Fight to the finish

G. V. Sai Krishna, the boys' champion.-ARVIND AARON

THE recent 19th National under-9 chess championship in Chennai was one of the most fiercely contested ones in the history of the event. The contest was so closely fought that two boys and four girls tied for the titles after the eleventh and final round. The deserving champions were G. V. Sai Krishna of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, in the boys' section and Sahajasri of Karimnagar, also of Andhra Pradesh, in the girls' section. They won on better progressive score tie-breaks.

Sai Krishna tied for the first place with Andhra teammate R. Eswar — both had nine points from eleven rounds but Krishna emerged winner because he started well. Eswar had the consolation of being the only player to defeat the champion.

Sai Krishna, who is trained by L. V. Sivakumar, started as the third seed and emerged the winner despite suffering a few hiccups. The boys' section was well fought and four players had chances to win the title at the start of the final round. Sai Krishna, who led by half a point, required at least a draw for the title and he was able to get it.

The boys' runner-up R. Eswar-ARVIND AARON

The girls' section had two clear phases. A. R. Priya was the dominant player having established a two-point lead with 9/9 to `win' the tournament. But, she was disqualified the same evening for being overaged. The field became wide open and more interesting without Priya. Suddenly, Srinidhi Nagarajan of Salem, Tamil Nadu, and Sahajasri were in the lead. When the final round started, as many as eight players could win the title. Both the leaders drew in the final round while two others joined them with victories for a total of four winners.

Sahajasri played it safe, knowing well that she had the best tie-break count. At the board she sacrificed a piece for an attack and could have won from that position if she had tried further. But she offered and got a draw. That left Srinidhi a chance to win the title outright if she won her game. But she was a pawn down and was battling for a draw. Thus, Sahajasri's gamble paid off. Finally, Srinidhi drew but Sweety Patel of Gujarat won and took the second place on tie-break.

Sweety is one of the smallest made prize winners — she required two plastic chairs to actually be able to see the board.

Girls' winner, Sahajasri.-ARVIND AARON

Sahajasri, who has also participated in the Yoga Nationals, aspires to be a woman grand master. Trained by Srinivas and A. Kumar, she was accompanied in Chennai by her parents. "We do not have a sponsor," her father said.

Both the champions, Sai Krishna and Sahajasri, will represent India in the World Under-10 Championship to be held in Russia next year. They have the time to train and emulate Harikrishna and Humpy. India is a dominant force in the world age group competitions in the Under-10 section having won the title in 1996 in boys (Harikrishna) and in 1997 in girls (Koneru Humpy).

The Andhra Pradesh Government is offering rewards and incentives for players who bag national and international titles. Many believe that success is easy in chess than in other sports.

This has been one of the main reasons for parents to put their children into chess in a big way. Some of the under-nine players are in fact professionals! They do not go to school. A chess coach visits them every day and there is pressure on them to perform. While other states can only envy this, Andhra Pradesh continues to dominate age group chess with a combination of talent and government support.

Sweety Patel finished second in the girls' section.-ARVIND AARON

Indian Bank was the general sponsor of the event while Vel's Group of Colleges was the venue sponsor. Total cash prizes were worth Rs. 52,000 with the winners receiving Rs. 6,600 each. A total of 192 players from 17 states competed, which was lower than the number in the previous edition.

International Arbiter K. Muralimohan was the chief arbiter and his team ran the contest smoothly.

The event will be remembered for making five players undergo a medical test to prove that they were indeed born after 1-1-1996. Two players, A. R. Priya (AP) and Kumar Sanu (Jharkhand) failed the test. Chandana Priya Reddy (AP), who did not show up for the test, was deemed to have failed and was removed from the pairings for the last two rounds. This will perhaps be setting a trend for other age group contests of the future.

Even though some people were unhappy with the testing, the vast majority of parents were happy that their children had lost to real champions and not overaged `cheaters'. "More cleaning up is necessary," said Arun Koushik of Karnataka, whose son, Girish, finished sixth.

The organisers, Tamil Nadu State Chess Association, took a strong stand.

"If any of you have a complaint against any player, you can bring a bank draft for Rs.1200 and we will arrange the test," announced K. Thirukalathy, office bearer of TNSCA, at the start of the tenth round. TNSCA has to be complemented for initiating something new, which will benefit age group chess.

The Final Placings: Boys': 1 G. V. Sai Krishna (AP) 9/11, 2 R. Eswar (AP) 9, 3. Utkal Ranjan (Ori) 8.5, 4. Srinath Rao 8.5, 5. Abhilash Reddy (AP) 8.5; Girls: 1 Sahajasri (AP) 8/11, 2. Sweety Patel (Guj) 8, 3. Srinidhi Nagarajan (TN) 8, 4. B. Pratyusha (AP) 8. — Arvind Aaron