Full of suspense

P. Priya and Saptarishi Roy, who triumphed in the National under-18 chess championship. — Pic. VINO JOHN-

THE National Under-18 chess championship for boys and girls held at the Jaya Engineering College in Tiruninravur near Chennai was a suspense-filled one. Games were fought till the wire and the winners, Saptarishi Roy and P. Priya, emerged only after the sudden death controls of the final round.

A record 120 players (previously 87 players), 76 boys and 44 girls, took part in this event which was scheduled to have taken place last year in the National calendar. The field attracted two International Masters, Deepan Chakravarthy and S. Poobesh Anand, for the first time, but neither won. Indian chess has become more mature and competitive.

In the boys' section, Saptarishi Roy, sponsored by the Goodricke National Chess Academy, Kolkata and Abhishek Das of Jharkhand tied for the first place with 7.5 points from nine games. After the progressive tie-break scores were level, the cut progressive was used and here Saptarishi's score was 36 and Abhishek's 35.5. The former was declared winner. Both players had an excellent run and remained undefeated. They won six games apiece and drew three to tie for the first place on points.

For Saptarishi, it was his third national title. He had won the National under-12 title in 1998 and the under-16 title in 1999. He had missed titles on many occasions in the 2000-2001 period. Looking at the strong nerve he possesses, he can turn many a tight battle in his favour. The schoolboy from Kolkata started with a draw but gathered momentum and blazed past the tape.

Seeding-wise, Saptarishi Roy was third and Abhishek Das 20th. Abhishek provided the surprise and nearly won the tournament. It was the cut-progressive score of the tie-break which sealed his fate although he too tied for the first place with 7.5 points.

Abhishek gave a notable performance. In the final round he was a little lucky. He accepted a sacrificed exchange and then proposed a draw. His opponent, Praveen Kumar, played for more and lost the game. At 7.5 points, Abhishek waited for the final round Saptarishi versus Deep Sengupta game to conclude. Saptarishi needed a win for the title and the probability of Abhishek triumphing looked high. When the suspense was resolved, Abhishek had to take the second place.

Deepan Chakravarthy, the International Master from Madurai, finished third with seven points. He too remained undefeated. The top-rated player had a good tournament, but was outscored by a more ambitious band. Former national junior champion Abhijit Gupta of Rajasthan and Vijay Keerthi of Mysore lost games, but clawed back to reach 6.5 points and take the fourth-fifth placings.

The event, to begin with, was dominated by Arjun Tiwari of Maharashtra, who started with a bang, winning his first five games. He opened up a one-point lead. But two defeats, first to Siddarth and then to Abhishek, in one day left him shattered. He finished with a poor one point from his last four games to finish sixth.

Four players led the event after the sixth round. Then Abhishek Das and Saptarishi led the event with six points from seven games. They drew their mutual encounter in the penultimate round to stay in the lead. They also scored a win each on the final day. Thus, after Arjun Tiwari's initial surge, no single player was in the lead. This speaks of the intense competition this time.

The girls' section was different with at least three players taking and losing the sole lead before Priya broke the jinx to keep the lead at the end of the ninth round and win the competition. Here, all the players suffered at least one defeat. Amruta Mokal shot into the lead after round five, then Nabeela Farheen wrested it from her in the sixth round. After round seven, both Nabeela and Amruta shared the lead with six points. The penultimate round was the most dramatic with both the leaders losing. It led to Priya shooting into the lead with a lucky win over Nabeela. In the final round, Priya kept her nerve to turn the tables on Amruta Mokal and win by a clear half a point margin.

Priya finished first with 7.5 points and the second prize went to Nabeela Farheen (AICF entry from Chennai) and Soumya Swaminathan of Maharashtra on seven points. Priya retained her title but it was a shaky show from her. The sudden death encounters also witnessed fluctuating fortunes.

Tamil Nadu girls dominated the tournament and players from East India were to the fore in the boys' show.

The venue being Thiruninravur, a remote suburb of Chennai city, it did not offer the home advantage to players from this city. However, the air-conditioned playing hall was excellent for the players. Most of the players were accompanied by their parents and in some cases by coaches.

The event which had a prize fund of Rs. 56,000 was well organised by the Tamil Nadu Chess Association with sponsorship from the Jaya Educational Trust . R. Anatharam of Sivakasi was the chief arbiter along with M. Ephrame of Nagercoil.

Thanks to the ties that occurred, the girls' section had 20 prizes and the boys' event 15. Overall, the boys' share was Rs. 32,000 and the girls' Rs. 24,000.

If one improvement could be made to the event, it is the increase in the number of rounds. It provided for the bare minimum to run a Swiss format event, which is `minimum square root plus one'. The World Age Group championships are 11-round affairs, but some national events still follow nine rounds formats like this.

"I never got to play Saptarishi," said Deepan Chakravarthy in an anguished tone. IM Poobesh Anand (5.5 points), who did not figure in the prize list this time, had actually won the previous edition with a round to spare. Priya, who had won the previous edition with a final round draw, was required to win here to keep her title. There is an improvement in the fighting spirit and standard of play in India and we are heading the Russian way with several very strong players in this age group. Certainly, Abhishek Das would have preferred to have one more round and Deepan two more to catch up with or even overtake the leaders.

The sponsor, Prof. A. Kanagaraj, Chairman, Jaya Group of Educational Institutions, gave away the prizes and promised that there would be more chess events in the Jaya Engineering College.

The final placings:

Boys: 1-2. Saptarishi Roy (GNCA), Abhishek Das (Jha) 7.5/9 each. 3. Deepan Chakravarthy (ECC) 7. 4-5. Abhijit Gupta (Raj), K. Vijay Keerthi (MYCA) 6.5 each. 6-15. Arjun Tiwari (Mah), Deep Sengupta (Jha), C. Praveen Kumar (CHCA), R. Siddarth (TN), Himanshu Kumar (Del), K. Nikhilesh Kumar (AP), V. Hari Balu (TN), T. U. Navin Kanna (TN), K. Sujeesh (AKCF), R. Arun Karthik (MACA) 6 each. 16-20. S. Poobesh Anand (TN), Tanmoy Pattanayak (ALCA), Sriram Sarja (Kar), Somak Palit (GNCA), Sohan Phadke (Mah) 5.5 each.

Girls: 1. P. Priya (TN) 7.5/9. 2-3 S. Nabeela Farheen (AICF), Soumya Swaminathan (Mah) 7 each. 4-7. Amruta Mokal (Mah), Anjanaa N. Sowjanyaa (TN), L. Ishwarya Shobana (TN), H. Nilavoli (TN) 6 each. 8-13. Supriya Maji (WB), N. Raghavi (TN), R. Mahima (TN), P. Malarselvi (CHCA), Baisakhi Das (Jha), P. Siva Sankari (Capa) 5.5 each. 14-20. M. Rajadarshini (TN), C. Delphin (TN), J. Rajasurya (ECC), Ashwathy Balagopalan (AKCF), P. K. Jayashree (TN), Nimmy George (Ker), Pon N. Krithikha (CHCA) 5 each. — Arvind Aaron