World Junior Chess: Karthikeyan, Aravindh, Vaishali carry India’s title hopes

M. Karthikeyan and Aravindh Chithambaram will be keen to make amends for their disappointing performances at the last edition of World Junior Chess.

Aravindh Chithambaram (in picture) is seeded third in the World Junior Chess Championship.   -  RANJEET KUMAR

After R. Praggnanandhaa showed the way in winning the world under-18 title last week in Mumbai, the pressure of expectations shifts to his training partners M. Karthikeyan and Aravindh Chithambaram to emerge triumphant in the World Junior Chess Championship beginning here on Tuesday.

Karthikeyan and Aravindh will be keen to make amends for their disappointing performances in the last edition. Karthieyan, seeded four, came 14th while Aravindh, seeded 10th, ended up 15th. In contrast, exceeding all expectations, 23rd seed Abhimanyu Puranik finished runner-up.

With Karthikeyan and Aravindh, seeded second and third, having to deal with added pressure, 14-year-old Praggnanandhaa is expected to perform more freely. But his sister, R. Vaishali will be the one feeling the heat as she carries the Indian medal hopes in the girls’ section.

The fourth seed heads the home brigade that includes Divya Deshmukh, Rakshitta Ravi and Vantika Agarwal – all medallists in the World Youth Championship in Mumbai on Saturday.

Read: Koneru Humpy climbs up to No. 3 in latest rankings

In all, the two sections have attracted 189 entries from 51 countries. India has fielded 63 players – the quota of one-third of participants allowed for the host.

The field is headed by Iranian Amin Tabatabaei, rated 2642, ranked third in his country. In fact, provisionally, Iran named its top two players – Alireza Firouzja (2702) and the defending World junior champion Parham Maghshoodloo (2664) for this championship, thereby providing the top three seeds in the open section.

But Firouzja withdrew after an impressive World Cup and Maghsoodloo chose to play in the ongoing Grand Swiss. But Tabatabaei’s presence gives Iran reasons to be optimistic of keeping the title.

India awaits the coronation of its fourth champion in each section. In the open section, Viswanathan Anand (1987), P. Hari Krishna (2004) and Abhijeet Gupta (2008) emerged as champions. Among the girls, K. Humpy (2001), D. Harika (2008) and Soumya Swaminathan (2009) have tasted success. Somehow, on seven occasions when India hosted the event – the last time in 2016 – the home-grown talents fell short of winning the title.

Vaishali, the only Woman Grandmaster in both sections, could find the going tough since her rating of 2385 is way below China’s Zhu Jiner (2507), Greece’s Stavroula Tsolakidou (2431), Bulgaria’s Nurgyul Salimova (2415) and the recently-crowned two-time World under-18 champion Russia’s Polina Shuvalova (2412).

In comparision, the duo of Karthikeyan and Aravindh have better prospects. Karthikeyan, a two-time National champion, was the surprise runner-up in this year’s cash-rich Gibraltar Masters after beating top seeded Frenchman Maxime-Vachier Lagrave. He surely knows how to deal with pressure.

Aravindh, the only Indian to hold the National titles in classical, rapid and blitz at the same time, is looking for his ‘breakthrough’ moment in an international event. His mental toughness will be on test this fortnight as he chases the biggest title of his career.

Other Indian GMs in the hunt are, Harsha Bharathakoti, N. R. Visaskh, P. Iniyan and Karthik Venkataraman. Several Indian International Masters can also be expected to punch above their weight.

After a productive World Youth championship, it remains to be seen if the host adds more medals from yet another global competition and make October the most productive month in country’s chess history.