Master of 64 squares

Published : Oct 03, 2009 00:00 IST

A world under-14 champion in 2005, Le Quang Liem is one of the six GMs in his country where chess is not the most popular sport.-PICS. S. PATRONOBISH
A world under-14 champion in 2005, Le Quang Liem is one of the six GMs in his country where chess is not the most popular sport.-PICS. S. PATRONOBISH

A world under-14 champion in 2005, Le Quang Liem is one of the six GMs in his country where chess is not the most popular sport.-PICS. S. PATRONOBISH

Another successful edition produces some stunning plays, with the young GM from Vietnam, Le Quang Liem, walking away with top honours. By S. Sabanayakan.

Grandmaster Le Quang Liem of Vietnam proved to be the master of 64 squares in the Peerless 4th Kolkata Open chess tournament. The unassuming, soft-spoken 18-year-old student, never touted to be a champion material in perhaps the strongest ever GM meet held in the continent, was confidence personified as he pulled off the biggest triumph of his career.

Liem, with a rating a shade above 2600, pocketed Rs. 3 lakh that came as prize money for winning the crown with eight points from the 10-round Swiss league championship.

“It is indeed the biggest triumph of my career,” gushed Liem after winning the tournament. “I hope this victory will help me attain higher goals.”

Speaking about his winning formula, he added: “Winning the tournament was never in my mind. Like so many other chess players I just wanted to do well and gain experience in such a strong GM tournament. I began to fancy my chances after the victory in the seventh round. My win in the ninth round against Anton Filippov (of Uzbekistan) almost made sure of the title.”

A world under-14 champion in 2005, Liem is one of the six GMs in his country where chess is not the most popular sport. Representing his country in two Olympiads and Asian championship has been his biggest achievements before this triumph. “Considering the chess set-up back home, I do not even get to play in Open tournaments like this,” he pointed out.

The unbeaten champion, who is ranked second in under-18 category in the world, considered his victory against top seed and super GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan the most satisfying.

With a rating of 2721, Mamedyarov began as the overwhelming favourite but slipped in the initial rounds before staging a strong comeback to finish half a point behind the winner. Mamedyarov, who does not play in Open tournaments anymore, stopped the defending champion Viktor Laznicka of the Czech Republic in the final round with a resounding victory. “He (Mamedyarov) is in a different league,” felt Indian GM Sandipan Chanda at the start of the tournament.

The first half saw the top seed drop two points including one to the ultimate winner. But he was at his attacking best in the second half, picking up 4.5 points in five rounds. The Azerbaijani won Rs. 2 lakh for his effort.

Uzbek GM Filippov, with a rating of 2595, too had a sound second half, emerging as a challenger for the title. But his ninth round loss to Liem with white pieces completely spoiled his chances. He too had 7.5 points but ended third on account of inferior tie-break scores.

GM Nigel Short of England, with a rating of 2706, proved to be the most charismatic of all in the 10-day championship. Having taken a break for two years, Short uncorked a completely different game to bemuse some of his opponents. Many who followed his game keenly felt they were watching Short in a new avatar.

“Considering the strong field, I had set myself a modest target of getting to seven points which I achieved,” he said.

None fancied the chances of defending champion Laznicka. The blonde Czech, though, showed remarkable fighting spirit to steadily climb up and to be in the thick of things till the end. He ran out of luck when he drew against the top seed in the final round. He did make a strong bid to win the game with black pieces but GM Mamedyarov proved too good.

Among the Indians, GM Sandipan Chanda was in the running for the top honours with a string of victories in the earlier round. His second half play was, however, marred by errors. He did finish a creditable fourth with seven points and ought to be lauded.

National champion GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly had a modest outing but came up with some fine victories without being a contender for the crown. The surprise packet of the tournament was Indian International Master Swayangsu Satyapragyan. In finishing seventh, the Orissa-born earned his second GM norm. Interestingly, he was the only IM in the top 20 dominated by GMs.

Generally, Indians had a good tournament with six GMs finishing in the top 20. Another revelation of the championship was Sahaj Grover. The 14-year-old Delhi lad, with a rating of 2288, revelled against higher rated GMs and scored 5.5 points. He played eight GMs in 10 rounds and defeated three of them including Gadir Guseinov of Azerbaijan whose rating was 2667. The average Elo rating of his opponents over 10 rounds was 2551.

Having missed the first GM norm at the Dubai Open in May, Grover won his maiden GM norm in this tournament in spectacular fashion. A lot would be heard about this baby-faced wonder.

Lot was expected of another prodigy Parimarjan Negi. Having done so well in two strong tournaments outside the country before this meet, Negi looked subdued and tentative. A strong finisher, Negi was tested in every round. Given his talent Negi was capable of finishing above the 14th spot which he achieved.

The whole idea of organising such a big tournament was to give Indian players the chance to achieve the coveted GM and IM norms. In this regard the meet was a resounding success. R. R. Laxman gained the most by becoming India’s 20th GM, winning his third and final GM norm.

The Chennai-based 26-year-old won the first norm at Dubai last year and picked up the second earlier this year at Gurgaon and nailed the title in Kolkata. Though his present rating is below the stipulated 2500, the Railway employee had touched the magic figure earlier. His title would be confirmed in the next FIDE Congress.

The tournament produced as many as three GM norms and 10 IM norms out of which two were final norms. WGM Nisha Mohata earned her final IM norm and would be awarded the title. Jharkhand’s Abhishek Das too got his final IM norm but has to reach the Elo rating of 2400 for the title. B. S. Shivananda and P. Shyam Nikhil earned their second and Anwesh Upadhyaya, Akshat Khamparia, Ankit Rajpara, Vidit Santosh Gujarati, Sayantan Das and Shiven Khosla all got their first IM norms.

A total 115 players from 18 countries including 34 GMs, 28 IMs, three WGMs, one WIM and 15 FMs participated in the tournament that also saw two players above 2700 rating making the field.

A word of praise was also due to the organiser, the Alekhine Chess Club, which has been organising such tournaments for many years now. Many Indians, including Ganguly, Chanda, Neelotpal Das to name a few, gained immensely from these tournaments. The visiting foreign players were all praise for the successful conduct of the championship.


1. GM Le Quang Liem (Vie, 8 pts, Rs. 3 lakh), 2. GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (Aze, 7.5, Rs. 2 lakh), 3. GM Anton Filippov (Uze, 7.5, Rs. 1.25 lakh), 4. GM Sandipan Chanda (Ind, 7 pts, Rs. 75,000), 5. GM Nigel Short (Eng, 7, Rs.55,000), 6. GM Viktor Laznicka (Cze, 7, Rs. 35,000), 7. IM S. Satyapragyan (Ind, 7, Rs. 30,000), 8. GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly (Ind, 7, Rs. 25,000), 9. GM Aleksandrov Aleksej (Blr, 7, Rs. 20,000), 10. GM Eltaj Safarli (Aze, 6.5 pts, Rs. 15,000).

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