Ramesh all set to become India's next GM

WHEN a homegrown champion beats a strong field consisting of several overseas challengers, it helps that particular discipline like nothing else. It happened with golf and now it is happening more often in chess.

RAKESH RAORAKESH RAO

R. B. Ramesh (right), who completed his third and final GM norm, holds a T-shirt displaying No. 10 (he will soon be India's 10th Grandmaster) along with Abhijit Gupta, who achieved his first IM norm. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

WHEN a homegrown champion beats a strong field consisting of several overseas challengers, it helps that particular discipline like nothing else. It happened with golf and now it is happening more often in chess.

Golfers such as Ali Sher, Gaurav Ghei, Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal and Harmeet Kahlon have all won at least one Asian Tour event at home, ahead of several seasoned foreign contenders in the past decade. Gradually, their exploits have brought in tremendous sponsorship support and spectator interest.

Similarly, chess players such as Viswanathan Anand, Dibyendu Barua, K. Sasikiran, P. Hari Krishna, Koneru Humpy, Abhijit Kunte and R. B. Ramesh have done the country proud at regular intervals. The consistency of the Indian players has given chess a new identity in the country. Never mind if the desired sponsorship is yet to follow.

Continuing the delightful sequence, Ramesh won more than just the inaugural edition of the Parsvnath International tournament in New Delhi. Part of one of the strongest open fields in the country, the 12th seeded Ramesh also achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm during his unbeaten campaign.

Though Russian GM Alexander Fominyh and Uzbek GM Marat Dzhumaev also matched Ramesh's tally of nine points from 11 rounds, the Indian Oil officer took the honours on the basis of his superior progressive score, considered for ascertaining final standings in the event of a tie. The tournament also proved memorable for young Abhijeet Gupta and the seasoned R. Balasubramanium. They both achieved their maiden International Master norms and gave their careers just the kind of impetus needed.

Alexander Fominyh (far right), who finished runner-up, analyses the game after defeating Varugeese Koshy. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

Armed with the stipulated GM norms, Ramesh now aims to take his Elo rating from 2466 to 2500 and meet the last technical requirement for becoming the country's 10th Grandmaster. In fact, he gained 26 rating points on way to the title. It should only be a matter of time before Ramesh reaches his goal.

This season, Ramesh has been in tremendous form. He won the Adyar Open, National `B' and Piloo Mody titles — all without a single defeat — besides being part of the title-winning Petroleum squad in the National team championship. However, between the Piloo Mody and Parvsnath titles, Ramesh struggled in the Saharanpur International tournament.

The field in New Delhi had 35 titled-players comprising 11 GMs, 19 International Masters, two WGMs and three WIMs. If Sasikiran was not part of the line-up, it was because his Elo rating stood over 100 points more than the strongest player expected to take part in the championship. In other words, Sasikiran would have found it very tough even to maintain his rating in this field. It is for a similar reason that Sasikiran has been given exemption from playing the next edition of the National `A' championship.

Coming back to Ramesh's glorious hour, it culminated with a resounding victory over Sriram Jha. Ramesh won the first five games and faced GMs in the next five rounds. He drew with joint-top seed P. Harikrishna and defeated seventh seeded Uzbek Saidali Iuldashev before splitting points with GMs Dmitry Svetushkin, Fominyh and Scotland's Jonathan Rowson.

At this stage, Hari, Fominyh and Marat also had eight points. In the final round, Ramesh was the first among the leaders to win. Fominyh overpowered Uzbek IM Tahir Vakhidov to join Ramesh. In the meantime, Hari looked poised to win against Marat. However, Hari mishandled the ending and lost. Though Ramesh claimed the winner's cup, the prize-money of the first three places was shared. Ramesh, Fominyh and Marat received Rs. 66,700 each.

Fominyh recovered well after being held in the second and fourth rounds by K. Gunasekharan and WGM Nisha Mohota. He won the next four rounds and his victims included K. Visweswaran, Poobesh Anand and Varugeese Koshy. He drew with Ramesh and Hari before nailing Vakhidov.

