THERE were black badges. There were controversies. There was heavy rain too. Still, the Category 16 Super Grandmaster chess tournament, held in Pune in early September, will be remembered for the quality of the games it produced.P. K. AJITH KUMAR
THERE were black badges. There were controversies. There was heavy rain too. Still, the Category 16 Super Grandmaster chess tournament, held in Pune in early September, will be remembered for the quality of the games it produced.
Ten players — including five from India — were in the fray for what was the country's biggest league tourney ever. Romania's Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu was the highest ranked among them with 2686 Elo points (he's the World No. 20), and he played the best chess too. Fittingly, he walked away with the Mayor's Trophy as well as $2,600, after settling for a quick draw with local lad Abhijit Kunte, one of the four Indian players who came wearing black badges on the opening day, protesting the All India Chess Federation's recent decision to impose a 10% cut in prize-money.
The draw took the long-haired Romanian's tally to 6.5 points, as many as the FIDE World champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov of Uzbekistan scored after beating Israel's Emil Sutovsky in brilliant fashion.
Nisipeanu was declared the champion after the Koya System was applied to break the tie. He'd taken a calculated risk when he opted for the easy way out in the final round.
"Kasimdzhanov could've pipped me only if some other games also produced the results to his liking," the champion told The Sportstar, minutes after signing the peace treaty with Kunte.
He could afford the luxury of taking it easy on the final day because he'd played wonderfully well in the previous eight rounds, winning four of them. He tightened his grip on the title when he won three games in a row. And one of them was an absolute beauty. That came in the fifth round, and his victim was Sandipan Chanda. The young Kolkatan who performed better than expectations, didn't know what hit him in that Sicilian Hedgehog game.One of the best
Nisipeanu later admitted that it was one of the best games he had ever played in his career. "That would come in the list of my five favourite games," said the man who has been likened to Mikhail Tal, the most spectacularly attacking of all the World champions.
He had begun his campaign on a low key though, drawing his first two games, with Krishnan Sasikiran, the highest rated Indian in the field who would have a forgettable outing, and Alexander Belivasky of Slovenia.
But the game against the Slovenian veteran was far from dull though; Nisipeanu got half-a-point by sacrificing two pieces to get perpetual checks. "I wanted to have some fun," he explained with mischief in his eyes.Winning streak
His winning streak began in the third round in which his opponent was the reigning National champion Surya Shekhar Ganguly, who had a disastrous start before finding some form in the latter half of the event. A win against Zurab Azmaiparashvili of Georgia in the fourth round put him in the joint lead, along with Kasimdzhanov, Sutovsky and Chanda.
Then came that classic against Chanda and Nisipeanu took the sole lead. He suffered a setback though in the sixth round, when he lost to Pendyala Harikrishna. The 17-year-old Andhra lad was the pick of the Indians as he finished a creditable third. Nisipeanu had messed up his position after an unwise king-pawn push on the 11th move. "I knew that I'd made a mistake immediately," he said.Memorable win
He offered a draw, hoping his reputation and form might tempt the young Indian, who, however, rejected that proposal and went on to complete the most memorable win in his young career. Nisipeanu was joined in the lead by Kasimdzhanov. Then the two met in the seventh round and drew after 57 moves in an opposite-coloured bishop ending as both kept their title hopes alive.
In the eighth round, Nisipeanu scored a crucial win against Sutovsky — the Israeli played the most number of exciting games in the tournament — and regained the sole lead, as Kasimdzhanov was held by Harikrishna. The Romanian knew he had done enough to register what would be his biggest triumph on the chessboard. "This is by far my best tournament victory," he said.
And it was his best result after reaching the semifinals of the World championship in 1999 in Las Vegas. This was his first ever Category 16 tournament and he showed his class in style.Stiffest challenge
Kasimdzhanov gave him the stiffest challenge for the title, and he was in fact the only player to remain uneaten till the end. But too many draws — six of them — cost him the first place. He reminded everyone of his calibre though with a remarkable victory against Sutovsky in the final round. He was brilliant against Kunte too, earlier in the tournament.
The hapless Kunte was at the receiving end of another brilliant game, against Sutovsky in the second round. The former World junior champion from Israel was in fact the first one to take the lead, after punishing an over-stretching Sasikiran in the third round.
As always, Sutovsky was attacking, imaginative and entertaining. He even played a King's Gambit (against Nisipeanu), an opening, which one doesn't find everyday at this level. But he had to pay the penalty for being over-adventurous and finished just a slot above the last-placed Kunte. He couldn't recover from a fifth round loss to Ganguly. "Yes, it's disappointing to end the tournament like this after playing so well early on," said the 27-year-old who is also a trained classical singer.
Sutovsky was involved in just three draws, less than anybody else. The game needs players like him who make it so exciting to watch.
