Ganguly proves his class

IT was a novel occasion for chess in the country. Players turned organisers taking a departure from the tradition that hardly ever saw the roles merging.



IT was a novel occasion for chess in the country. Players turned organisers taking a departure from the tradition that hardly ever saw the roles merging. The result was the all-India Open rapid chess tournament. Despite not attaining the cut of a blue riband meet, the tournament wrought a new trend that may see many more events coming up under the aegis of the fledgling players' body — Chess Players' Association of India (CPAI).

Most of the participants, justifiably, were members of the CPAI and the winner turned out to be the national champion Surya Sekhar Ganguly, who was also an outgoing member of the newly formed body's executive committee. The tournament helped the convergence of a host of stars from across the country and the occasion also saw CPAI's first annual general meeting since its inception last year. There was no change in the rolls in the top hierarchy as Dibyendu Barua, P. Harikrishna and Atanu Lahiri retained their posts as the president, secretary and the treasurer respectively, while there was a creation of a new post with P. Konguvel becoming the new joint secretary. The other important outcome of the meeting was that the players' body sought a formal recognition from the All India Chess Federation.

There were around 150 participants including four Grandmasters and 15 International Masters in the fray. The tournament had an inauspicious start as one of its star participants, Tejas Bakre, suffered a freak accident. The Grandmaster from Ahmedabad hurt himself trying an unusual method to enter the police guesthouse where the accommodation for the players was arranged. Arriving late on the night prior to the tournament day, he tried to scale the fencing when all his calls to open the gate went unanswered. He lost his foothold at the point of the crossover and injured himself as a spike on top of the protective fence impaled his belly. The wound was found to be superficial but was enough to confine him to a hospital bed during the tournament.

Being a rarity in the country, the rapid format came up as a new challenge for the players. With a time allowance of 30 minutes for each player per round, the tournament was set to nine rounds in the Swiss league format. The action intensified on the second day as the opening day, following the AGM and a display of simultaneous chess by P. Harikrishna against 30 school children, could accommodate only one round. Ganguly, proving his class in the shortened version of the game, won the first six rounds on the trot to lead the race at the end of the second day, which saw five rounds. He beat two GMs from his home city, Dibyendu Barua and Sandipan Chanda, successively in the fifth and sixth rounds. Ganguly pipped Barua in a close contest as the former obtained an advantage first in the two-knight defence but the latter managed to wriggle out of his cramped position and equalised, but lost the game on time. The win against Barua inspired Ganguly and he had little problems in getting the better of Chanda in next round. Ganguly continued his winning run on the concluding day and prevailed over his closest overnight challenger Deepan Chakkravarthy in the seventh round. He was in a little discomfort in the home stretch as he met IOC colleague, Abhijit Kunte, in the eighth round. Ganguly was clearly losing against Kunte in a bishop ending where the former was two pawns down but the latter could not hold on to the advantage and blundered his bishop in severe time pressure for a draw. With the title in sight, Ganguly drew the last round against Nilotpal Das to clinch the issue tallying eight points. This fetched Ganguly the winners' purse of Rs. 50,000. IM Deepan Chakkravarthy, who enjoyed the sole second position at the end of the second day, failed to capitalise on the advantage and could only manage a single draw while losing the rest of the games. He finished on six points and was nowhere in the final placings.

The other GMs in the fray, including Abhijit Kunte and Dibyendu Barua, put up a patchy show on the second day and fell behind in the title race. In the final count Kunte, who was the only other undefeated player besides Ganguly, played three draws and finished with 7.5 points that put him tied for the second spot with Barua and IM S. Satyapragyan of Indian Airlines. Though the progressive scores broke the tie making Kunte the runner-up with Barua and Satyapragyan following in the order, the prize money for the three positions in contention was pooled and the sum divided equally.

Barua and Satyapragyan made the most notable progress as they worked their way up from unfavourable positions, winning all the three rounds on the final day. While Barua beat Sandipan Chanda in the final round, Satyapragyan came from behind to outwit B. S. Shivanandan of Tamil Nadu and ensured his position in the top half. Saheli Dhar Barua, playing after a long absence from top-level chess, scored six points and was declared the best woman player of the event ahead of WGM and the women's national champion, Nisha Mohota, who belied the expectations finishing only on 5.5 points. Nisha's biggest setback was losing against 11-year-old Bitan Banerjee of Goodricke National Chess Academy in the second round. Banerjee proved his forte in the rapid version of the game as he went on to beat IM Rahul Shetty of Indian Airlines in the third round. But he could not maintain the record in the later rounds and fell aside in the race.

Top positions

1. Surya Sekhar Ganguly 8; 2. Abhijit Kunte 7.5 (progressive score 39.5); 3. Dibyendu Barua 7.5 (38); 4. S. Satyapragyan 7.5 (37); 5. Sandipan Chanda 7 (40); 6. Nilotpal Das 7 (37.5), 7. S. Kidambi 7 (37), 8. Nikhilesh Kumar 7 (36); 9. M. R. Venkatesh 7 (34); 10. R. R. Laxman 7 (34).