Ramesh on a roll

RAKESH RAO

TWO titles in succession before marriage and one immediately afterwards, R. B. Ramesh is truly going through an eventful phase of his life. The International Master remained undefeated and led all the way in the 24th Piloo Mody international rating chess tournament at Lucknow.

R. B. Ramesh remained undefeated and led all the way to clinch the title. -- Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

In this 11-round competition, Ramesh collected nine points and Rs. 40,000 after winning six matches in succession. After four straight draws, Ramesh gave the finishing touches by scoring over S. K. Rathore in the final round and left three players tied for the second spot with 8.5 points.

Gurpreet Pal Singh retained his second spot in the new company of IMs Neeraj Kumar Mishra and Dinesh Kumar Sharma.

Ramesh, who spoke of being short of `serious preparations' on the eve of the championship, still carried too much ammunition for his first six rivals. He comfortably shared points with IMs Varugeese Koshy, Neeraj and Poobesh Anand and was lucky to get away with a draw in the seventh round against Uttar Pradesh's Vivek Kumar Shukla.

Another factor that made things easy for Ramesh was the withdrawal of top seed and defending champion Sriram Jha and third seed S. Vijayalakshmi. After the first round, Vijayalakshmi rushed to Chennai via Delhi to be with her father who had suffered a stroke. Jha chose to accompany her till Delhi.

Ramesh, Neeraj and Gurpreet entered the final round as joint leaders. Neeraj and Gurpreet drew quickly and left Ramesh with the challenge of beating Rathore for the winner's prize. Playing white, Ramesh had no difficulty in pulling it off.

Dinesh Kumar Sharma, UP's only IM, bounced back after a poor start to tie for the second spot with Gurpreet and Neeraj. They took home Rs. 16,660 each.

S. Satyapragyan, seeded two after the seedings were revised, had a forgettable tournament. Three defeats and two draws ensured that he was never among the front-runners. Similarly, another IM N. Sudhakar Babu also fell back after suffering two rare defeats and drawing thrice. IMs T. S. Ravi and Prathamesh Mokal were the others who disappointed.

Gurpreet Pal Singh (left) and Neeraj Kumar Sharma make an analysis after agreeing to draw their final round game. Gurpreet, Neeraj and Dinesh Kumar Sharma tied for the second place. -- Pic. R. V. MOORTHY-

But the tournament also had some surprise packets. Neeraj Mishra, a former member of the Indian team, used his vast experience and displayed the approach of a youngster to score some important victories while remaining unbeaten in the competition. He had a promising position against Ramesh before agreeing for a draw. He drew the last two rounds as well to remain content with the joint-second spot.

Gurpreet, whose lone loss came against Ramesh, had victories over three International Masters, P. Konguvel, Anup Deshmukh and Satyapragyan. This Railwayman from Delhi was never off the rails and a penultimate round victory over R. Balasubramanium gave him an opportunity to be among the leaders.

In contrast, Dinesh Sharma suffered two losses in the first six rounds and was never a serious contender for the title. After contemplating withdrawing from the event, Dinesh staged a dream recovery by winning the last four rounds to justify his revised fourth seeding.

Koshy was another notable performer. He remained unbeaten and showed some spirit of his younger days. This ONGC officer from Chennai slowed down on the home stretch and drew the last four matches.

But the big surprise was the 13-year-old boy from Bhilwara, Abhijeet Gupta. In the last six rounds, Abhijeet encountered only International Masters and scored four points off them. He defeated Dinesh Sharma, Sudhakar Babu and T. S. Ravi and lost only to Neeraj Mishra. His draws came against Koshy and Poobesh in the last two rounds. More than the eight points and the sixth spot, Abhjeet must have gained loads of confidence after these encouraging results.

Abhijeet, however, was denied the first prize of Rs. 2000 in the under-16 category and instead given the under-14 top prize of Rs. 1000. All this despite Abhijeet scoring more points than Nikhilesh Kumar, the winner of the under-16 section. The organiser, Naveen Wal, maintained that it was given on the basis of the age of the participants and not their performance — logic hard to accept.

Anup Deshmukh raised visions of producing some of his old magic but defeats to Yogesh Gore and Gurpreet Pal Singh pushed him back. But all credit to this seasoned campaigner for retaining his composure and scoring 2.5 points in the last three rounds for an honourable finish.

Poobesh, who recently met the International Master title-requirements, made light of his fifth round loss to Joydev Saha and won the next four rounds, including three with black pieces. Draws with Ramesh and Abhijeet helped him tie for the third spot.

For Woman Grandmaster Nisha Mohota, there was nothing to feel great about. A tally of 7.5 points for the 11th place came after Nisha had not met a single player who finished ahead of her. In the process, Nisha beat her elder sister Swati one more time this year.

On the organisational front, it was a huge disappointment. The playing conditions at the Moti Mahal Hall were deplorable. Sub-standard and broken wooden pieces, inadequate lighting, lack of power back-up were some of the shortcomings of the event. The opening round began over two and a half hours behind schedule with Naveen Wal making those, who turned up at the announced starting time, to wait. In fact, one of the rounds had to be postponed to the following day because the pairing for the next round could not be taken out due to power failure.

Next year, the event celebrates its silver jubilee edition. Though Naveen Wal has promised a better fare, no player is willing to take his word.

The final standings: 1. R. B. Ramesh (9 points), 2-4. Gurpreet Pal Singh, Neeraj Mishra and Dinesh Sharma (8.5), 5-9. Varugeese Koshy, Abhijeet Gupta, Anup Deshmukh, Poobesh Anand and P. Konguvel (8).