Harikrishna proved yet again that he is one of the most exciting prospects in the game in India. He finished a clear third, a point and a half behind Nisipeanu and Kasimdzhanov. He salvaged the host's pride to a certain extent too, after Sasikiran failed to live up to expectations.
And he needed this kind of a performance at this stage of his career. He hasn't had a lot of success of late. "I'm happy with the way I played here," he said. "Playing in a high category, round-robin tournament was a new experience for me, and I'm glad that I've been able to perform creditably."
Harikrishna lost only one game. That was to Chanda, who surprised quite a few, including himself. "Honestly, I didn't expect to do this well against excellent foreign players," Chanda said.Successive losses
But for his successive losses to compatriots Kunte and Sasikiran, his final placing could've been a lot higher than eighth. This show would do a world of good to his confidence ahead of his maiden Olympiad, to be held in October.
According to the All India Chess Federation (AICF), one of the main aims of the tournament was to provide the Indian players an opportunity to test themselves against some of the best players in the world.Key member
Sasikiran will be key member of the Indian men's team in Spain. The country expects a lot from him on the second board and skipper Viswanathan Anand on the first. In Pune, though, the hard-working Sasikiran failed to deliver. He stands to lose 10 Elo points (while the rest of the Indians will gain).
"I've made too many mistakes," he said after finishing sixth. "I messed up good positions on more than one occasion. Maybe my preparation wasn't enough for this tournament."
One of the few highpoints for him was his win against long-time rival Kunte, the only Indian player he has an inferior personal score against. He, of course, played Kunte during one of the latter's worst runs ever.
It really wasn't a very memorable outing on the home turf for Pune's only Grandmaster. He began with two losses, but he redeemed himself somewhat with a better show in the second half of the tournament. "It was always going to be difficult after such a bad start," he said. "But I wasn't feeling well during those games; I had a bout of flu."
Ganguly, who played with an injured ear, was another Indian who didn't have the best of starts. Like Kunte, he too had just half-a-point after four rounds.
His fortunes would've been different if he hadn't made a blunder in the opening round against the Georgian veteran Zurab Azmaiparashvili. "I was winning that game," he rued.
The reigning National champion from Kolkata, who finished seventh, did score two memorable victories, against Sutovsky and Sasikiran. The two senior players in the field, Alexander Beliavsky of Slovenia and Azmaiparashvili, didn't make much of an impression, as they finished fourth and fifth respectively.The moves
Sandipan Chanda (Ind 2555) v Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (Rom 2686), Sicilian Defence 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nb5 d6 6. c4 Nf6 7. N1c3 a6 8. Na3 b6 9. Be2 Bb7 10. Be3 Be7 11. O-O Ne5 12. f3 O-O 13. Qb3 Ned7 14. Rfd1 Qc7 15. Rac1 Rac8 16. Kh1 Rfe8 17. Nab1 h5 18. a3 Qb8 19. Bf2 h4 20. Bxh4 Nc5 21. Qa2 Nfxe4 22. Nxe4 Nxe4 23. Bxe7 Nf2+ 24. Kg1 Nxd1 25. Bg5 d5 26. Bxd1 Qe5 27. Bd2 dxc4 28. Rxc4 Bd5 29. Rxc8 Rxc8 30. b3 Rc1 31. Nc3 Qd4+ 32. Kf1 Bxb3 33. Qxb3 Qxd2 34. Qxb6 Rxc3 0-1.Rank Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Total
1 Liviu-Dieter Nisipeanu (Rom) * 0.5 0 0.5 1 0.5 1 1 1 0.5 6
2 Rustam Kasimdzhanov (Isr) 0.5 * 0.5 0.5 0.5 0.5 1 0.5 1 1 6
3 Pendyala Harikrishna (Ind) 1 0.5 * 0.5 1 0.5 0.5 0 0.5 0.5 5
4 Alexander Beliavsky (Slo) 0.5 0.5 0.5 * 0.5 1 0.5 0 0.5 0.5 4.5
5 Zurab Azmaiparashvili (Geo) 0 0.5 0 0.5 * 0.5 1 0.5 1 0.5 4.5
6 Krishnan Sasikaran (Ind) 0.5 0.5 0.5 0 0.5 * 0 1 0 1 4
7 Surya Shekar Ganguly (Ind) 0 0 0.5 0.5 0 1 * 0.5 1 0.5 4
8 Sandipan Chanda (Ind) 0 0.5 1 1 0.5 0 0.5 * 0.5 0 4
9 Emil Sutovsky (Isr) 0 0 0.5 0.5 0 1 0 0.5 * 1 3.5
10 Abhijit Kunte (Ind) 0.5 0 0.5 0.5 0.5 0 0.5 1 0 * 3.5