Among the elite

AFTER Viswanathan Anand and K. Sasikiran, it is now the turn of P. Hari Krishna to make his presence felt among the chess elite.

RAKESH RAO

AFTER Viswanathan Anand and K. Sasikiran, it is now the turn of P. Hari Krishna to make his presence felt among the chess elite.

P. Hari Krishna with his World junior medal. But he rates his recent success, in the Bermuda tournament, to be greater than that.-K.RAMESH BABU

The World junior champion's stunning performance in the recent Bermuda International Invitational Tournament may have gone largely unnoticed, but in the chess fraternity, it was a reinforcement of the growing belief that the cream of Indian chess is gradually spreading wide and deep.

Significant was the manner in which Hari bounced back from the eighth-round defeat and won the last two rounds to share the title with top seed Boris Gelfand. After suffering his lone reverse at the hands of Gelfand, Hari had slipped from the joint-top place to fourth spot. But the gritty boy produced manly performances against Cuba's Lenier Dominguez and Poland's Macieja Bartlomiej to sign off the campaign in great style.

What also helped Hari's cause was Gelfand's decision to draw the last two rounds against Andrei Volokitin and Dominguez, seeded two and three. Hari's tally of six points, same as an unbeaten Gelfand's, earned him 14 rating points.

For the record, Hari became only the second Indian, after Anand, to win a title in a field where the average rating of the six-player field was a whopping 2656.17. Considering that Hari was seeded a distant fifth in the elite group, the achievement is even more commendable.

"This title is bigger than the World junior crown," declared Hari on his return to India and before adding, "honestly, I did not expect to win in such a strong field. Since I began as the fifth seed, I only wanted to play some good games."

Obviously, nobody gave Hari a chance of outwitting names like Gelfand and Voloktin, ranked 17 and 20 in the world. The presence of Dominquez and Brazil's Vescovi Giovanni, 42nd and 52nd on the world list, also reduced Hari's chances of making a splash. More than the rating and capabilities of the players involved, it was Hari's lack of experience of playing such a premier event that was being seen as a major factor.

But if one looks at Hari's steady progress since July 2003, it was indeed time for the youngster to strike big. In the past 20 months, Hari's rating rose from 2558 to 2632 and placed him at a career-high world ranking of 69.

After winning the World junior title in Kochi late last year, Hari was thinking of taking part in the Aeroflot Open (in Moscow). But the World junior crown earned him an invitation from Bermuda and Hari began his preparations to make the most of a great opportunity.

"Since it was six-player double round-robin event, preparing for these matches was easy. Overall, I was happy with my preparations. In the match that I lost to Gelfand, he played a `novelty' that I was not aware of. Actually, the particular game where this move was played earlier was not on the website from where the players download the games. I was a bit unlucky in that respect. Unaware as I was of the `novelty', I tried to find a way out over the board but it was not to be. I defended well for some time but it did not help," recalled Hari as he spoke about 38-move loss with black pieces.

"After this defeat, I was a point behind Gelfand and thought of salvaging whatever I could in the remaining two rounds. I was keen on finishing the tournament on a high note. Then came my best game of the tournament, against Dominguez (with white pieces), in the ninth round. At the same time, I did not expect Gelfand to draw with Volokitin (in 30 moves) and again with Dominguez (in 31 moves) in the final round where I got a good position with black pieces against Macieja and managed to catch up with Gelfand," said Hari.

Top seed Boris Gelfand, who shared the title with Hari Krishna.-ARVIND AARON

Surprisingly, Volokitin's form deserted him against Dominguez in both the matches. The youngster, who played a spectacular role in Ukraine's title-winning campaign in the Olympiad at Mallorca in October last year, also lost to Giovanni. He made amends for these three losses by scoring an equal number of victories, including two over Macieja. Gelfand, the only unbeaten player in the competition, scored just two victories, one each against Macieja and Hari.

Hari is now hoping to get more invitations from some elite events in Europe after topping the World junior and the Bermuda event in succession. Besides invitations, Hari is also hoping for a sponsor to come his way.

"My sponsorship with Wipro ended in December and now I don't have any financial support. At this point of my career, I know I am playing some very strong chess and need invitations from strong tournaments to consolidate the gains. But without a sound sponsor, it will be difficult," said an understandably worried Hari.

Hari plans to skip the Commonwealth championship at Bikaner and the Chhatisgarh CM tournament at Raipur. With the organisation of the Asian championship at Kochi in a limbo, Hari's next appearance is likely to be in the Dubai Open in April. One can expect a well-rested Hari to script one more thrilling finish.