Indians reap a rich harvest

The host picked up five out of the six golds at stake. That was not all. Of the total 18 medals, 13 were won by the Indians.

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

The medal winners in various categories in the Asian Youth Championship.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

PIGS won't fly. India won't play in the World Cup soccer finals. Bollywood will make the world's most unoriginal films. Even in an uncertain world, you can be certain of certain things.

You can also be sure that the Indians will dominate the Asian age-group chess tournaments. Like they did at the Asian youth championship at Kozhikode in early June, as a humid Kerala welcomed the monsoon with both hands.

And it rained gold for India. The host picked up five out of the six golds at stake. That was not all. Of the total 18 medals, 13 were won by the Indians. It was Vietnam, which spoiled the host's party, winning five medals, including a gold. In the end, all the medals were shared by the two countries, though there were also players from Kazakhstan, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

The Indian kids have always made the Asian meet look like their National championship. They won 10 medals, including four golds, in the last Asian championship held in Teheran. In 2001 at Bikaner, they took 11 medals, with three golds, while in 2000 they struck gold in five out of six. In 1999, India clinched 14 of the 18 medals, including four golds.

G. Rohit (right) defeated Iran's Tamijani Homayon in this fourth round encounter.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

At Kozhikode, there were separate competitions for boys and girls in three age-group categories — under-14, under-12 and under-10. Not surprisingly, it was in the under-14 group that the best action was witnessed in both the sections. And there was an unexpected champion in the girls' under-14 event.

J. Rajasurya, better known as Asian junior champion J. Deepan Chakaravarthy's younger sister, surprised everyone, including herself, with an amazingly consistent show. The Madurai girl was well ahead of the other competitors right through and all she needed from the seventh and final round was a draw to score the biggest win of her life.

And she got that, from N. Raghavi, in no time. "I agreed to a quick draw, because she needed that half-a-point," said Raghavi, the Chennai girl, who spent three eminently forgettable weeks at Kozhikode playing three tournaments, adding, "and my chances of a medal weren't that bright either." She finished sixth in the end.

Rajasurya scored 5.5 points and was a clear first. She didn't lose a single game, though she was in some trouble in a couple of games.

Vietnam's Le Quang Liem (left), the boy's under-12 champion, had to fight hard for a draw in the final round against R. Ashwath.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

Rajasurya, seeded 17th, got off to a fine start, beating her cousin and sixth seed M. Rajadarshini. "That win gave me a lot of confidence," she recalled. Over the next three rounds she beat three more girls seeded above her — No. 8 Kiran Monisha Mohanty, No. 14 H. P. Pallavi Maiya and No. 12. Luong Nhat Linh of Vietnam, who went on to win the silver.

Rajasurya, who was always in the lead, ran into another Vietnamese girl, Pham Bich Ngoc, the following day, and drew with her. Pham Bich Ngoc eventually took the bronze medal. Then she had another draw, with Soumya Swaminathan, in the sixth round. She admitted she was a trifle lucky in that game.

But nobody would grudge her good fortune though, for nobody else played with as much consistency. Not even the two Vietnamese girls, both of whom looked so pleased with themselves during the prize-distribution ceremony. They scored five points each, but a better progressive score gave Luong Nhat Linh the silver. She had caused a major upset on the opening day, shocking India's Mary Ann Gomes, the top seed.

That was only the beginning for Mary, who had a disastrous outing and ended up 17th. It was not just a few games the Kolkata lass lost at Kozhikode. She lost Elo points, her purse (during the closing ceremony of the National women's `B' championship which preceded the Asian meet) and her water bottle. She had won the National sub-junior title though, which ended a day before the National women's `B' began. "Yes, I'm very disappointed with my performance," she said.

Y. Sandeep (right), who tied with Le Quang Liem, had to be content with the silver after the progressive scores were applied to break the tie.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

But G. Rohit would remember few tournaments as fondly as this one. For, it was his first title in an international tournament, though he had won silver and bronze before. In fact, he won the boys' under-14 gold with a round to spare.

The second seed from Hyderabad remained unbeaten and scored six points. He had a sluggish start, as he had to overcome initial problems in both his first and second round encounters. His position wasn't that promising either against P. Karthikeyan or T. U. Naveen Kanna. "I had problems in the opening in both those games," he said.

However, he soon found his touch and was impressive in the remaining games. He beat D. Sai Srinivas in the third round and Toufighi Tamijani Homayon of Iran in the fourth. Then in the fifth round he came across top seed Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son. The two were easily the best players in the competition and the game was to decide, in all probability, the title.

