Sasikiran shows his class

The 21-year-old Grandmaster Krishnan Sasikiran of Petroleum Sports Promotion Board won the 40th National `A' chess championship at Hotel Tulip Star, Mumbai, in a commendable manner.

RAGHUNANDAN GOKHALE

Krishnan Sasikiran, who won the National 'A' men's title, proudly displays his trophy.-Pic. VIVEK BENDRE

HE was not only fighting his opponents but was also up against the International Rating scale. He overcame both with a stunning display of grit and consistency. The 21-year-old Grandmaster Krishnan Sasikiran of Petroleum Sports Promotion Board won the 40th National `A' chess championship at Hotel Tulip Star, Mumbai, in a commendable manner. Sasikiran's mammoth 16 points out of 20 rounds is a record and will now be the benchmark for future champions. Grandmasters P. Harikrishna (14) of Wipro and Abhijit Kunte (12.5) of PSPB remained unbeaten and deservedly took the second and third prizes. GM Dibyendu Barua (12.5) of Tisco, with his brand of aggressive play, was fourth.

When GM Koneru Humpy decided to skip the National `A', it was obvious that the other 21 players would get a bye in this round-robin tournament. Thereafter, the technicians informed the organisers that it would take them at least six to seven hours to set up the hardware needed to provide the games live on the Internet. So, the opening round was postponed by a day.

Sasikiran started with two wins against IM S. Satyapragyan (IA) and former Maharashtra champion Satchidanand Soman (CRSB) but could not break IM Sundarrajan Kidambi's (PSPB) tough Caro Kann Defence in the next round. Sasi then beat GM Pravin Thipsay with the black pieces in the fourth and had a rest day, when the fifth round games were held. He came back with renewed vigour to defeat dangerman IM Tejas Bakre (IA) — the winner of the Asian junior and sub-junior titles in Mumbai. Next on his list of conquers was M. R. Venkatesh, the latest addition to the PSPB side.

Nobody expected Sasi, the conqueror of GM Viswanathan Anand in the World Cup league phase, a few months ago, to have problems against Venkatesh. Sasi made an error on the white side of the Nimzo-Indian Defence and soon was struggling to maintain his slight edge. As soon as he sensed that his advantage was gone, Sasi proposed a draw to his opponent, but Venkatesh had smelt blood. He took advantage of Sasi's mistakes and was soon three pieces up. Sasi had just one Queen against the black army.

However Caissa, the Goddess of Chess, smiled on Sasikiran and his fighting spirit as Venkatesh made a horrible blunder to get checkmated much to the surprise of the audience. Thereafter Sasi did not take any risk and drew with the talented Harikrishna in the seventh round.

Debutant Arvind Shastry of Karnataka was Sasi's next victim. Arvind had done his homework well and had shocked a few players who had tried hard to defeat him. Against Sasikiran, Arvind tried a mixture of Trompovsky Attack and Colle system. "Arvind's plan of castling long was a mistake," remarked Sasi, after winning the game in 25 moves.

Sasikiran opts for the King's Indian Defence from the black side but he loves to play against it, too. It appeared to be an equal position against out-of-form IM V. Saravanan (PSPB) in the 10th round when Sasi's central break changed the complexion of the game. Saravanan made matters worse for himself by blundering with his rook.

At the halfway mark, Sasi (8) had established a comfortable lead of one point over Abhijit Kunte. Both the Grandmasters agreed for a draw in the 11th round as they didn't want to take any risk. Sasi followed this draw with a surprisingly easy win over British champion IM R. B. Ramesh (PSPB), who never got going in the championship after his first round loss to debutant Prathamesh Mokal (Maharashtra).

The 13th round witnessed the human side of Sasikiran. His opponent Saptarshi Roy Choudhary, a talented youngster working with Metro Rail, Kolkata, needed a draw in this round to achieve his IM norm. The opening proved to be a disaster for Saptarshi as his ninth move weakened his own pawn. At this moment, he offered a draw to Sasi, who had to beat Saptarshi to maintain his own rating.

Sasikiran, who was obviously aware of Saptarshi's predicament, smiled and immediately offered his hand to the surprise of the youngster. He accepted Saptarshi's draw offer and also congratulated him for his maiden IM norm. However, the sporting hero did not admit that there was a touch of philanthropy in his decision. "I just did not want to take risk against the in-form Saptarshi," Sasi quipped before leaving the hall.

This peaceful draw was soon followed with four wins on a trot — against IM Neelotpal Das (ER), Prathamesh Mokal (Mah), GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly (PSPB) and IM Lanka Ravi (PSPB). In the game with Neelotpal, Sasi's pawn push on the queenside had made the life of Neelotpal's queen, tucked on the kingside, miserable. Prathamesh lost to a daring attack in Sicilian Defence.

