Raising big hopes

Aravindh Chithambaram who won the international grandmasters tournament in Chennai.-R. RAGU

Aravindh Chithambaram is the most exciting talent to emerge out of India for quite some time now, writes P.K. Ajith Kumar.

Even as the World chess championship was nearing its last leg at the Hyatt Regency in Chennai, a strong international Grandmasters tournament was also racing towards the finish line elsewhere in the city.

Not many people bothered to follow the event — the Chennai Open — that took place at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. But those who cared could not have failed to notice some extraordinary stuff from a 14-year-old, diminutive boy.

Make no mistake, we will be hearing a lot about the boy — Aravindh Chithambaram. He is the most exciting talent to emerge out of India for quite some time now. And he was brilliant at the Chennai Open, as he won the tournament, finishing ahead of 21 GMs and 30 International Masters. He was seeded 53rd and he accounted for four GMs and drew with another.

One GM, Vidit Gujarathi, the second seed, outwitted him though, in the fourth round. But Aravindh bounced right back and won five of his remaining seven games to pocket Rs. 2 lakh as prize-money. Among his victims were third seed M. R. Lalith Babu, fourth seed Samvel Ter-Sahakyan of Armenia and seventh seed M. Shyam Sundar.

Aravindh, who recently moved to Chennai from Madurai for the sake of chess, scored nine points from 11 rounds. Valeriy Neverov of Ukraine and S. P. Sethuraman scored 8.5 points each and were placed second and third, respectively.

Aravindh, a Standard IX student of Velammal MMHSS, Chennai, also scored his maiden GM norm (and he has yet to make an IM norm!). The tournament in fact proved a heaven for norm-hunters, as there were two GM norms (Russia’s Mikhail Mozharov was the other), six IM norms and one Woman International Master norm.

The top seed of the event was Russia’s Ivan Popov, with an Elo rating of 2652, but he had a tournament to forget as he finished 23rd and saw 13 hard-earned Elo points being wiped off. To make it worse, he was one of the three players who had to give a bye to rivals because they overslept. The foreigners certainly had a problem with the early morning start.

Aravindh though will always remember this tournament fondly, as he became the youngest ever Indian to win a GM tournament. This is not the first event though in which he was belying his age. Two years ago, he had won the National Under-19 championship as a 12-year-old.

“He could be a GM in six months, if he gets opportunities,” says R. B. Ramesh, who has been coaching him for the last couple of years. “He needs to play in good tournaments abroad often, but he will require financial assistance for that. He comes from a poor family and his father died when he was three. It is because of his sheer natural talent that he is succeeding.”

Last year, Aravindh had finished runner-up at the World Under-14 championship in Slovenia. He says his hopes were modest going into the Chennai Open, conducted as a side event of the World Championship. “All I wanted was a norm,” he says.

Interestingly, Aravindh’s triumph came the day after Viswanathan Anand lost his World Championship match to Magnus Carlsen.

It may be a small consolation, but it certainly is a big hope for Indian chess.

Final standings

1. Aravindh Chithambaram (Ind) 9/11; 2-3. Valeriy Neverov (Ukr) & S. P. Sethuraman (Ind) 8.5; 4-6. Vidit Gujarathi (Ind), V. Vishnu Prasanna & Vladislav Borovikov (Ukr) 8; 7-8. Mikhail Mozharov (Rus) & Levon Babujian (Arm) 7.5; 9-20. M. R. Lalith Babu (Ind), Vasily Papin (Rus), Azer Mirzoev (Aze), Samvel Ter-Sahakyan (Arm), Siddharth Ravichandran (Ind), Swayams Mishra (Ind), Swapnil Dhopade (Ind), M. Shyam Sundar (Ind), C. R. G. Krishna (Ind), Bahruz Rzayev (Aze), J. Deepan Chakravarthy (Ind) and N. Srinath 7 (Ind).