PSCB's monopoly continues

RAKESH RAO

JUST as it dominates domestic table tennis and badminton, the Petroleum Sports Control Board continues its monopoly of the men's National team chess championship, too. After all, with some of the leading exponents of the game on its rolls, PSCB was expected to emerge as the strongest. It did.

The PSCB team which won the National title for the record sixth time in succession.-R. V. MOORTHY

Even without the services of National champion K. Sasikiran, PSCB was never threatened on its way to winning the title for a record sixth time in succession. By doing so, PSCB surpassed Banks' Sports Board's streak of five straight titles.

Among the seven-team women field, Tamil Nadu retained the title, ahead of a young combination from Pune's Buddhibal Krida Trust.

More than the feat of PSCB, the nine-round championship will be best remembered for Sandipan Chanda's stupendous all-win record. This latest recruit of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation played like a man possessed and served his team like none before. He turned out for his team in all nine rounds and won each of them without ever being forced into any difficulty. The board prize was just a bonus.

On way to setting up an unbreakable record, Sandipan shaped the destiny of his team and won the accolades of one and all. Armed with a rating of 2500, Sandipan put together a rating performance of a whopping 2965 and gained 21 Elo points. In fact, it was his single-minded pursuit to gain the maximum more than made up the below par performances of his teammates like Abhijit Kunte and R. B. Ramesh.

Kunte, fresh from winning the National rapid title, contributed just 4.5 points from seven outings on the top board while Ramesh suffered two losses and managed just three points from six rounds. On the brighter side, Surya Shekhar Ganguly smartly complimented Sandipan's efforts and scored five points from six encounters.

PSCB's skipper D. V. Prasad, appointed non-playing captain before Sasikiran was forced to be away after receiving a wild-card to play in the Grand Prix in Moscow, made the most of the opportunity. On the last board, Prasad played eight matches and scored six points, with an equal number of wins and draws.

Individually, too, Prasad had his reasons to be pleased. Even in the five previous championships, Prasad had captained the PSCB team. Prasad was a member of the winning team from Union Bank (in 1985, 1988 and 1989) and later became part of the triumphant Banks' Sports Board team from 1991 to 1993. In other words, Prasad has been a member of the winning side on 11 occasions!

The victorious Tamil Nadu women.-R. V. MOORTHY

As a team, PSCB was never found wanting. Although it had only one 4-0 victory to show, that too in the first round against Buddhibal Krida Trust (supported by Abhijit Kunte's family), PSCB did enough to keep the challengers at bay. Though Mumbai-based Chesstrainer.com took 1.5 points off PSCB in the second round and eventual runner-up LIC pulled a 2-2 verdict in the fourth, it did not really matter as PSCB scored a minimum of three points from each of the remaining rounds.

Eventually, PSCB finished with a winning tally of 27.5 points, a good 2.5 points ahead of runner-up LIC. PSCB collected Rs. 25,000 while LIC received Rs. 15,000. Airlines came next with 24.5 points, which was worth Rs. 10,000. Railways, which led the field after the initial rounds, finished fourth with 23.5 points and got Rs. 7,500.

Though PSCB's performance came on expected lines, LIC did well to displace second seed and twice runner-up Indian Airlines.

With Sriram Jha and Dinesh Kumar Sharma scoring fluently on the top two boards and duly walking away with the board prizes, LIC never felt the absence of a reserve player. Jha scored eight points while Dinesh aggregated 7.5 points. Vishal Sareen and Gajendra Singh contributed five and 4.5 points from the lower boards to complete the team's best ever showing in the championship.

Airlines, without Tejas Bakre, slipped to the third spot after remaining second best in the two previous championships. Like PSCB, Airlines, too, struggled to gather points on the top two boards. With skipper Rahul Shetty crashing to four defeats in five rounds and Chandrashekhar Gokhale contributing just 4.5 points from eight rounds, it was left to the other members of the team to do the needful.

S. Satyapragyan remained unbeaten and scored seven points as the third member of the team. S. Vijayalakshmi and sister S. Meenakshi also came up with commendable performances. Vijayalakshmi scored six wins while collecting 6.5 points from eight rounds. Meenakshi, pressed into service following Shetty's dismal run, started with a win in the fourth round, drew the next and like Vijayalakshmi, won the last four rounds.

