China tops, India finishes fourth

WHEN the five-member Indian team left for Kuala Lumpur to take part in the World Youth (under-16) Chess Olympiad, there was guarded optimism about the country's chances of returning with a medal. With Ukraine and China 'A' firmly in contention for the gold, the less-experienced Indian combination only had an outside possibility of making the medal-bracket.

As it turned out, the fourth seeded India came up with a commendable show but just missed a medal by the narrowest of margins. Second seed China collected the gold, ahead of favourite Ukraine. Indonesia nosed ahead of India to snatch the bronze.

China, which humbled Ukraine 3.5-0.5 in the crucial sixth-round battle and went on to ensure the title with a round to spare, collected 31 points from 10 rounds. Ukraine took the silver with a tally of 27 points after a 4-0 thrashing of Malaysia 'B'. Seventh seed Indonesia, too, scored an emphatic 3.5-0.5 victory over Iran in the final round to finish with 26.5 points.

India, second behind China after the penultimate round, paid the price for taking only 2.5 points off Australia 'A' in the final round. Eventually India ended up with 26 points - two head of Uzbekistan. In the past, such performance would have invited praises from all quarters. However, the consistency with which the Indian chess players have tasted success at all levels in recent times, this fourth-place was seen as a below par performance.

Even as India missed a medal, G. Rohit's shared gold on the fourth board came as a timely consolation. Though Rohit, the Asian (under-14) bronze-medallist was the player with the lowest rating in the Indian team, his scoring percentage in the event was the highest. Truly, this Hero Honda-sponsored boy emerged as a hero by remaining unbeaten while scoring 6.5 points from eight outings.

From India's point of view, another praiseworthy feature was that it was the only unbeaten team in the competition. India drew 2-2 with China, Uzbekistan and Iran and won all other matches. However, what cost India was it's narrow margins of victory over lesser teams. Though India can take credit for being the only country to hold China, equally, it has to take the responsibility for letting teams like Uzbekistan and Iran, seeded 11th and sixth, get away in the crucial eighth and ninth rounds.

The high points were the draw with China, followed by the victory over Ukraine. Against China, Rohit pulled off a fine win on the fourth board against Li Chao (Elo 2310) while Deepan held Yue Wang (2455). When India met Ukraine in the seventh round, it was Deepan who stunned fellow-IM-Alexander Areschchenko, whose raiting of 2533 made him the highest ranked player in the field. Rohit did well to hold WIM Katerya Lahno after Abhijeet Gupta had easily beaten Yurly Kuzubov on the fourth board.

Individually, Rohit was clearly the toast of the Indians. Initially, Rohit was left out of the team since he did not figure among the five top rated under-16 players in the country. But the revised rating saw him replace Sayantan Dutta and the Hyderabad boy made the most of the opportunity.

Abhijeet, playing his first ever team championship was a revelation. The Asian (under-18) runner-up from Bhilwara won six matches and lost just one (against Romania). Considering the limited opportunity available to him to train in his home State of Rajasthan, he showed great character on big occasions.

Sadly, lack of sponsorship support is affecting Ahjheet's aspirations. Not many are aware that Abhijeet has the unique distinction of winning medals for the country in the Asian, Commonwealth and British championships. Considering that he is playing some of his best chess this year, he seems a very good candidate for the corporates to support on a long-term basis.

Skipper Deepan Chakravartty also did his bit commendably. He knew his job well and stuck to it. He turned out in every single match - won four, drew five and lost one. Indeed, the Asian junior champion, recently adopted by WIPRO for a year, played his part admirably.

However, Somak Palit and to a lesser extent Deep Sengupta were disappointments. Somak, the National sub-junior champion, won the first two rounds but lost the other four rounds. On the other hand, his roommate Deep looked much better in the first six rounds from which he scored five points. But Deep failed to contribute any more in his next three matches. In the eventual analysis, the seven losses suffered by these two talented boys proved very costly for India. Ukraine, too, had reasons to be disappointed with its showing. The top seeded team with an average rating of 2393 and comprising two IMs, including the World youngest Grandmaster Sergey Karjakin, suffered two successive losses - to China and India - besides drawing with Uzbekistan. But when it mattered, Ukraine scored 7.5 points from the last two rounds to take the silver. Natalia Zdebskaia matched Rohit's tally to share the gold on the fourth board.

China progressed mainly through the scoring ability of its too players - Yue Wang and Jun Zhao. Both remained unbeaten while playing all 10 rounds. Wang scoring 8.5 points and Zhao contributed eight. Both duly won the board prizes. In fact, the effort of Wiegi Zhou was somewhat overshadowed by the prize-winning feats of his colleagues. On the third board, Zhou scored 8.5 with eight wins.

Romania lost its way after winning the first three rounds. It bowed to India and Ukraine and then drew with England, Vietnam and Kazakhstan. It scored heavily against Malaysia 'A' and ended with a defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan.

In contrast, seventh seed Indonesia finished a creditable third despite suffering three losses. Importantly, Indonesia did not let weak teams like Brunei, Malaysia 'C' and Singapore 'A' get away and scored maximum points off them. It was the 3.5-0.5 victory over Iran in the final round that saw Indonesia finish just ahead of India.

Overall, there were 28 teams from 20 countries. Barring nine teams, all teams had at least one unrated player. Considering that FIDE has over 150 affiliates, the response to this championship was disappointing. What saved the event from becoming a battle of mediocres was the presence of China and Ukraine. But in times to come, this event is sure to gain in stature. Hopefully, in future, India, too, will make its presence felt in a telling manner.

Top-10 standings: 1. China 'A' (31 points), 2. Ukraine (27), 3. Indonesia (26.5), 4. India (26), 5. Uzbekistan (24), 6. Romania (23), 7. Iran (22.5), 8. Kazakhstan (26), 9. Singapore 'A' (21.5), 10. Vietnam (21).

Prizes: Board 1: Yue Wang (China) 8.5/10, Board 2: Jun Zhaoo (China) 8/10; Board 3: Ngoc Truongson Nguyen (Vietnam) 6.5/7; Board 4.G. Rohit (India) and Natalia Zdebskaja (Ukranine) 6.5/8; Board 5 (for reserves): Tan Joshua (Malaysia 'C') 4.5/5.

India's performances: Beat Malaysia 'C' 4-0; beat Malaysia 'A' 3.5-9.5; beat Kazakhstan 2.5-1.5; beat Romania 2.5-1.5; drew with China 2-2; beat Indonesia 2.5-1.5; Ukraine 2.5-1.5 drew with Uzbekistan 2-2; drew with Iran 2-2; beat Australia 'A' 2.5-1.5.

Individual performances of the Indians: Deepan Chakravartty (2310) 6.5/10; Somak Palit (2310) 2/6; Deep Sengupta (2288) 5/9; 6. Rohit (2244) 6.5/8; Abhijeet Gupta (2257) 6/7.