Surya Sekhar Ganguly had recently pipped Sasi to win the All-India Inter-Petroleum chess championship in Mumbai. He ran into trouble, unable to read the novelty employed by Sasikiran. Lanka Ravi blundered two pieces for Sasi's rook and lost.

The 19th round witnessed Sasikiran displaying his endgame wizardry against GM-in-waiting G. B. Prakash (BSB). Sasi had reached 15.5 points and needed just a draw to maintain his 2664 Elo rating and his next opponent was Suvrajit Saha, who had done nothing spectacular after winning the National `B' championship at Jalandhar. Or he must have preserved his energy for the National `A' championship. It was the most shocking result of the championship. Saha, from the black side of Slav Defence, played his best and trounced a tired Sasikiran. It was perhaps the moment that exhibited the depth of talent in Indian chess.

Sasi took an early draw against IM Sriram Jha (LIC) in the last round to win the title by a two-point margin.

Harikrishna, who maintained his second place behind Sasikiran, played solidly and was never in trouble. He relied heavily on his technical skills and pulled out victories from equal looking positions. His win over Prathamesh Mokal from the black side of Sicilian Defence showed the power of bishop over knight in an open position. Hari, if he takes more risks as Sasikiran does, might improve his rating to a significant level.

Kunte remained unbeaten, too. Taking a leaf out of young Harikrishna's book, the Pune-based GM curbed his attacking play and used the Catalan system to score endgame victories. Kunte's wins over GM Barua, IM Kidambi and IM Satyapragyan had a touch of class. He probed the slightest of weaknesses and outplayed his opponents. Once Kunte realised that it was not possible for him to catch up with Sasikiran, he went into a shell and agreed for short draws in the final rounds.

GM Dibyendu Barua (12.5), who had won his first National `A' championship 20 years ago, played with youthful energy to maintain his fourth place. Barua was lucky in his games with Prathamesh Mokal and Arvind Shastry but his upset loss to IM Tejas Bakre in the final stages of the championship ruined his chances. He scored an important win over M. R. Venkatesh in the last round to restore lost pride. "Ganguly and myself just changed places," said Kunte in the end. Ganguly took Kunte's fifth place with his last round win over Saravanan.

Surya Sekhar Ganguly had displayed tremendous form in his last visit to the city during the Inter-Petroleum championship. Not even Sasikiran could break his hold over the individual trophy then. Though Surya Ganguly was completely off colour, his class helped him gain the fifth place.

IM Sundarrajan Kidambi is the new entrant to the Indian side. This BPCL officer replaces his IOC counterpart R. B. Ramesh.

Having started the championship with a series of draws, Kidambi showed grit and a never-say-die attitude. His loss to Arvind Shastry was heart-breaking but Kidambi kept on fighting till the end. Kidambi's final round victory over Satchidanand Soman placed him on a par with IM Neelotpal Das. Kidambi's third round draw with Sasikiran tilted the scales in his favour and Neelotpal had to be content with seventh place. Neelotpal was at his best when handed over an attack. His win over Prakash was short and swift. He also showed his ability to withstand pressure when he defended a passive position against Harikrishna. Tejas Bakre, who has yet to regain his normal strength after a typhoid attack, took the eighth place.

The championship was conducted by international arbiter R. C. Chatterjee (West Bengal) with a team of arbiters from the Bombay Chess Association. The Venus Chess Academy conducted the championship in a grand manner and it was for the first time a National chess championship was conducted in a five-star hotel. Ravindra Dongre, President of VCA, also took his academy into the Limca Book of Records by providing online relay of games on the Internet. B. P. Bam, former IGP (Maharashtra) and a sports psychologist, was the chief guest.

The top four players will represent India in the forthcoming Asian individual chess championship at Doha (Qatar). The top six players will represent India in various international events till the next National championship. M. R. Venkatesh and Prathamesh Mokal achieved IM norms during the tournament.

The final placings:

1. Krishnan Sasikiran 16; 2. P. Harikrishna 14; 3. Abhijit Kunte 12.5; 4. Dibyendu Barua 12.5; 5. Surya Sekhar Ganguly 12; 6. Sundararajan Kidambi 11.5 (5.5/0.5); 7. Neelotpal Das 11.5 (5.5/0); 8. Bakre Tejas 11 (5.5); 9. Praveen Thipsay 11 (5); 10. Saptarshi Roy Choudhury 10 (5); 11. Lanka Ravi 10 (4.5); 12. M. R. Venkatesh 10 (3); 13. G. B. Prakash 9; 14. Suvrajit Saha 8.5 (5/1); 15. Swayangsu Satyapragyan 8.5 (5/0); 16. R. B. Ramesh 8.5 (4); 17. Arvind Shastry 8; 18. Sriram Jha 7.5; 19. Satchidanand Soman 6; 20. Prathamesh Mokal 6; 21. V. Saravanan 6.