Marat played true to his reputation. He won nine matches, including the first three and the last five. His losses, with black pieces, came against roommates Neeraj Mishra and Koshy. But more significant were his victories in the last two rounds against joint-top seeds Svetushkin and Hari. He destroyed Svetushkin with a lethal tactical combination but was extremely lucky against Hari.

R. Balasubramanyam (right) lost to Ukrainian Sergei Ovsejevitsch in this game but the ICF player had his moment to cherish when he made an IM norm in the tournament. — Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

Hari, who went into the final round as a joint-leader, perhaps played only one wrong move in the whole tournament but paid heavily for it. At one stage, he looked set to receive Rs. 66,700. But after losing to Marat, Hari ended up eighth and received Rs. 2,300 only. Indeed, it was a disappointing finish to an otherwise splendid campaign.

The event also saw 13-year-old Abhijeet Gupta and 32-year-old Balasubramanium from the Integral Coach Factory enjoy very special moments of their careers.

Bhilwara-lad Abhijeet, winner of numerous medals for the country in the age-group competitions, took his first step in the big league. Abhijeet, who became the youngest National junior (under-19) champion last year, upstaged IMs Neelotpal Das, Lanka Ravi and Rahul Shetty, who eventually finished fourth, 10th and 11th in that order. Ultimately, it did not matter that Abhijeet could finish 35th.

In fact, Abhijeet continued with the form he showed in the Piloo Mody tournament a week before coming to New Delhi. He had finished sixth in a tough field at Lucknow after beating experienced IMs such as Dinesh Kumar Sharma, N. Sudhakar Babu and T. S. Ravi. Surely, the computer presented by LNJ Group this August has helped Abhijeet to prepare well for the competitions. What more, Abhijeet's norm came in an event supported by his sponsor.

On the other hand, Balasubramanium reproduced the form that helped him become part of the elite National `A' field twice in the past decade. A memorable victory over Humpy and draws with GMs Iuldashev and Niaz Murshed kept Balasubramanium firmly on course to an IM-norm. The defeats to Vakhidov and Ukrainian Sergei Ovsejevitsch did not hurt him much.

But the two big disappointments of the competition were GMs Abhijit Kunte and Humpy. Contrary to expectations, both dropped points early and never recovered to be in contention for the title. In terms of the Elo points, Kunte lost 11 and Humpy, 21. Fifth seed Surya Sekhar Ganguly drew with G. B. Joshi before losing to Vishal Sareen and Hari. But in the end, Ganguly managed to finish sixth with 8.5 points. Though he almost played to his rating, Ganguly's was a poor show by his own standards. British champion Kunte, though unbeaten, drew seven times, including six in a row and five with white pieces. Hopelessly off-colour, the fourth seeded Kunte won just four games and rued missing winning continuations in at least four of the drawn encounters. Still, a tally of 7.5 points and a 23rd place to show could not wipe Kunte's smile!

But it was Humpy's disappointing show that gained more attention than the non-performance of Kunte. Four defeats, in the space of eight rounds, only proved that the 16-year-old girl needed a break from the game to re-charge her batteries and come back firing on all cylinders.

In recent months, Humpy has been in tremendous form. Her experiments with new opening lines saw her struggle in the Commonwealth, North Sea Cup and the Politkan Cup competitions. But Humpy bounced back strongly to finish runner-up to Ramesh in the National `B' and won the toughest-ever Asian women's championship. What more, she landed in New Delhi holding the winner's cup of the Saharanpur International tournament. Perhaps, the law of averages finally caught up with Humpy. She went down to C. Praveen Kumar, R. Balasubramanium, Shashikant Kutwal and Manthan Chokshi — all rated in the space of 250 to 355 Elo points below her. She won the other seven rounds to finish a distant 49th.

On the brighter side was the performance of Neelotpal Das. A qualifier for the next World championship, the 16th seeded Neelotpal played superbly to take the fourth spot with 8.5 points. He rallied splendidly after losing to Abhijeet Gupta in the third round. Notably, this latest recruit of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation drew with GMs Hari, Svetushkin and Iuldashev before signing off with a comprehensive victory over Rowson. This was Rowson's only defeat in the competition. What made Neelotpal's outing all the more fruitful was the gain of 17 Elo points.

