PSPB dominates proceedings

V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THE dominance of the formidable Petroleum Sports Promotion Board, with two Grandmasters Krishnan Sasikiran and Abhijit Kunte, reigning British Open champion R. B. Ramesh, S. Kidambi and double-GM norm holder Sandeepan Chanda, was rarely under question as the defending champion comfortably clinched the 27th National team chess championship for the seventh time in a row in Vijayawada with 22.5 points.

The Petroleum Sports Promotion Board team, which won the title for the seventh successive time. -- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

Quite remarkably, Tamil Nadu, which was initially almost unobtrusive, finished runner-up with 19.5 points, ahead of the fancied Indian Airlines and the normally consistent Bank Sports Board (18 points each).

The broad smiles on the faces of some of the enthusiastic youngsters, who gathered around the board when Sasikiran was engaged in a duel with Saptarshi Roy of West Bengal, truly reflected the fact as to what separated the champions such as Sasikiran from the rest. In a Sicilian Najdorf variation, Saptarshi tried to attack the young genius' kingside by opening up g5. But the latter defended well with the help of his rook and bishop. Soon, Sasikiran focussed on his opponent's queenside castled position and when it looked to be an even position on the board, the Grandmaster produced the move which caught not just Saptarshi off guard but the onlookers too. By sacrificing his rook for bishop, Sasikiran simply squeezed in to block all escape routes and eventually emerged winner.

That victory against Saptarshi, who incidentally opted to rest for the first round, only reflected the intensity with which Sasikiran fights even in games which have little consequence on the final result. Exactly for this reason, PSPB always looked and played like a champion. To complement the widely acclaimed genius of Sasikiran is the unassuming style of GM Abhijit Kunte to his task on hand. That PSPB won the title in style even as Sandeepan Chanda struggled to peak was also a hint of the abundance of firepower in the team.

The Tamil Nadu 'A' taem surprised everyone with a spirited display and took the runner-up prize. -- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

The surprise packet of the final round games was Somak Palit of West Bengal, who upset Chanda in an e4 opening. Though Chanda replied with c5, Palit opted for the unusual b3 set-up. Soon, he even pushed his `h' pawn. The PSPB star player tried to attack his opponent's queenside, but when Palit won a pawn it was all over for Chanda.

Quite interestingly, Tamil Nadu `A', comprising K. Visweswaran, M. R. Venkatesh, Konguvel and V. Saravanan surprised many, finishing runner-up by virtue of holding Bank Sports Board to a two-all draw in the final round. The credit goes to IM V. Saravanan for outwitting V. Kamble in a Sicilian Najdorf variation. This came after Sharad Tilak put BSB ahead with a facile win over Konguvel in a Sicilian Richter-Rauzer variation when the former blundered a piece on the 34th move.

Saravanan tried for an idea, which resembled one of Alexander Morozevich's game, some time back, and even gave up his pawn. As the game progressed, Kamble's kingside weakened and black seized the initiative when it got back the pawn and went for a direct attack. Winning one more pawn, Saravanan never looked back and closed in on his opponent in a rook-bishop-knight ending by queening his pawn. This saw Kamble give up his bishop and after that he had no option but to resign on the 41st move.

The third round game between PSPB's K. Sasikiran (left) and Pravin Thipsay of Bank Sports Board caught everyone's attention. -- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

Even the highly talented Visweswaran failed to capitalise on winning chances against N. Neelakantan in a Sicilian Alapin variation. Though the latter got an isolated pawn in the opening itself, Visweswaran kept attacking it and after a manoeuvre of knights, won the `h' pawn. When Neelakantan recaptured it, his `d' pawn was exposed. Visweswaran later conceded that instead of grabbing the `d' pawn he faltered by making the king move to lose the advantage.

From the host's point of view, it was a delight to see one of the seasoned campaigners P. D. S. Girinath back in his mood. For someone who was thoroughly shaken after the ghastly road accident in which five young players were killed in Orissa a couple of years ago, Girinath was virtually making his presence felt at a national event with real good performances. At one stage in the event, it looked as if his team, SCR, was in contention to finish in the top three itself. Yet, the two-all draw against Indian Airlines in the last round was a creditable finish for the Railway team. Though Girinath lost to Tejas Bakre in a French Defence, J. Ramakrishna thrilled the locals with his facile 45-move win over C. S. Gokhale in a King's Gambit variation. In the middle-game Ramakrishna sacrificed his two rooks to win the three pawns and this completely exposed his opponent's king, which later predictably settled the issue in SCR's favour. In another game on the same board, G. C. S. Bharathi outwitted the higher-rated S. Satyapragyan in a d4 Irregular Opening. There was a slight advantage for Bharathi, which he capitalised in the end game. In time trouble, Rh1 proved decisive for the Railway player, who grabbed the chance once his opponent sacrificed his f4 pawn, to win the game in 40 moves.

