'India is a lucky venue for me'

Published : Sep 29, 2001 00:00 IST


THE ninth edition of the Asian women's chess championship, sponsored by India Cements and held from September 3 to 12 at Hotel Taj Connemara in Chennai, was dominated by the Indian and Chinese players as they took all the seven qualifying slots for the world championships.

International Woman Master Li Ruofan, a 23-year-old University student from Beijing was the surprise winner finishing ahead of several fancied opponents, scoring nine points from 11 rounds. The seventh seed started with a moderate 2.5/4 score in the intial rounds, but with an amazing 6.5/7 finish she not only won the title, the gold medal and the $2,000 first prize but also achieved her career best performance. She, along with the other top six finishers, qualified for the world women's chess championship to be held at Moscow from November 24 this year.

Li Ruofan defeated all the five Indians she faced. Overall, she won eight games, drew two and lost one to become the second Chinese to win the Asian women's chess title. "India is a lucky venue for me," said Li Ruofan, who had earlier won the Asian Junior title at Jaipur in 1997.

Top seed, S. Vijayalakshmi, the 1979-born Indian Airlines star from Chennai, lost two games and had to settle for the second place. After she suffered a shock defeat in the fourth round to Huang Qian of China, Vijayalakshmi rallied to bounce back to the lead with 5.5/7 but suffered another setback to the ultimate winner Li Ruofan "when trying hard." She won seven games, drew two and lost two for a silver medal performance and picked up $1,750.

Nisha Mohota, 21, the LIC player from Kolkata, picked up the bronze medal. She was in sole lead after six rounds with five points but only managed to score two points from the last five rounds. But being in the lead early gave her a good progressive tie-break score which helped her finish third after she was tied on seven points with five others. It was a fine performance from one who had not qualified for the National Women's 'A' recently.

Vijayalakshmi is such a strong Woman Grandmaster that she was expected to win the event. She was the only WGM to qualify from the three who competed. Out of the seven players who qualified, four were Indians, while the other three were Chinese. Besides the four, Pallavi Shah, the zonal champion, will be the fifth Indian player.

One big reason for more Indians making it is the rise in the domestic playing level. The Indian players are underrated and often give the visitors a tough time. Also, more events are played in the new four-hour time control. The four Indian qualifiers, Vijayalakshmi, Nisha Mohota, Aarthie Ramaswamy and Swati Ghate played well and were always in with a chance. Playing at home was also a very important factor in their favour.

Huang Qian of China was one of the four players who led the tournament at some stage or the other. The untitled 11th seed shot into the lead by shocking Vijayalakshmi to reach 4/4. She earned three points from the remaining seven games to earn the fourth place and a berth in the world championship.

Wang Yu, started as second seed owing to her good rating. She finished fifth with seven points after winning a couple of games with the white pieces. She took two quick draws, with Aarthie in 16 moves, and with Li Ruofan in only six moves with the black pieces. This former world age-group champion faced tough opponents after losing to Nisha Mohota in the very first round and played very well until the loss to Nguyen Thi Thanh An in the final round.

Aarthie Ramaswamy, the 20-year-old Chennai college girl, sponsored by WIPRO, could have made it more comfortably had she taken a draw that Li Ruofan offered in the ninth round, when she was 6/8. Aarthie was ambitious as she was the only undefeated player in the competition at that point. But as it happened to Swati Ghate and Nisha Mohota, Aarthie suffered defeats and finally managed to reach seven points and qualify by taking the sixth place.

Playing her first tournament in Chennai, Swati Ghate suffered two defeats on a single day when she was beaten by Nisha Mohota and Levushkina for a 1/3 start. In her previous tournament, the National 'B' at Nagpur, she was undefeated and had become the first woman player in the country to qualify for the men's National 'A'. She fought back winning her next five games in a row to qualify with seven points, despite a last round defeat. The game against Huang Qian was her best. Swati's seven points came from decisive games and there was not a single draw. Having secured the seventh place, Swati Ghate, the 22-year-old LIC girl from Pune made it by taking the last qualifying berth. She had improved a lot but was not very steady in the event, crashing to defeats.

Prizes were given to the top 10 finishers. Nguyev Thi Thanh An of Vietnam was unlucky not to make it as she scored the same seven points as others but did not qualify due to poor tie-break score. Higher-rated IWM Le Kieu Thien Kim, also from Vietnam, played poorly to finish below the 50 per cent score. The Vietnamese had problems not receiving their check-in baggage and were handicapped on account of it.

