A great debut for Abhijit Kunte


ABHIJIT KUNTE waved his hands. The television crew froze. Cameras were switched off and the Grandmaster moved towards the adjacent top board. The third-seed watched S. S. Ganguly and D. V. Prasad matching wits in the eleventh and final round of the ninth National rapid chess championship at the Koramangala Indoor Stadium on May 30.

Soon relief and joy lit up his face and Abhijit broke into a grin. Ganguly and D.V. Prasad were heading for a draw and it only meant one thing - Abhijit Kunte had won the championship. It was a grand debut in National rapid chess.

"I have often lost in Bangalore before. This time it's special since I won in my first National rapid chess tournament," Kunte said. Abhijit (9.5 pts) edged past second seed S. S. Ganguly (9), who led the points tally until the concluding day.

The Petroleum Sports Control Board (PSCB) colleagues had hardly bargained for a face-off in the four-day championship after Ganguly (8 pts) was clear leader over Abhijit (6.5 pts) at the conclusion of the eighth round on the penultimate day. And Abhijit's shock loss to Sunderarajan Kidambi in the fourth round did not help matters either. Initially Abhijit rode high on the Queens Gambit Decline game but his error-prone end game helped Kidambi to make it a Queen and win.

In the ninth round match between Abhijit and Ganguly, Ganguly lost while an inspired Abhijit topped the championship table by winning his subsequent matches against Aravind Shastri and R. R. Laxman.

Ganguly undid his Sicilian Defence by shifting knight into d2 in the 11th move. Abhijit, with his Bishops remaining strong, fended off Ganguly's attacks on the King's side. "He (Ganguly) was tense after getting eight out of eight overnight while I had nothing to lose," Abhijit said.

Ganguly's bid to win came unstuck as he was checkmated. It was his worst day as K. Ratnakaran and D.V. Prasad held him to a draw in the 10th and 11th rounds. The draw against D.V. Prasad hurt Ganguly as he needed a win to wrest the title. A victory would have placed Ganguly and Abhijit on level terms - 9.5 points each - but a better progressive score would have secured the top slot for the Kolkata-based International Master.

Tamil Nadu's M.R. Venkatesh grabbed the third spot. He scored an upset win over top-seed P. Harikrishna in the tenth round. The 17-year-old had emerged third in the last edition, and he was keen to better that position.

However, it was a repeat act after Abhijit and Ganguly secured the first and second spots. Venkatesh bagged nine points but a lower progressive score pegged him below Ganguly. Venkatesh and Harikrishna were equals in the Sicilian Pelican opening until the top-seed's 26th move of playing Ne7 backfired.

Top-seed and GM, Harikrishna had to rest content in the ninth spot with seven points. In the eighth round, he was drawn against second seeded Ganguly who offered a draw. However P. Harikrishna refused and his desperate bid to win proved costly as Ganguly won.

Harikrishna used a Scheveningen variation in the Sicilian defence and tested Ganguly. The top-seed, however, courted disaster with his e5 move to activate the pieces, helping Ganguly gain a pawn with b5 in the 27th move. Harikrishna was forced to trade Queen and employ a double rook and knight end game. Ganguly exchanged Queen and other pieces and promoted his 'e' pawn to Queen and won the game.

Ganguly, however, lost tempo on the final day, against D.V. Prasad.

The All India Chess Federation secretary P. T. Ummer Koya gave away the prizes. The organisers - C.V. Raman Chess Club - awarded the Most Promising Local Player award to Karnataka's R. Hanumantha.

The final standings (top 10 with progressive scores in brackets): 1. Abhijit Kunte (PSCB) 9.5 (53.0); 2. S.S. Ganguly (PSCB) 9 (61.5); 3. M.R. Venkatesh (TNCA) 9 (56.0); 4. Neelotpal Das (GNCA) 8 (44.0); 5. Devaki Prasad (PSCB) 7.5 (48.0); 6. G.B. Prakash (BSCB) 7.5 (46.5); 7. Sriram Jha (LIC) 7 (49.5); 8. S. Kidambi (TNCA) 7 (47.5); 9. P. Harikrishna (APCA) 7 (47.0); 10. K. Ratnakaran (Ker) 7 (45.5).

The results (top 10 boards, last two rounds): Eleventh round: S.S Ganguly (9) drew with Devaki Prasad (7.5), Abhijit Kunte (9.5) bt R.R. Laxman (7), M.R. Venkatesh (9) bt K. Ratnakaran (7), Sriram Jha (7) lost to Neelotpal Das (8), P. Harikrishna (7) drew with Vivek Kumar Shukla (7), G.B. Prakash (7.5) bt R.B. Ramesh (6.5), Aravind Shastri (7) drew with T.S. Ravi (7), Sunderarajan Kidambi (7) bt Varghese Koshy (6), N. Sudhakar Babu (6.5) drew with R. Sidharth (6.5), C.J. Aravind (6.5) drew with Roktim Bandopadyay (6.5).

Tenth round: K. Ratnakaran drew with S.S. Ganguly, Aravind Shastri lost to Abhijit Kunte, M.R. Venkatesh bt P. Harikrishna, Devaki Prasad drew with Sriram Jha, Neelotpal Das bt S. Kidambi, R.R. Laxman bt N. Sudhakar Babu, R.B. Ramesh bt Yogesh Gore, Vivek Kumar Shukla bt Dinesh Kumar Sharma, Arghyadip Das lost to G.B. Prakash, Varghese Koshy drew with N. Satyapragyan.