Konguvel's title drought ends

IT was like a dream come true for former National champion and International Master P. Konguvel when he received the Rajarshi Shahu Trophy from the Finance Minister of Maharashtra, Jayant Patil.

RAGHUNANDAN GOKHALE

P. Konguvel won an International Rating tournament after seven years.-

IT was like a dream come true for former National champion and International Master P. Konguvel when he received the Rajarshi Shahu Trophy from the Finance Minister of Maharashtra, Jayant Patil. Wanting to regain his lost form for the past seven years, Konguvel did it majestically in Kolhapur. An engineer from ONGC, Chennai, Konguvel had last won the National Championship in 1997. His Grandmaster norm came in 2001, but a clear first prize was evading him.

The Rajarshi Shahu Trophy International Rating chess tournament held at Kolhapur offered a golden opportunity for the 28-year-old and he grabbed it with both hands.

The lead kept changing constantly and the International Masters received some shocks from the non Masters and like a fairytale, the winner proved to be the one who was down in the dumps in the beginning. For Konguvel came back strongly with a spurt of 4.5 points in the last five rounds.

The organisers under the Chairmanship of Vishwavijay Khanvilkar spread awareness of the game by flooding Kolhapur, the richest district in India, with posters of the tournament. No wonder the maiden International Rating tournament of Kolhapur got a response of 42 Rated players among the 113 entries it received and that too on the eve of the National `B' Championship.

Rahul Shetty (Indian Airlines), who had won a tournament in Nepal last month, was the first IM to bite the dust. He was shocked by M. Vinodkumar ( ICF, Chennai) in the second round. Ten-year-old Bhakti Kulkarni (Goa) made top seeded IM S. Satyapragyan sweat before losing.

The third and fourth rounds proved to be the graveyard for titled players as IM P. Konguvel was stunned by local star Hemant Mandhare in Grunfeld Defence while IM Anup Deshmukh (LIC) went down to Syed Anwar Shazuli (ICF).

Top seeded S.Satyapragyan (IA), T. S. Ravi (IOC) and Dinesh Kumar Sharma (LIC) had to share points with K. Gunasekharan, O. T. Anilkumar and Maharashtra youngster D. Ravishankar.

The fifth round witnessed R. Balasubramanium — a former National `B' champion from ICF, Chennai emerge as the sole leader with five points. However his draw with IM T. S. Ravi in the sixth round allowed top seeded Satyapragyan to catch up. Satyapragyan scored a smooth win over O. T. Anilkumar. Konguvel was held to a draw by teenager Omkar Patwardhan of Maharashtra.

T. S. Ravi, who remained unbeaten, took the runner-up spot. — Pic. K. GAJENDRAN-

Konguvel took the reverse in his stride and started playing high-level chess. He scored four wins on the trot to change the equations.

Satyapragyan, who was going great guns, outplayed Balasubramanium with a sustained attack in Modern Defence to become the sole leader at 6.5 points after the seventh round. He had a full point lead over his nearest rivals, Ravi, Anup Deshmukh, Shazuli, Balasubramanium and Konguvel. Perhaps Satyapragyan was complacent or tired. He did not play well in the next games and was in difficult positions against IM Anup Deshmukh and IM T. S. Ravi before coming out with fighting draws.

Konguvel was at his best when he outwitted Syed Anwar Shazuli from Black side of Grunfeld Defence. Shazuli had just one weak pawn but it was enough for the ultimate winner to score an emphatic win. Konguvel attacked with gusto against Laxman's Sicilian Defence in the ninth round.

The battle royal between the leaders in the tenth and penultimate round proved to be an anti-climax as Satyapragyan blundered a pawn in the opening. Konguvel missed a quicker win but won the game in the end to emerge as a leader with just one round to go. His arch rival from IOC, IM T. S. Ravi, was breathing down his neck and had the title in sight if he could win the last round.

However it was not to be! Konguvel maintained his cool in the face of a new move from Ravi in the Sicilian Alapin Defence and drew the game. Thus Konguvel was winning an All India Open event after seven nightmarish years.

With a better opening, R. Balasubramanium could well have finished above the third position. — Pic. K. GAJENDRAN-

"I never stopped working on my game during that period," confessed the winner. Ravi, one of the hardest players to beat on the Indian circuit, was unbeaten throughout and deservedly took the runner-up spot.

R. Balasubramanium had a good chance to finish above his third rank. However a weak opening repertoire proved to be an obstacle in his path. Balasubramanium was never in trouble against lower ranked players but the better-prepared players had the upperhand over him. Top seeded Satyapragyan would have been a runaway winner if he had not bungled in the crucial game against Konguvel. This youngster from Orissa has the potential to go higher.

B. S. Sivanandan (Karnataka) is a fighter and rarely gets bad position in the opening. His fifth place was slightly disappointing considering his preparation and will to win. IM D. K. Sharma was unbeaten too but he was bogged down with too many draws. On the other hand, IM Anup Deshmukh's form deserted him at the crucial moment. Anup missed at least three wins towards the end and finished eighth.

Harkamal Singh Sandhu (Punjab) played well and finished seventh. R. R. Laxman's two losses in a row in the fifth and sixth rounds cost him dearly. Gunasekharan, after drawing with Satyapragyan in the beginning lost direction and had to be satisfied with the tenth position.

Young girls had an impressive outing in the tournament. Bhakti Kulkarni had a golden opportunity to finish in the top ten had she won the last round against Gunasekharan.

Swati Mohota (West Bengal), Madhuri Patil (Maharashtra) and Pushpalata Mangal (BSB) are seasoned campaigners. They had their shares of upsets. Nine-year-old Rucha Pujari's six points surprised many. Digvijay Khanvilkar, the Health Minister of Maharashtra, immediately announced that this wonder-girl would be provided with all the necessary help for her future ventures.

Ten-year-old Bhakti Kulkarni was impressive among the girls.-

Devangi Patankar, another up and coming player from Pune, bagged the best girls' prize. Though it was Kolhapur District Chess Association's maiden venture, it was efficiently organised. The team of Arbiters under National Arbiter Bharat Chougule looked after the technical side and there was not a single protest on any count. The tournament was indeed a success.

Final Rankings:

1. IM P. Konguvel (ONGC) 9 points, 2. IM T. S. Ravi (IOC) 8.5, 3. R. Balasubramanium (ICF) 8.5, 4. IM S. Satyapragyan (IA) 8, 5. B. Sivanandan (Kar) 8, 6. IM Dinesh Sharma (LIC) 8, 7. H. S. Sandhu (Pun) 8, 8. IM Anup Deshmukh (LIC) 7.5, 9. R. R. Laxman (TN) 7.5, 10. K. Gunasekharan (TN) 7.5.