Other Indians who recovered to finish strongly were Lanka Ravi, Rahul Shetty, Poobesh Anand and Deep Sengupta — all with eight points. Among the overseas GMs, Svetushkin once again played below par. After drawing and losing once at Saharanpur, he drew five times and lost once in New Delhi to finish ninth. Like Svetushkin, third seeded Rowson also lost four rating points after finishing 15th. Uzbek IM Tahir Vakihdov, looking for his GM title-norm, lost eight rating points after taking the 18th spot. Prominent among the Indians who suffered double-digit loss of Elo points were International Masters N. Sudhakar Babu, S. Satyapragyan (26 each) and T. S. Ravi (17) besides IM norm-holders Saptarshi Roy Chowdhury and M. R. Venkatesh (11 each). Promising and performing teenagers such as G. Rohit, D. Sai Srinivas, K. Nikhilesh Kumar and Rahul Sangma were among those who lost rating points.

On the subject of talented youngsters, one little boy who deserves special mention is the eight-year-old Sahaj Grover. The reigning National under-7 champion and currently the youngest-rated player in the country, Sahaj had set the tone for the underdogs by surprising the experienced B. S. Shivanandan in the first round. Considering that Sahaj had a rating of 1924 as compared to Shivanandan's 2371, the upset was the biggest in terms of the projected difference in the playing strengths of the players involved. Later, Shivanandan praised the kid for playing accurately and remaining unaffected even when a large crowd watched in anticipation of an upset result. Coached by former National junior champion Gurpreet Pal Singh, Sahaj went on to hold players such as Vedant Goswami and Shantanu Lahiri.

On the organisational front, the event with a prize-fund of Rs. 3 lakhs, was a grand success. Considering that the Delhi Chess Association had not hosted an event of this kind in decades, the strong sponsorship support and the enthusiasm of those behind the show were remarkable. A big playing hall, hotel accommodation to all outstation players besides adequate transport facility left the players encouraged to return for more such events. The DCA Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan plans to hold a bigger open event in February 2004. Considering the rise in the number of titled and rated players in the country, the need of the hour is to offer norm-making opportunities to the aspirants. For a change, the new-look DCA is showing the way.

Final placings (with points and prize-money): 1-3. R. B. Ramesh, Alexander Fominyh (Rus) and Marat Dzhumaev (Uzb) 9 points each (Rs. 66,700 each); 4-7. Neelotpal Das, Saidali Iuldashev (Uzb), Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Sergei Ovsejevitsch (Ukr) 8.5 each (Rs. 10,500 each); 8-13. P. Hari Krishna, Dmitry Svetushkin (Mol), Lanka Ravi, Rahul Shetty, Poobesh Anand and Deep Sengupta 8 each (Rs. 2,300 each); 14-33. Niaz Murshed (Ban), Jonathan Rowson (Sco), Sriram Jha, R. Balasubramium, Tahir Vakhidov, Varugeese Koshy, Himanshu Sharma, Atanu Lahiri, M. B. Muralidharan, Abhijeet Kunte, S. Kidambi, Anup Deshmukh, V. Saravanan, Syed Shazuli, Valay Parikh, Jayant Gokhale, O. T. Anil Kumar, Suvrajit Saha, Jitender Kumar Choudhary and R. R. Laxman 7.5 points (Rs. 1200 each).

Other prizes: Best woman player: 1. Aarthie Ramaswamy, Nisha Mohota and Koneru Humpy 7 points each (Rs. 1,700 each); Under-16: Deep Sengupta 8 points (Rs. 2500); Under-14: Abhijeet Gupta and G. Rohit 7 each (Rs. 1300); Under-12: Abhijeet Kelkar 6.5 (Rs. 2000); Under-10: Parimarjan Negi and Debashish Das 5.5 each (Rs. 1,000 each); Special Prize: Sahaj Grover (Rs. 600).