Truong Son, a prodigy from Vietnam, is greatly respected by his contemporaries in India. A former World under-10 champion, he had won the under-12 title in the last Asian youth championship in Teheran. A fast player, he would hardly be seen in his seat. He would be walking about the venue after making a move.

The boys' under-10 winner, S. Ravi Teja (left), makes a move against N. Srinath in the final round. Ravi won the game.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

He and Rohit had won all their four games before their crucial meeting. And, it was the Indian who won that encounter, that too with black pieces. In the sixth round, Rohit drew with Abhijeet Gupta, who won the silver. Rohit's title was confirmed when the second board clash between Truong Son and Rahul Sangma was drawn. The Vietnamese youngster won the bronze with five points. He had tied with two Indians, Rahul and D. Sai Srinivas, but had a superior progressive score.

The silver medallist, Abhijeet, who scored 5.5 points, is one of India's promising players. And it was a welcome return to form for the Rajasthan kid, who won the National junior (under-19) championship last year when he was just 13. He had a horrendous time in the National sub-juniors. There was a week's break before the Asian meet, for which he was seeded third, and he seemed to have recharged his batteries adequately.

If Truong Son disappointed Vietnam somewhat, the country's other chess prodigy, the bespectacled Le Quang Liem justified his billing as the top seed in the boys' under-12 event and struck gold. He scored 5.5 points, the same as India's Y. Sandeep, seeded third. Progressive scores were applied to break the tie, and the Indian had to be content with the silver.

Sandeep seemed to be happy with the silver, after quickly drawing his final round game against compatriot K. Narayanan, who won the bronze with five points. "I didn't want to take risk," he said, adding "and somehow I wasn't feeling to play a long game today."

J. Rajasurya won the girls' under-14 title with an amazingly consistent show.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

Le Quang Liem, however, was prepared to battle it out with R. Ashwath of India on the second board. A win would've given him the title outright. But he knew he needed only a draw, after the early finish on the top board. He got the draw, but only after a prolonged battle, as his opponent from Chennai put up a commendable fight.

Ashwath, who scored 4.5 points, finished fifth, one slot below P. P. Prachura, who had taken an early sole lead, when he surprised second seed S. Karthikeyan in the third round. Neither Le Quang Liem nor Sandeep had the most ideal beginning to their campaigns.

The Vietnamese was held to a draw in the second round by S. Nitin, while Sandeep required photographic positions to get half-a-point from Amogh Kamli in the first round. But both the boys soon showed that they were better than the rest.

Quang Liem scored successive wins over Swapnil Shah, Prachura and Narayanan from round three to five, while Sandeep beat Sankalp Modwal, S. Nitin, Yuzvendra S. Chahal and Prachura in back-to-back <147,4,0>games. And the two met in the penultimate round, which ended in a draw, as they both kept their hopes alive going into the final day, on which, of course, the boy from Vietnam clinched the issue.

There was a medal for Vietnam in the girls' under-12 event too, but the laughs belonged entirely to an Indian girl. Lakshmi Praneetha was indeed smiling broadly after her penultimate round victory against Bhakti Kulkarni. She had won the gold with a round to spare. And she had scored six wins from six games.

Lakshmi Praneetha made it seven out of seven in the under-12 girls' section.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

The Guntur girl hadn't finished yet. The next day she made it seven out of seven. It was a remarkable effort. The competition may not have been of great standard — one really can't expect much from a girls' under-12 event — but to have a 100 per cent score is rare, to say the least. "I've never had such a good run in my life," said third-seeded Lakshmi Praneetha, still finding it difficult to believe that she had won all her games.

Her opponents in those games were Manogna, M. Pragna Patvi, <147,5,0>Pon. N. Krithika, Ngo Dieh Hoa, the Vietnamese girl who won the bronze, Bhakti, Dhyani Dave and the top-seed I. Ramya Krishna, whom she beat in an important game in the fourth round. It was the battle that decided the gold.

Ramya won all her other games and took the silver, with six points. She was very upset with the loss to her Statemate. "It was one simple mistake that cost me the game against Lakshmi Praneetha," she said.

There were mistakes galore from P. K. Jayasree, the second seed, and Dhyani Dave, the fourth seed, too. And they finished 11th and 12th respectively, scoring three points apiece. "I don't even want to talk about it," said a normally articulate Dhyani, the under-10 silver medallist in the 2001 Asian youth championship, after the tournament.

P. Lakshmi Sahithi though was very happy to talk. The cute little under-10 girls' champion defended the title she won last year in Teheran in great style. Like the other Telugu speaking Lakshmi did in the girls' under-10 category, she won the gold with a round to spare.