S. Vijayalakshmi of Indian Airlines is engaged in a post-match analysis with the BSB players. -- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

One of the highlights of the National championship was the performance of Services in its maiden edition, finishing in seventh place with 16.5 points. To illustrate that it was no flash in the pan, Services held Tamil Nadu `B' 2-2 in the final round, which should do its confidence a world of good. And this was largely possible because of R. Upadhyaya's fine win in a Dutch Defence against M. D. Scanny. Though Scanny tried to unnerve his opponent by offering a pawn very early, the Services player paid back the compliment in the middle-game by exchanging a sacrifice. Scanny was checkmated in 26 moves. The other win for Services in the final round came, thanks to B. V. Prakash with white against D. Prabhakaran in a Black Sicilian Dragon. When the latter sacked a pawn in the ninth move, his opponent accepted it gleefully. Though black got a good attack on the queenside, Prakash defended well and came up with the right moves to win the game in a bishop and pawn ending in 51 moves.

The championship had its own element of drama when the normally affable R. B. Ramesh protested against the arbiter's decision of declaring as draw his game against Tamil Nadu State champion K. Gunasekaran in the sixth round on the top board. Ironically, when the latter claimed it as a draw under time pressure, the champion player was clearly taken aback by the developments in the end game and strongly felt that when the verdict was delivered he was in a better position to force a win by being a pawn up. But the arbiters' panel took two long hours only to re-assert the arbiter's decision.

Budhibal Kreeda Trust of Pune won the women's title.-- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

The game which caught everyone's attention was the one between Grandmasters Pravin Thipsay and Krishnan Sasikiran in the third round. In a Karpov variation of Ruy Lopez, Thipsay started off badly and was virtually pushed into a difficult position by a clever manoeuvre of pieces by Sasikiran. The position worsened after Thipsay's dubious 14th move — Nbd2 — after which his opponent went into an advantage, which he maintained for the rest of the game. And after Thipsay's Rxe4, Sasikiran was a pawn up in the end game. But Thipsay, a seasoned campaigner, held on gamely and eventually both players agreed to a draw in time pressure.

For Teegala Gautam of Guntur, this edition, incidentally his third National event, could well have been the most memorable if only he had not squandered a winning chance against Vijayalakshmi. He eventually settled for a creditable draw in his maiden encounter against a top player, in the first round here.

For someone who has nothing at stake, Gautam opted for the Reti Opening, which later transposed into a Closed Sicilian variation, and virtually let things happen. After the exchange of rooks on the 20th move, the star player from Indian Airlines tried to gain control on white's kingside only to further weaken the b2 square. But to her surprise, Gautam was equal to the occasion by making a pawn move on the kingside, which saw all pieces tied up. Then, to the delight of the 31-year-old from Guntur, who coaches some of the youngsters there, Vijayalakshmi fumbled by playing Bf7 in the 40th move in an attempt to attack the isolated d5 pawn. This turned out to be a tactical blunder for she was soon forced to lose a pawn. That was the phase when Gautam (Elo 2117) was all set to upset the famed opponent (Elo 2414).

The only major upset in the women's section came when 12-year-old Lakshmi Praneetha (left) of Champions Chess Academy beat IWM M. Kasturi of Tamil Nadu. -- Pic. CH. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

However, Gautam couldn't find the winning combination and with Vijayalakshmi showing her renowned tenacity and class under pressure to wriggle out of tight situations, the Andhra player had no option but to settle for a draw after 72 moves.

In the women's section, the only major upset of the event came when 12-year-old Lakshmi Praneetha of Champions Chess Academy (Vijayawada) got the better of former Asian junior champion IWM M. Kasturi of Tamil Nadu, in a fourth round game. In a Philidor Defence, Praneetha, winner of the Asian under-12 title in Kozhikode recently, got an early advantage only to squander it by the 16th move when she played Bb7 which saw her lose a piece. However, the Standard VIII student of Sri Venkateshwara Bala Kutir (Guntur) found the right combinations to attack her opponent's kingside. With a very strong centre, Praneetha had the liberty to attack. Once Kasturi slipped into time pressure, she made a blunder by playing Nh5 and then followed it with another dubious one on the 35th — b3 — which saw her bishop blocked. Soon, it was only a formality for the Andhra girl to wrap up the issue.

Budhibal Kreeda Trust of Pune clinched the women's title with 15.5 points, while Tamil Nadu finished runner-up.