A moment to cherish for Ramesh

THE self-belief of Viswanathan Anand is gradually rubbing off on the other Indian chess players. For over a decade now, Anand remains among the leading names of the game. His consistency is unmatched by any other sportsperson from any other discipline in the country's sports history. He was the first Indian to emerge as a contender and not just another competitor in an international field. Today, a bunch of younger players are working hard to take a leaf out of Anand's book and re-write new chapters in Indian chess.

K. Sasikiran, P. Hari Krishna and Koneru Humpy are the players who have won international titles in the past few years. They represent the new 'force' formed after Anand showed the way in the late 80s. A number of new continental champions from India, in various age-groups, continue to motivate the pre-teen and teenaged talents.

R. B. Ramesh, who won the British chess championship.-R. V. MOORTHY

With more and more Indians starting their campaign in international competitions as favourites, or among the favourites, some of the less-accomplished players, too, are rediscovering themselves.

One such player turned out to be R. B. Ramesh.

For Ramesh, the British chess championship proved fruitful for more than just one reason. Seeded 23, Ramesh outwitted several bigger names and posted four straight victories to claim the men's title. Besides earning a winner's share of 10,000 pounds, what this title gave Ramesh was a lot of confidence. The victory brought respect from all quarters and that, in turn, filled him with pride. Ironically, Ramesh's second GM-norm, something he had missed so narrowly in the past season, was pushed back in the background of his stupendous finish.

Among the women, Koneru Humpy, too, did her pride a world of good. Belittled in the Indian chess circles for being grossly overrated, Humpy, for once, showed her capabilities and proved equal to higher-rated players such as top seed Sasikiran, Hari and Sandipan Chanda. She also beat Mark Hebden whose rating stands at 2534. By finishing at the top among the women and 12th overall, Humpy regained the title she won in 2000. She still holds the record for the youngest ever women's champion in the annual championship which started nearly nine decades ago. Perhaps, now, she is the youngest ever to regain the title, as well.

Besides the men's and women's titles, there were other major gains for the Indians. Sasikiran finished joint second with James Gallagher, while Dibyendu Barua and Abhijit Kunte came fourth and seventh respectively. Surya Sekhar Ganguly, Hari, Humpy and Chanda were among those who occupied ninth to 14th places.

Though the performance of the other Indian women was not much to talk about, S. Meenakshi finally managed to gain her maiden Woman Grandmaster norm.

In the age-group competitions, C. M. Gauri Shankar finished on top of the heap in the under-9, under-10 and under-11 sections. Sahaj Grover collected silver medals in the under-8 and under-10 categories.

Coming back to the main championship, much was expected from Sasikiran. His rating of 2650 made him an overwhelming favourite since the next best in the list was the experienced British Grandmaster Jonanthan Speelman, at 2583.

Sasikiran, who has remarkably enhanced his ratings and collected a number of titles in the year so far, is sure to find it difficult to progress at a similar pace. Till last year, Sasikiran was not such a known quantity. But now his rivals will be spending more time while preparing against him. He, too, will have to dig deeper into the games of those in the fray to meet the tougher challenges ahead.

After his success in China and a below-par showing in the Czech Open, Sasikiran's joint-second place finish should be seen as a fairly decent showing. One should remember that Sasikiran was held thrice in succession before being beaten in the sixth, by Mathew Turner. Thereafter, in the remaining five rounds, Sasikiran drew the eighth and won the rest for a strong finish. Similarly, Ramesh, too, scored 4.5 points from the last five rounds. It was indeed an example of fortune favouring the brave. Ramesh, after victories over Barua and Kunte in the eighth and ninth rounds, met the norm-requirements in great style. But he did not stop at that. He accounted for fourth seed Jonathan Rowson to share the lead with Stewart Haslinger and Luke McShane. Ramesh, playing with black pieces in the final round, took care of McShane while Gallagher stopped Haslinger. Thus Ramesh emerged as an outright champion with a half-point margin.

Gallagher, seeded 14th, remained unbeaten but missed a chance to win the title owing to his three successive draws ending with the penultimate round.

Seventh seeded Barua, among the leaders after six rounds, lost his way following losses to Gallagher and Ramesh, in that order. But the seasoned Barua bounced back to win the remaining three rounds and finished a creditable fourth.

Seeking their GM title-norms, Ganguly and Chanda again fell short. Ganguly, after a loss and four draws from eight rounds, needed to win the remaining rounds to achieve his goal. He did win the ninth round against Chris Ward but drew the next two with Bogdan Lalic and Hari and fell out of contention.

Chanda's norm-chances suffered setbacks following defeats to Sasikiran in the second round and to Speelman in the fifth. He tried to revive his hopes but another loss, in the eighth round to Gary Lane, ended it all. He collected two victories and a draw in the last three rounds to finish two places above his 16th seeding.

Overall, this year's British championship will be remembered as the one dominated by the Indians. There were eight Indians among the top 14 finishers and this shows that the Indians not only competed in large numbers but also captured a majority of the leading spots. From being also-rans, a few seasons ago, to strong contenders, the Indian players have truly come a long way in these championships.

The final standings: 1. R. B. Ramesh (8.5 points); 2-3. G. Joseph Gallagher and K. Sasikiran (8 each); 4-8. Dibyendu Barua, Glenn Flear, Stewart Haslinger, Abhijit Kunte and J. Luke McShane (7.5 each); 9-17. Surya Sekhar Ganguly, Daniel Gormally, P. Hari Krishna, K. Humpy, Bogdan Lalic, Sandipan Chanda, Jonathan Speelman, J. Mathew Turner and Peter Wells (7 each).

Other Indians: 48. S. Meenakshi, 49. Aarthie Ramaswamy, 50. V. Saravanan, 52. Bhagyashree Thipsay, 53. S. Vijayalakshmi (5.5 each); 69. Saheli Dhar-Barua (4.5); 83. Swati Ghate (4).