States. While Artemiev, with an Elo rating of 2655, has a World ranking of 81 (among all players, not just juniors), Xiong is ranked 149th, with a rating of 2633. They are the top contenders for the boys’ title.

But, they will have to overcome strong challenge over 13 Swiss rounds from the likes of Aravindh Chithambaram, one of the brightest prospects in Indians chess today. With a rating of 2543, he is seeded seventh. S. L. Narayanan, Karthikeyan Murali and Shardul Gagare are the other Indians among the top 20 seeds. Then there are the lesser-rated, but much younger wonderboys like R. Pragnananda and Nihal Sarin.

The last time an Indian boy won this title was Abhjeet Gupta, in 2008. The last Indian girl to triumph was Soumya Swaminathan, who had sprung a surprise in 2009. Here, Pratyusha Bodda is the highest-rated Indian, with a rating of 2329. She is seeded fourth. The other Indian girls in the fray include R. Vaishali, Priyanka Nutakki and Michelle Catherina.

Though, Sarasadat Khademalsharieh of Iran is seeded first, she has not reported yet. If she doesn’t turn up, Kazakhstan’s Dinara Saduakassova (2423) will get the top billing. About 140 players from across the globe are competing in this Under-20 event, which was inaugurated by Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at a well-attended function.