Humpy pockets another title

In this nine-round Saharanpur International tournament, played over four and a half days, Humpy was the most consistent.

RAKESH RAO

A chess tournament in a small city like Saharanpur on the Uttar Pradesh-Uttaranchal border and that too offering Rs. 5 lakhs! When the event was announced, many doubted the capabilities of the organisers to meet the commitments. But when it all ended, there were more compliments than complaints from a cross-section of the field comprising 478 players.

Koneru Humpy proudly displays the trophy. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

To top it all, the Indian spearhead Koneru Humpy took the honours. Going by her recent form, it was not surprising. But if one considered the fact that she was seeded fifth behind four overseas challengers, the emphatic triumph looked all the more significant.

In this nine-round Saharanpur International tournament, played over four and a half days, Humpy was the most consistent. She won against all seven lesser-rated players and drew two games with those rated higher. This was enough to fetch her the first prize of Rs. one lakh and with it, a huge trophy.

Though Humpy was the only Indian GM in the fray, she had to contend with top seed Dmitry Svetushkin who, at 2571, was rated 103 points above her. Uzbekistan's Tahir Vakhidov, Russia's Alexander Fominyh and another Uzbek, Saidali Iuldashev, were the others seeded ahead of Humpy.

But as it turned out, Humpy played to her form while the rest fell back at different stages. Humpy, having impressed on her way to the runner-up slot in the National `B' and then having won the Asian women's title at Kozhikode in recent months, crossed each hurdle with relative ease. The only time she looked in trouble was against Diwakar Prasad Singh before the Jamshedpur player blundered in time-pressure and lost.

Uzbekistan's Saidali Yuldashev makes a move against Humpy. Yuldashev finished runner-up. -- Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

Statistically, Humpy gained 14 points from her stupendous performance. The average rating of her rivals was 2319 and she made her way by performing like a player with a rating of 2655! Deservedly, she emerged as a clear champion by beating the field by half-a-point. The last-round victory over Himanshu Sharma clinched the issue.

Iuldashev, too, remained unbeaten on way to the second spot. After winning the first five rounds, he was held by Humpy, Neelotpal Das and Poobesh Anand. Iuldashev tamed Diwakar Prasad in the final round to take the second spot, ahead of five others at 7.5 points, on superior progressive score.

S. Satyapragyan and P. Konguvel, having performed below par in the Piloo Mody tournament at Lucknow, were contemplating whether to play in this event. In the end, they were only glad not to skip it. Satyapragyan took the third spot worth Rs. 50,000, followed by Konguvel, who was mighty pleased to have received Rs. 30,000.

Satyapragyan, awaiting confirmation of his employment with Indian Airlines, did not face very high-rated rivals but played some quality games during his unbeaten stint. The talented boy needed this kind of outing to regain his confidence.

Konguvel, who had suffered from conjunctivitis during the course of the tournament, did not miss much on the board. Unbeaten, the 27th seeded Konguvel made it to the leading prize-winners' list owing to his last-round victory over M. R. Venkatesh.

Looking back, Satyapragyan and Konguvel were among those who benefited from the fact that the event had only nine rounds, considered grossly inadequate to find the true strength of the leading finishers from such a large field.

R. Balasubramanium (left) played true to his reputation of being an unpredictable performer and shocked his opponent GM Alexander Fominyh. -- Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

One factor that helped both these players to go up the ladder was the change of verdict in the last-round match involving Neelotpal Das and Somak Palit. Initially, Das was adjudged the winner and given the third place. But after the match, Palit filed an appeal stating that the chief arbiter had wrongly turned down his claim for a draw midway through the match. Palit had claimed a draw on the basis of three repetitions of a particular position. Later, Palit's appeal was upheld and as a result, an undefeated Neelotpal slipped to the seventh spot but lived up to his seeding while Palit ended 14th.

Fominyh struggled to the fifth spot after being beaten by R. Balasubramanium in the fourth round. Later, last year's National sub-junior champion Arun Prasad also held him to a draw.

Similarly, Svetushkin had a poor second day during which he drew with Motiram, rated at 2190, before crashing to a stunning loss against Bhubaneshwar's Soumya Ranjan Mishra to remain on 2.5 points after four rounds. Though he won the remaining five rounds, Svetushkin was never in the race for the title.

R. Balasubramanium from Integral Coach Factory, Chennai, played true to his reputation of being an unpredictable performer. His victims included Fominyh, an in-form R. B. Ramesh and Suvrajit Saha. He also drew with IMs Neelotpal Das and T. S. Ravi but was unlucky to run into Svetushkin in the final round.

Among the others who tied for 7-19 places, Himanshu Sharma did well to earn a top-board clash with Humpy in the final round. His only noticeable result was the sixth-round draw with second seed Vakhidov. Like Balasubramanium, Himanshu, too, tasted defeat only in the final round after being in joint lead with Humpy.

Top seed Dmitry Svetushkin (right) lost this match against Soumya Ranjan Mishra and was never in the race for the title. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

Vakhidov, a regular on the Indian circuit for a couple of years now, was held four times on his way to the 11th place. Sudhir Kumar Sinha proved equal to him in the third round while Himanshu held him in the sixth. He rounded off his unbeaten run by drawing with Humpy and Poobesh.

On the organizational front, it was a fine effort. Barring a few understandable hiccups, the organisers tried to give the best possible playing environment. It was difficult to expect a small city to have a big air-conditioned hall to accommodate 239 boards. But overall, the logistical challenges were well met despite the inexperience of the organisers.

b>The final standings: 1. Koneru Humpy (8 points); 2-6. Saidali Yuldashev (Uzb), S. Satyapragyan, P. Konguvel, Alexander Fominyh (Rus), Dmitry Svetushkin (Mol) (7.5 each); 7-19. Neelotpal Das, R. Balasubramanium, Himanshu Sharma, Valay Parikh, Tahir Vakhidov (Uzb), Varugeese Koshy, Poobesh Anand, Somak Palit, Anup Deshmukh, Sriram Jha, B. S. Shivanandan, Y. P. Srivastava and K. L. Dave (7 each).