She was easily the best in her group. And she proved that on a daily basis, as she scored fluent victories over Teenu Thomas Thaliyath, Nguyen Ngoc Phuong Khanh of Vietnam, Rucha Pujari, who recovered well from that third round loss to win the silver, J. Mohana Priya, V. Chaitanya, who clinched the bronze, and Kiruba H. Arasu.

Lakshmi Sahithi defended her girls' under-10 title in great style.-Pics. RAMESH KURUP

After her final round game against Pranali Patil, Lakshmi Sahithi was in tears, though. She had lost the game and the chance to make it seven out of seven. "I cried because I blundered from a winning position," she revealed later, with a disarming smile.

Rucha from Kolhapur, who also could charm you with her smile, scored 5.5 points, and was a clear second. Chaitanya won the bronze by virtue of a superior progressive score, as she tied with Pranali and V. Bhavana, with 4.5 points each.

Not even the progressive scores could resolve the tie for the silver medal in the boys' under-10 event. It in fact went all the way to the toss.

But, thankfully, the gold was decided in a more acceptable way. S. Ravi Teja, from Andhra (where else?), made sure of that. He scored 5.5 points, half-a-point more than his closest rivals. And his was a most unexpected triumph.

For, on the eve of the tournament, it looked as though Delhi-based Parimarjan Negi would run away with the title. Not only was he the top seed and defending champion, he was a cut above the rest in his age-group.

A cool customer, he often reminds one of former World junior champion <147,8,0>Koneru Humpy in the way he conducts himself during a tournament. One will never see him upset or cry after a bad game, and he has a maturity beyond his years, like Humpy. Even after a poor game, he would manage that innocent smile of his, and would explain where he went wrong.

Matches in progress in the air-conditioned hall at Hotel Asma Tower.-Pics. RAMESH KURUP

Unfortunately at Kozhikode, Parimarjan had a lot of explaining to do, as he was involved in four draws in his last five rounds. That ruined his title hopes. He was held by the tiny Koohestani Mohammed Azad Shahin of Iran, N. Srinath, equally tiny, K. Priyadarshan and S. P. Sethuraman.

It was with Priyadarshan that he tied for the silver. Both scored five points each, and had identical progressive and `cut' progressive scores. And the toss went in favour of Priyadarshan, who is not from Andhra, but from Tamil Nadu.

The new champion from Andhra, Ravi, took the gold, beating Srinath — who in the later stages of the tournament looked like winning it himself — in the final round. Poor Srinath broke down after the game as he finished sixth.

Ravi defeated Chan Yi Ren Daniel and Wong Tsui Hern Daryl of Singapore and compatriots Vishal V. Thakre and Sanjay Dhaval and drew with Sethuraman. But he had lost in the second round to Parimarjan.

As many as 135 players participated in the week-long tournament held at an airconditioned hall at Hotel Asma Tower. A majority of them were Indians, most of whom were special entries (players who participated after paying an entry fee of Rs. 15,000 each).

There was, in fact, a controversy about those special entries. There were some letters to the editors of various newspapers questioning whether it was right to have so many such entries.

The tournament, however, not for the first time, proved that those special entries did no harm to it. In fact, Rajasurya, the girls' under-14 champion, was not one of the 19 official entries from India. Priyadarshan, Rucha, Chaitanya and Narayanan, all medal winners, were special entries too.

The important point about special entries is that no talented player misses out because of the inability to pay the fee, as the National champions are seeded directly and all their expenses are borne by the federations. The All India Chess Federation secretary, P. T. Ummer Koya, pointed out that FIDE allowed special entries for tournaments around the globe. "FIDE wants to give an opportunity for the maximum number of players. Two years ago, when M. Kasturi won the Asian junior championship in Teheran, she had played as a special entry. Another Indian player K. Ratnakaran won the bronze in the same competition, and he too was a special entry."

At Kozhikode some of those special entries indeed proved the AICF secretary's point, as India and Vietnam made the tournament virtually a contest between themselves. Though a couple of players from Iran did look good in patches, those from Singapore, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka failed to create an impression.

The final placing (Indians unless <147,7,0>specified; seven rounds):

Boys:

Under-14: 1. G. Rohit 6, 2. Abhijeet Gupta 5.5, 3-5. Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (Vie), Rahul Sangma and D. Sai Srinivas 5, 6-8. Toufighi Tamijani Homayon (IRI), G.N. Gopal and M. Suraj 4.5, 9-13. K. Vijay Keerthi, T. U. Navin Kanna, Nur Sultan Baltabayev (Kaz), Vishal Shah and R. Srinivasan 4, 14-17. R. Premnath, Aswin Jayaram, G. Balachandar and Behmardi Kalantari Rostam (IRI) 3.5, 18-22. P. Saravana Krishnan, P. Karthikeyan, Joshua Tan Hoong Yu (Mal), Nguyen Viet Chung (Vie) and K. V. Venprakash 3, 23-26. I. T. Palawatta (Sri), T. V. R. Vijaya Raghavan, Akshay Bhor and Aman Chahal 2.5, 27-29. Ankit Chauhan, Sanchit Chauhan and V. Sandeep 2.

