Moving 130 places to claim crown

Martyn Kravtsiv... tremendous comeback.-K. PICHUMANI

Chess, unlike most other sports, rewards intent, only so much. The push for a win from a technically drawn position often destabilises the setup, and more often than not, hands the initiative to the opponent. In the last round of matches, Areshchenko, playing black, signed truce with Nabaty after the mandatory 25 moves, forcing Kravtsiv and Greenfold to come up with a result on the adjoining board. Over to Raakesh Natraj.

Once the Parsvnath International Chess tournament in Delhi came to an end, a sizable portion of its candidates, including the winner Alexander Areshchenko, made the migration down south, with the Chennai Open scheduled three days after.

The field for the Chennai event was impressive in its own right. The city boasts of the largest collection of GMs in the country apart from a highly active youth system, which was bound to swell the numbers. GM B. Adhiban and GM in waiting S. P. Sethuraman, for instance, decided to skip Delhi while throwing their hat in here.

When the figures were tallied one final time before the eleven-round Swiss format tournament got underway, the starting grid included 25 GMs and 40 IMs among the 330 participants. Areshchenko was the top seed.

The Swiss system, which is used for pairing opponents in a large field, brings together each round, players who have been performing as well or as poorly. It also ensures an approximately equal number of games with each colour and of course, that you don't play the same opponent twice.

Areshchenko drew his first round match, which made the reminder of his journey quite interesting. It took him until the penultimate round to clamber back on to the leaderboard, all the while camping at the outposts, in the bazaars of the outer courts, cheek by jowl with kids and amateurs.

Precocity in chess should be unsurprising, but it takes some getting used to. Aravindh Chidambaram, who looks far tinier than his age (12) suggests, had to pile one plastic chair on top of another to reach the boards. The next day he sat in an improvised padmasana to get up there. The national under-11 champion had some good times, getting out of a spot of bother against the higher ranked Sethuraman with a series of perpetual checks in one of the rounds.

Admittedly, Sethuraman, who at 17 is not much older than Aravindh himself, seemed off-kilter for much of the tournament, finishing 30th after surely having counted himself as one of the favourites to start with. Adhiban, his former school mate, was more consistent and ended with a strong showing, finishing fifth with a performance rating of 2615. Sahaj Grover, 15, also ended the tournament in the top-ten and silenced a few big guns on the way, none more so than GM Abhijeet Gupta, the top-ranked Indian in the fray, whom he routed in the last round..

Alexander Areshchenko... failing to do justice to his top billing.-R. RAGU

Mohammad Nubairshah Shaikh, 12, ended with 7.5 points and an IM norm, remaining undefeated against the 5 GMs he played (won one, drew four) along the way. Michelle Catherina, a standard IX student, hung GM Arun Prasad out to dry in 29 moves and went on to lodge a WIM norm. She was also just a whisker away from her maiden IM and WGM norms.

It was not just the local players that enjoyed a good run. The lead changed hands between Evgeny Postny and Tamir Nabaty, 19, a few times, and even then, a clear table-topper did not emerge. Nobody led the rest of the field by more than half a point through the tournament. Alon Greenfold, Ni Hua and Mikhailo Oleksienko all hovered around perpetually.

Once the tournament headed towards its final rounds, a few things changed. While just a handful were in contention for the top spots, the rest of the field busied itself in the hunt for norms or the preserval of rating points. Quick draws, intended to conserve energy and shift the onus on the lower boards to come up with the results, settled the scores on a few of the top boards towards the end.

Moving ahead all the while was GM Martyn Kravtsiv, who, after having slipped to the nether half of the draw with a point and a half at the end of three rounds, was digging his heels in. The Ukrainian, one of several clogging the upper end of the table, ran up 6.5 points from a possible seven, and was tied for the lead with Areshchenko, Tamir Nabaty and Greenfold going into the final round. The contests on the two top boards between the four would decide the title on the final day.

Chess, unlike most other sports, rewards intent, only so much. The push for a win from a technically drawn position often destabilises the setup, and more often than not, hands the initiative to the opponent. In the last round of matches, Areshchenko, playing black, signed truce with Nabaty after the mandatory 25 moves, forcing Kravtsiv and Greenfold to come up with a result on the adjoining board.

Kravtsiv went e4 and Greenfold opted for c5 and the Sicilian, which is statistically the best alternative for black when going for a win. That set the tone for the rest of the game as Greenfold pushed and Kravtsiv resisted. Areshchenko, who was understandably taking a keen interest in the match, predicted a win for black. The game was still in flux and time was not a luxury for either player.

After four hours and more of slugging, Greenfold, by then struggling to maintain a hold on white's h pawn, missed a combination that could, in the least buy him time, if not a result. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, and was soon shaking his opponent's hand after throwing in the towel.

Kravtsiv's win completed the comeback, where he made up 130 spots over eight rounds to take home the title and the winner's cheque of Rs. 2 lakh.

FINAL PLACINGS

Final Placing (after 11 rounds, Indian unless stated): 1. Martyn Kravtsiv (Ukr, 9.5 pts), 2-5, Tamir Nabaty (Isr, 9.0), Ni Hua (Chn, 9.0), Alexander Areshchenko (Ukr, 9.0), B. Adhiban (9.0), 6-9 Alon Greenfeld (Isr, 8.5), Sahaj Grover (8.5), Henrik Danielsen (Isl, 8.5), Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury (8.5), 10. Yuriy Kuzubov (Ukr, 8.0).