Maiden title for Korbut

AS she watched Elisabeth Paehtz wobbling, Russian Ekaterina Korbut bit her lips.

STAN RAYAN

Russia's Ekaterina Korbut, the girls' champion. -- Pic. MAHESH HARILAL-

AS she watched Elisabeth Paehtz wobbling, Russian Ekaterina Korbut bit her lips.

The drama on 64 squares was being aired live on computers outside the Durbar Hall at the Casino Hotel and Korbut was following it very closely.

The Russian chess star had a lot at stake. She needed Paehtz to draw or lose her final game, against India's Kruttika Nadig, to win her maiden World crown.

A few minutes later, with Paehtz committing a blunder, Korbut was jumping for joy. She had won the girls' World Junior crown. And she was making her debut in the under-20 championship.

One could see Indian chess leaping in delight, too. For, apart from the bronze which Pune's Eesha Karvade brilliantly won, Kruttika Nadig's stunning victory over the second-seeded Paehtz pushed her forward to a creditable fourth place at the Kochi Worlds.

Eesha Karvade clinched the bronze medal. — Pic. MAHESH HARILAL-

The Pune-born, Bangalore-settled Nadig also gained her second Woman International Master norm while Eesha Karvade took home a 13-game Woman Grandmaster norm. She had made a nine-game norm earlier. For both the girls, it was their best-ever showing.

It's nice to know that strong players are not only emerging from Southern States such as Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu but also from the West. And with four girls in the top eight (N. Vinuthna was sixth and P. Sivasankari eighth), India had a remarkable finish in Kochi.

With Koneru Humpy taking on the boys and the new under-14 World champion Dronavalli Harika staying away, Elisabeth Paehtz started as the favourite despite being the second seed.

The 19-year-old German is a seasoned pro on the women's world circuit. A former under-18 World champion, Paehtz has also played a few exhibition games against Garry Kasparov, and her father, Thomas Paehtz, is a Grandmaster. Just two Elo points separated her from Korbut, the top-seed. Everything seemed to be in her favour.

But Paehtz has been quite seriously into studies this year. "I want to take up a full-time chess career only after I finish school. This is my last year," she said during the Kochi championship. This factor, which probably prevented her from preparing properly, could have been her undoing.

The top-seeded Elisabeth Paehtz of Germany, who was shocked by India's Kruttika Nadig in the final game, finished second. — Pic. MAHESH HARILAL-

Going into the final round, Paehtz and Korbut were level on points but the German had a better tie-break score. She just needed to finish level with Korbut to take the gold, but after the final round loss, she ended up with the silver.

Interestingly, despite being masters in a mind game, a good number of stars in Kochi were superstitious and believed in luck. Champion Korbut was a classic case. She wore the same dress, a tight blue top and jeans, for the last 10 rounds.

For a girl who gave up gymnastics to take up chess at the age of nine, Kochi offered Korbut her best break. It carried the first year economics student of St. Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance to the international chess spotlight.

"Playing the Indians was the most difficult part," said Korbut, the Russian under-20 champion.

True. Indians were the biggest worry for the top seeds. While Korbut drew her first two rounds against Kolkata's National sub-junior champion Saheli Nath and Thiruvananthapuram's Meenu Rajendran, sixth-seeded Eesha Karvade accounted for fourth-seeded Anna Ushenina and fifth-seed Romanian Alina Motoc. And of course, Kruttika Nadig, seeded 16th, pulled off the biggest upset with her final assault on Paehtz.

In the end, both Korbut and Paehtz were in tears. Of course, for different reasons.

The top ten

1. Ekaterina Korbut (Rus, 10.5 pts, gold), 2. Elisabeth Paehtz (Ger, 9.5, silver), 3. Eesha Karvade (Ind, 9.5, bronze), 4. Kruttika Nadig (Ind, 8.5), 5. Anna Ushenina (Ukr, 8), 6. N. Vinuthna (Ind, 8), 7. Marties Bensdorp (Ned, 8), 8. P. Sivasankari (Ind, 8), 9. Zhang Jilin (Chn, 7.5), 10. Siti Zulaikha (Mas, 7.5).