Andhra youngsters steal the show

ANDHRA youngsters stole the honours at the 17th National Under-7 boys & girls chess championships sponsored by the Vel's Srinivasa College of Engineering & Technology. The event held at Thalambur on the outskirts of Chennai halfway to Mahabalipuram, was a 11-round swiss for 110 boys and 63 girls from all over the country.

M. Ravi Teja (left) and K. Sai Nirupama, the National under-7 champions, pose with the chief guest, GM R. B. Ramesh. — Pic. N. BALAJI-

The girls section was a one-horse race with K. Sai Nirupama of Andhra winning all her 11 games and authoritatively taking the title by a stupendous margin of 2.5 points from her closest rivals, including top seed S. Chandana Priya Reddy. She took sole lead at the end of the fifth round and had virtually won the title by the end of the ninth when she had scored 9/9.

M. Ravi Teja of the Chess Academy of Hyderabad clinched the Under-7 boys title in the very last round after a nail-biting finish. He had taken the lead for the first time at the end of the sixth round. But two rounds later he was sharing it with Deepthamsh Reddy also of Andhra. In the ninth round he got into a half point lead again and then squandered it away in the tenth and penultimate round by drawing in 15 moves. So, with one round to go he was on tie with State-mate Lalith Ambhilash Reddy and a host of other Andhra players on their tail.

Lalith lost his last round game and Ravi became champion by drawing with Niraj Saripalli of Goa to finish outright with nine points.

The Andhra players have shown their class here by winning most of the prizes. Of the top ten finishers in the boys, eight are from Andhra and in the girls, seven are Andhras. The other five States who got just one place each in the top ten in both the boys and girls put together are from Goa, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Manipur and Maharashtra.

The two champions got Rs. 5,000 and a trophy each as first prize. But a bigger prize awaits them when they get back home as the Andhra Pradesh Government awards Rs. 1.4 lakhs to all National champions.

Off the board, parents and coaches (they are not allowed inside the playing hall) were waging a different sort of battle when the games were going on inside. Most of them alleged that some players, most of them from Andhra, spurred on by hopes of getting huge financial rewards, are more than seven years old but were passing off as Under Sevens with the aid of bogus age certificates. Only a few of such players produced certificates from Panchayats or Municipalities where the birth is registered within two weeks of birth. Some of these certificates showed that the birth registrations were made only in 2002. The All India Chess Federation may soon have to bring in a scheme of medical examination for those alleged to be over-aged. The count-down electronic Fischer chess clock was used in good measure in this championship and many of the players were seeing this new, sophisticated clock for the first time. Still they understood and operated it without any confusion. The players were allocated 90 minutes each when they started the game. The time counted down to zero as they made moves and punched the buttons of their clock. But every time a move was made and the button pushed, the clock automatically added 30 seconds to the remaining time of the player making the move.

Remarkably, for the first time in the history of the Under-7, daily game bulletins as in international tournaments were produced by the organisers and sold at Rs. 200 per complete set. Due to frequent electricity break-downs in the rural location, the computerisation and photo copying of the bulletins suffered delays.

It was easier to count the States that went unrepresented here. The Northern States of Jammu & Kashmir and Haryana were absent. From the North East, only Assam and Manipur sent players, the other five States bordering either Myanmar or Bangladesh finding it too difficult to participate. Considering that there is no international event to which winners from this championship could qualify and that Under-Sevens have to be accompanied by at least one parent, invariably the mother who must also keep the home fire burning, the number of entries was very pleasing and a sign that chess is taken seriously by many newcomers.

Grandmaster-elect R. B. Ramesh and cine star Raja gave away the prizes at a well-attended closing ceremony. The Chairman of the Vel's Educational Group, Dr. Ishari Ganesh who sponsored this championship, presided. The children mobbed Ramesh for autographs and to be photographed with him as they did with the dance maestro, Prabhudeva at the inaugural function.

Manuel Aaron