If there was one unlucky player in the whole tournament it was Sergeeva Maria of Kazakhstan. She missed very good winning chances against Nisha Mohota and Vijayalakshmi, to name a few. She finished on six points but could have easily scored more.

There were 11 Indians in the fray followed by the Chinese who fielded seven. Like some of the Chinese, Meenakshi and Kasturi also arrived from the world junior girls' championship and showed signs of tiredness. For the Asian junior girls' champion M. Kasturi, it was a golden opportunity. She arrived from Greece via New Delhi by train on the morning of the first round. She tallied five points while Meenakshi scored six.

An impressive performance among the Indians came from Dronavalli Harika, the 11-year-old Guntur girl. She played a few good games such as the one against Prathiba which featured a classic positional sacrifice. Her coach M. Raju was satisfied with her play. But for her 5.5 points, this girl certainly showed signs of a great player in the making.

India's two former Asian women's champions, Anupama Gokhale (5.5) and Bhagyashree Thipsay (5) did not have a good tournament with the latter even getting a 'bye'. Saheli Barua (4.5) too was rusty.

Among the three Uzbek players, Elena Levushkina performed above her known level to enter the prize list while the other two, Anjela Khegay and Iroda Khamrakulova finished with a 50 per cent score. Anjela Khegay was the only player to defeat the eventual winner.

All the title norms from the tournament went to the Chinese. Besides a WGM norm for the winner, Li Ruofan, IWM norms were completed by Wang Yu, Huang Qian (both 11 games) and Yu Ting (10 games). P. T. Ummer Koya had said he would take it up with the FIDE to help the winner get the WGM title and not just the norm.

One of the major disappointments was WGM Zhoa Xue, the third seed. Four defeats left her out of the qualifying race with a round to spare. Like many others, she also came directly from Greece where she tied for first place in the world junior girls' championship. She scored 6.5 points and finished 10th. Her last round win over Nisha Mohota went in vain as her performance in the earlier rounds was very poor.

The other Woman Grandmaster, Mekhri Geldeyeva of Turkmenistan, also played below expectations and was never at the top boards. She played some good games but suffered too many defeats and ended with six points.

Bangladesh players finished in the bottom half. IWM Rani Hamid, the 1944-born veteran from Dhaka said the morning session for the games did not get the best out of her. "Why start the game at 9 a.m., why not 3 p.m.?" asked this player who had played more Asian women championships than other players.

The two Sri Lankan players occupied two of the last three places. Anupama Konara and Vineetha Wijesuriya found the opposition too tough. Vineetha hopes to learn chess in Chennai in the future.

Chennai which played host to the country's first Woman Grandmaster tournament in 1987 was the venue for the event which was organised by the Sports Promotion Foundation under the auspices of the TNCA and AICF. The event went on smoothly. The arbiters led by veteran IM Manuel Aaron were in charge of the event inside the playing hall.

The $10,000 event attracted 31 entries from eight countries. The prize money was fully sponsored by the FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

FIDE's one-fifth share, $8,000 (Rs. 3.72 lakhs) was distributed as prize money at the closing ceremony on September 12 by N. Srinivasan, Vice Chairman and Managing Director, India Cements Ltd.

The Asian women's championship has a long tradition in India and is a brainchild of Nasiruddin Ghalib who organised the first edition at Hyderabad in 1981. He was the trainer of the Khadilkar sisters, Rohini, Jayshree and Vasanti and also a member of the FIDE women's commission when he took pioneering interest in the event. Five of the nine winners are from India and six of the nine editions were held in India, giving enough proof of the country's influence over the event.

From now on this event will be an annual feature of the Asian Calendar thanks to its being incorporated as a qualifier for the world women's chess championship. Lesser prize money keeps top stars such as world women's champion Xie Jun and Zhu Chen from China and Hoang Thanh Trang of Vietnam away from competing.

The moves:

Wang Yu (Elo 2392)-WGM S. Vijayalakshmi (2397), Round 7, Giuoco Piano, C53:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.Bb3 a6 7.0-0 0-0 8.Nbd2 Ba7 9.h3 h6 10.Re1 Nh5 11.Nf1 Qf6 12.Ne3 Nf4 13.Ng4 Qg6 14.Bxf4 Bxg4 15.hxg4 exf4 16.d4 Rad8 17.Bd5 Ne7 18.Bxb7 a5 19.Qe2 Qxg4 20.Qa6 Bb6 21.b4 axb4 22.cxb4 Ng6 23.a4 Nh4 24.Nxh4 Qxh4 25.Qd3 f3 26.Qxf3 Bxd4 27.Rac1 Rde8 28.Rc4 c5 29.a5 f5 30.Bd5+ Kh8 31.e5 dxe5 32.bxc5 Qd8 33.a6 Qa5 34.Rec1 Bb2 35.Rb1 Qxa6 36.c6 e4 37.Qb3 Be5 38.c7 Qa5 39.Qb7 Rc8 40.Rbc1 e3 41.fxe3 Qd2 42.Kh1 Qxe3 43.Qb4 Qg3 44.Kg1 Rfe8 45.Bc6 Rxc7 0-1.

