Neelotpal Das justifies top billing

A. JOSEPH ANTONY

CALL it a coincidence, for the top trio of the National rapid chess tournament had each won a title at the very same venue — the Chenupati Ramakotiah Municipal Corporation Kreeda Pranganam, which Vijaywada residents refer to as the Patamata Indoor Stadium. Top-seed Neelotpal Das lived up to his billing, half a point separating him from runner-up R. R. Laxman, who had won the National Lighting championships here. It was only a couple of months ago that Sriram Jha had claimed the National `B' crown. In this event, he finished third.

The prize-winners at the National rapid chess championship: Neelotpal Das, R. R. Lakshman and Sriram Jha. — Pic. Ch. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

If you thought you could write your wife a letter before one move could be made in chess, witnessing a rapid competition would radically change your view. For barely would you have warmed your seat, when the bloodless battle across 64 squares would already have made headway.

One latecomer moved a piece even before sitting down. The thumping of chess clocks became incessant, the stares at the boards more fixed, while there was little or next to no time to fix a glare at the rival.

Silence was still golden though. When one onlooker's mobile phone rang, he rushed out, making a vain bid to suppress the film tune with his palm. The players, by now used to the bustle of bystanders, were too preoccupied with their plots to even make their disapproval known.

The half-hour contests were hot on some tables. Fans thronged the top boards, keen to catch the action. Neelotpal Das for one did not let them down. Quick on the draw, he invariably had more than a few minutes, sometimes up to six to spare, while his opponents chewed their nails in anxiety.

The Kolkata-based Junior Superintendent with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) lost one crucial game to arch rival Laxman. In the others, he remained in charge, never going into a minus position. Since no points were awarded, such events were at best very good practice, which called for maintaining one's calm through thick and thin.

Laxman seemed to be in roaring form, accounting for Sriram Jha, Neelotpal Das and Vikas Sharma in the first two days, sweeping six points from as many games. The last day was simply not his, for Nikhilesh Kumar stopped him in the seventh and Dinesh Kumar Sharma in the ninth, when Laxman was within shaking hands distance of the crown.

A first year Master of Arts student of English Literature at Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, Laxman sat shell-shocked in his chair, after the defeat by Dinesh.

The event was a boon for young players from the region such as M. R. Lalith Babu, Dasari Sai Srinivas and Gogineni Rohit. For Lalith's father especially, the options can be heartbreaking. He's fully aware of his son's precocious talent but can ill-afford to send the boy out of town and country, for the costs are absolutely prohibitive and way beyond his reach. No sponsor seems to be in a supportive mood, as of now.

Yet the little one is without doubt a promising prospect, the lone winner against Grand Master Pravin Thipsay during a simultaneous exhibition against 30 players. So did he shake the chess fraternity out of its stupor, when he stunned Commonwealth champion Atanu Lahiri.

About 60 players were in the fray for the tourney that carried total prize money of Rs. 1,03,000. That the competition was stiff became evident from the fact that four players were tied at 6.5 points, a superior progressive score proving decisive for Sriram Jha.

The final standings (progressive scores in square brackets in case of tie):

Neelotpal Das 7.5 (ONGC), 2. R. R. Laxman 7 (TN), 3. Sriram Jha 6.5 (33.5) (LIC), 4. D. K. Sharma 6.5 (32.5) (LIC), 5. J. Rama Krishna 6.5 (31.5) (South Central Railway), 6. D. Sai Srinivas 6.5 (29) (Championships Chess Academy), 7. G. Rohit 6 (29.5) (APCA), 8. Joy Lazar M.A. 6 (28) (Ker).