Under-12: 1-2. Le Quang Liem (Vie) and Y. Sandeep 5.5, 3. K. Narayanan 5, 4-6. P. P. Prachura, R. Ashwath and Rollan Mankeyev (Kaz) 4.5, 7-11. Navneet Sharma, Abhishek Kelkar, B. Adhiban, B. Adithya and Amogh Kamli 4, 12. R. Adithya Vikas 3.5, 13-18. Yuzvendra S. Chahal, S. Nitin, Swapnil Shah, R. Mahudeeswaran, Sankalp Modwal and P. Sai Sashank 3, 19-20. S. Karthikeyan and Mofathami Mohammad Reza (IRI) 2, 21-22. Abhishek Ravi and Shakthi Ediriweera (Sri) 1.5.

Under-10: 1. S. Ravi Teja 5.5, 2-5. K. Priyadharshan, Parimarjan Negi, S. P. Sethuraman and Viani Antonio D'Cunha 5, 6-8. N. Srinath, Omkar Sanjay Davate and Sanjay Adhav Dhaval 4.5, 9-14. Koohestani Mohammed Azad Shahin (IRI), Fenil Shah, Chua Zheng Yuan Terry (Sng), G. Madhukiran, Sahej Grover and Mirzaei Saleh (IRI) 4, 15-18. Udesi Aditya, Wong Tsui Hern Daryl (Sng), Vishal V. Thakre and M.A. Akila Hemal Ratnayake (Sri) 3.5, 19-24. Oshadhi Varunajith Kottarachchy (Sri), Shiven Kosla, A. Balkishan, Maksat Tuietayev (Kaz), Christer Jon Aplin (Sng) and Hareesh Babu Kandi 3, 25-26. Lam Thanh Nhon (Vie) and Ankit R. Rajpara 2.5, 27. R. Eswar 2, 28-29. Chan Yi Ren Daniel (Sng) and Fong Yip Siang (Sng) 1.5.

Girls:

Under-14: 1. J. Rajasurya 5.5, 2-3. Luong Nhat Linh (Vie) and Pham Bich Ngoc (Vie) 5, 4-7. H. P. Pallavi Maiya, Soumya Swaminathan, N. Raghavi and S. Harini 4.5, 8-9. Saheli Nath and Saba A. Mhate 4, 10-14. Anjana N. Sowjanya, Kiran Monisha Mohanty, V. K. Sindhu, H. Sowmya and Sia Xin Yun Suzanna (Sng) 3.5, 15-17. Ketaki Kulkarni, S. Roshni and Mary Ann Gomes 3, 18-19. G. Prateeka and K. Nayana Rao 2.5, 20. Kajri Choksi 2, 21. Yasoda Gamage (Sri) 1.5, 22. M. Rajadarshini 1.5.

Under-12: 1. Lakshmi Praneetha 7, 2. I. Ramya Krishna 6, 3. Ngo Dieh Hoa (Vie) 4.5, 4-9. Bhakti Kulkarni, Manogna, R. Aparna, Mitali Patil, Pon. N. Krithikha and M. Pragna Patvi 4, 10. Vindya Hemanthage (Sri) 3.5, 11-14. P. K. Jayashree, Dhyani Dave, Dhara Gupta and Gayatri M. Velu 3, 15-16. K. L. Ashvithi Wallawita (Sri) and K. S. Ratnamanikyam 2.5, 17. Indrani 1.

Under-10: 1. P. Lakshmi Sahithi 6, 2. Rucha Pujari 5.5, 3-5. V. Chaitanya, Pranali Patil and V. Bhavana 4.5, 6-7. J. Mohana Priya and Nguyen Ngoc Phuong Khanh (Vie) 4, 8-9. Teenu Thomas Thaliyath and Rausha Abylkassymova (Kaz) 3.5, 10-13. Kiruba H. Arasu, Sai Nirupama Kotepalli, U. G. S. S. S. Udupitiya and C. H. Savetha 3, 14. G. Sirisha 2, 15-16. Gundala Madanasri and Adeline Gan Li Ling (Mal) 1.