IWM Li Ruofan (Elo 2293)-WGM S.Vijayalakshmi (Elo 2397), Round 8, Ruy Lopez C90:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.d3 d6 6.c3 Be7 7.0-0 0-0 8.Re1 b5 9.Bb3 Bg4 10.h3 Bh5 11.Nbd2 Kh8 12.Nf1 Na5 13.Bc2 Ng8 14.Ng3 Bg6 15.d4 f6 16.Nh4 Bf7 17.Nhf5 g6 18.Nxe7 Qxe7 19.f4 c5 20.dxc5 dxc5 21.f5 g5 22.h4 h6 23.Rf1 gxh4 24.Nh1 h3 25.gxh3 Bc4 26.Rf2 Rf7 27.Kh2 Rd8 28.Qf3 Rh7 29.Ng3 b4 30.Be3 bxc3 31.bxc3 Nb7 32.Rg2 Bf7 33.a4 h5 34.Rag1 h4 35.Nf1 c4 36.Qf2 Bh5 37.Qxh4 Qf7 38.Qf2 Nd6 39.Nd2 Nh6 40.Nf3 Bxf3 41.Qxf3 Qb7 42.Rg6 Ng8 43.Qg2 Qf7 44.Bd1 Ne7 45.Be2 Rb8 46.Bc5 Ndc8 47.Rd1 Nc6 48.Rd7 N8e7 49.Rd6 Rb2 50.Rdxf6 Qe8 51.Rh6 Qg8 52.Qf2 Qg5 53.Be3 Qg7 54.Rxh7+ Kxh7 55.Rh6+ Qxh6 56.Bxh6 Kxh6 57.Kg3 Nc8 58.Qe3+ 0-1.

SUCCESS in India is not new to her. Scoring her second continental title, Li Ruofan has graduated from being the Asian junior girls' champion, a title she won in 1997 at Jaipur, to becoming the Asian women's champion, clinching the title in Chennai.

Li Ruofan, 23, an economics student from Beijing, reached her personal milestone by finishing ahead of six higher seeds on course to picking up a qualifying berth for the world women's chess championship.

After winning the title, Li Ruofan spoke to The Sportstar saying that India was a lucky ground for her. Excerpts from the conversation:

Question: Congratulations. When you arrived in India, what did you have in mind? Just to qualify for the world championship or to win the title?

Answer: Thanks. I came here aiming to qualify but after 10 rounds I knew I had a chance to win the title.

Which was your most important game of the tournament?

I think the last round win against Swati Ghate. That was the most important game for me here.

Where do you live?With my parents in Beijing.

When did you start playing chess and what is your aim?

I started playing chess at the age of eight. I want to become as strong a player as Xie Jun, but it is not very easy.

What are your hobbies?

I like reading. I study in English. I like tennis and table tennis.

Who is your chess coach?

No one in particular. Our trainings are clubbed together here and in China it is arranged by the Chinese association.

Did you like Jaipur (where she won the Asian junior title in 1997) or Chennai?

I like both of them. (laughs) Really. I think India is a very lucky venue for me. I won both the tournaments here.

Have you played a lot in Europe?Seldom.Which is your career best victory so far?(after a pause) It should be this one.Who is your favourite player?

I like many, mainly those who play an attacking game.

How often you do travel outside China for tournaments?

Not very often. My last trip was to India.

What is your best performance till date in your country?

I came third in the Chinese championship in 1996.

How do you prepare? Do you use a computer?Yes. I use a Laptop.

Does your chess federation help and sponsor you?

Yes, it does. The Chinese Chess Association had paid the air fare for all our players who took part in the Asian championship.

You did not start very well. Were you a bit tired at the start?

They had too many rounds at the start. I lost the second round. After that I played better in the second half.

Did you go shopping here in India?

Yes, we did. We went to purchase many things like post cards.

I heard you liked lizards?

Lizards? (laughs) Yes. Because we never get to see lizards there!

How do you plan to spend your prize-money?I haven't thought about it yet (laughs).

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