Mary Ann, Arun Prasad triumph

S. Arun Prasad and Mary Ann Gomes, the National sub-junior boys' and girls' champions respectively.-Pic. RAMESH KURUP

ALL of a sudden her smile disappeared, her eyes became moist and she was on the brink of tears. One had to console Mary Ann Gomes during the interview and tell her that what she did, earlier in the day, was absolutely correct.

What she did indeed was right, in the final round of the National sub-junior girls' chess championship at the V. K. Krishna Menon Indoor Stadium. She was playing against her friend and roommate, Soumya Swaminathan from Pune, on the top board. And right next to her, on the second board, Saheli Nath, a fellow-Kolkatan, was up against Kruttika Nadig, the Pune girl with a sharp game.

The situation was this: If both the topboard games end in draws, Kruttika, the second seed, will be the champion. If both Mary and Kruttika win, the latter will still lift the title. So it was a must-win situation for the top-seeded Mary, unless of course Kruttika, who had been playing some fine chess right through the tournament, lost. And that's what happened. She lost.

Mary just needed to draw her game. And her instinct was to do just that, though she was in an advantageous position, thanks to some weak moves from her opponent. For, if she drew, Soumya would come third. But that would mean Saheli would be placed fourth. So, in the middle of an important game, the 14-year-old was in a dilemma.

"I was thinking of offering a draw to Soumya," said Mary, "but then I thought of Saheli. It was only because she beat Kruttika that I had got a chance to win the title; and she had done a similar `service' to me on an earlier occasion too. And then she is from my own State. I thought what people in Bengal might say if I drew with Soumya and spoilt Saheli's chances. So I decided to beat Soumya, though I felt so sorry for her. Suddenly I realised that I was under so much pressure. I had to play carefully, because even one mistake by me, which would give a draw to Soumya, would probably be seen as deliberate."

Mary made no mistake and won. And then she broke down.

It seemed nobody, including her good friend N. Raghavi from Chennai, could comfort her. But Soumya, setting aside her own bitter disappointment, put her hands on Mary's shoulders, and said, "Don't worry, even if you had offered me the draw, I would've rejected."

"When Soumya said that I felt a lot better," said Mary, but still there were tears in her eyes. This innocent teenager is quite popular among her peers.

She won her maiden sub-junior National title with eight points from nine rounds. This was also her first National crown after winning the under-9 title in 1998.Mary, a Standard VIII student of Frank Correa Academy, Kolkata, won eight games and lost one, to Kruttika, who finished runner-up in the end with seven points, in the sixth round. She had begun with five wins in a row, beating Meenu Rajendran of Kerala, M. Rajadarshini from Madurai, P. Lakshmi Sahithi from Vijayawada, Swati Rajpurohit of Rajasthan and Ankitha Kini of Karnataka.

Then after the loss to Kruttika, she won her last three rounds, against P. Sivasankari of Tamil Nadu, Raghavi and of course Soumya. She said the title meant a lot to her. "I'm very glad I won the title this year itself when the competition was really tough with so many strong players such as Kruttika, Somya, Raghavi and Saheli."

Mary, who won the bronze medal at the Asian junior meet in Sri Lanka last year, likes to play aggressive chess. And she loves the Bird's Opening, though she doesn't handle it perfectly all the time. "Somehow I feel very comfortable with it," she said.

It was a comfortable triumph in the end for S. Arun Prasad, the 15-year-old from Chennai in the boys' section. It was a maiden National title for the bespectacled lad, who has skipped attending school so that he could devote all his time to chess. That decision seems to have already begun paying dividends as he's fast turning into a fine, solid player.

He scored 7.5 points from nine rounds, the same as second seed Deep Sengupta of Jharkhand and G. N. Gopal of host Kerala. But a better progressive score helped Arun, who was seeded fourth, finish first.

His job was made simpler by Gopal, his opponent in the final round. Arun needed just a draw to be the champion, while the Kerala lad could've lifted the title if he had won.

But, strangely enough, Gopal offered a draw without a fight. He played the Larsen Attack for the first time in his life and the game was over after just eight moves. What he probably didn't realise was that one wouldn't get a chance to win an important tournament like the National sub-juniors every day. His coach, International Master Varughese Koshy, was also disappointed with him.

As he hoped, may be Gopal will learn from this mistake. However, he is easily the most promising player from Kerala at the moment. He finished third, one slot behind Deep, the former World under-12 champion, who took the runner-up slot.

It was indeed a creditable victory for Arun, for it really was a tough field. He had taken the sole lead after the fifth round with five points, as did Mary in the girls' section. He had beaten Manmesh D. Naik of Goa, Sankar Majumdar of Bengal, Ninad Vijay Puranik of Maharashtra and K. Nikilesh Kumar and D. Sai Srinivas of Andhra. Like Mary, he too suffered a setback in the sixth round, losing to Akshayraj, the Pune lad who has good theoretical knowledge. He recovered quickly enough, beating Sriram Sarja of Karnataka in the seventh round, and in the eighth, he beat Deep, who messed up his chances of a draw.

The biggest disappointment of the tournament was top seed Abhijeet Gupta of Rajasthan, who ended up 44th. A huge comedown for someone who won the National junior (under-19) title when he was just 13, a few months ago. He was shocked in the second round by P. Karthikeyan from Chennai and could never really recover.

There were 143 boys and 99 girls in the fray, which was yet another proof of the ever-growing popularity of the sport in the country.

The placings (nine rounds):

Boys:1-3. S. Arun Prasad, Deep Sengupta and G. N. Gopal 7.5, 4-7. Akshayraj Kore, Rahul Sangma, K. Vijay Keerthi and Pratik Sriwas 7, 8-14. Praveen Prasad, T. U. Navin Kanna, K. Nikhilesh Kumar, Sriram Sarja, P. Karthikeyan, Debayn Majumdar and Y. Sandeep 6.5, 15-26. D. Sai Srinivas, T. Abhya, Vishal V. Shah, Vipal Subhashi, Joydeep Dutta, Ninad Vijay Puranik, G. S. Sreejith, Debaditta Sinha, Indradeep Giri, Saravana Krishnan, Priyadarshan, Aniket Paini and Satish Kumar 6.

Girls: 1. Mary Ann Gomes 8, 2-3. Kruttika Nadig and Saheli Nath 7, 4-10. N. Raghavi, Soumya Swaminathan, Kiran Monisha Mohanty, I. Ramya Krishna, P. Sivasankari, S. Harini and J. Rajasurya 6.5, 11-22. M. Rajadarshini, Meenu Rajendran, Anjana N. Sowjanya, V. K. Sindhu, Pon. N. Krithika, G. Pratheeka, Koneru Chandra Hawsa, H. P. Pallavi Maiya, L. Iswarya Shobana, H. Sowmya, Amita Kashikar and Saba A. Mhata 6, 23-28. P. K. Jayasree, R. K. Shruki, Kajri Choksi, Gundala Madanasri, Swati Rajpurohit and Mitali M. Patil 5.5.

P. K. Ajith Kumar