Railways, however, failed to keep up the early momentum. Although Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury responded splendidly to the challenges on the top board and remained unbeaten with 6.5 points from nine rounds, the team fell short when pitted against the bigger teams. Consider this. Railways lost to all three teams which finished ahead of it. It went down 1.5-2.5 to LIC and by identical 1-3 margins to PSCB and Airlines. But surely, it deserved its fourth-place finish.

Fifth seed Emmanual Chess Centre, too, justified its seeding. Though it was not required to play LIC and Airlines, the team comprising, M. R. Venkatesh, C. J. Arvind, Deepan Chakravarty, R. R. Laxman and the seasoned Ebenezer Joseph, did well enough to win five rounds and draw two. Individually, Arvind could have done better than his eventual score of 1.5 points from five outings had he not been preparing for his exams.

The biggest surprise was provided by Delhi. Playing well behind the leading tables right through the championship, Delhi managed to tie for the sixth place with Chesstrainer.com. Delhi met just two teams which eventually made the top-10 bracket and lost by big margins. Still, only if skipper Gurpreet Pal Singh had continued correctly after obtaining a winning position in the final round against his rival from Nagpur Chess Academy, Delhi could have finished a clear fifth.

The most significant contribution to Delhi's best ever performance came from the unrated Avinash Sethi. A reserve player, Sethi scored 6.5 points on the fourth board and claimed the board-prize. Earlier, nine-year-old Parimarjan Negi had provided the early spark for Delhi by scoring 2.5 points from the first three rounds. He ended up with a creditable score of four from seven rounds.

In fact, young Negi reinforced the growing trend in Indian chess of younger, lesser-known players exceeding expectations. Tiruchy's Poobesh Anand, who won the National under-18 title recently, presented another example as he claimed the third-board prize.

Other determined performances came from the boys representing the Goodricke National Chess Academy or the Buddhibal Krida Trust.

These players, along with several other well-trained youngsters, appear very inspired to upstage the seasoned players. No wonder, many reputed players now find it increasingly difficult to perform to expectations.

Coming to the women's section, Tamil Nadu caught up with Buddhibal Krida Trust and finally held on to its slender lead and emerged victorious by a point.

Strangely, the organisers decided to hold matches on four boards, instead of the customary three, and upset the calculations of the mighty LIC. With Woman International Masters like Swati Ghate and Nisha Mohota, both of whom eventually won the board prizes on the top two boards, LIC could have easily managed to beat all the teams had the competitions been held on three boards. But with two weak players, out of which one left midway through the championship to attend a distress call at home, LIC fell out of contention.

Tamil Nadu, led by the lanky S. Sujatha, was not really tested on its way to the title. The young challengers from Buddhibal Krida Trust, including the National sub-junior champion Amruta Mokal, tried their best to take it away from Tamil Nadu but fell short.

After LIC, Maharashtra was the best among the rest of the teams. Overall, the results in the women's section came on predictable lines.

Standings:

Men: 1. PSCB (27.5 points), 2. LIC (25), 3. Indian Airlines (24.5), 4. Railways (23.5), 5. Emmanual Chess Centre (21.5), 6. Chesstrainer.com (21), 7. Delhi (21), 8. Maharashtra 'B' (20.5), 9. Maharashtra 'A' (20.5), 10. Tamil Nadu (20.5).

Board prizes: First board - Sriram Jha (LIC); Second board: Dinesh Kumar Sharma (LIC); Third board: Poobesh Anand (Tiruchy), Fourth board: Sandipan Chanda (PSCB); Reserve board: Avinash Sethi (Delhi).

Women: 1. Tamil Nadu (20.5), 2. Buddibal Krida Trust (19.5), 3. LIC (15.5), 4. Maharashtra (14), 5. Andhra Pradesh (6.5), 6. Bhandara (5), 7. Uttar Pradesh (3).

Board prizes: First board: Swati Ghate (LIC); Second board: Nisha Mohota (LIC); Third board: C. V. Rajalakshmi (Tamil Nadu); Fourth board: T. T. Lakshmi Priya (Tamil Nadu).