Shirish is the new champion

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

CONTINUING their relentless pursuit of joining the "mainstream" chess, the VIII National Chess for the Blind, held at the Louis Braille Memorial School for the Sightless, Uttarpara in Hooghly district, re-emphasised the resolve of the visually challenged to gain excellence in the game.

Shirish Patil (left), the winner, with the runner-up, Swapnil Shah.-SHAMIK BANERJEE

Shirish Patil of Maharashtra played near-perfect chess to emerge as the new champion with 8.5 points - out of the possible nine - in one of the premier National Open meets for the visually handicapped. Patil's State-mate and partner Swapnil Shah took the runner-up prize with 7.5 points while Bengal's Dibakar Paul came third beating Pradip Jha - another Bengal player - on progressive scores when the two tied on seven points for the third spot.

The performance of Patil and Shah once again highlighted the State's strength in chess for the visually handicapped. Maharashtra, producing a series of good players backed by proper infrastructure and a developed culture of the game, has come up as a major centre of activity as far as the chess of the visually handicapped is concerned. With Raghunandan Gokhale lending help with regular coaching sessions at an institute for the blind at Mumbai, the popularity and standard of the game have increased. The two top players said consciousness about chess among the visually handicapped has reached a very developed state thanks to the two major tournaments - the National A and National B - which draws the very best of the talent of the country. The tournaments, being the only ones accredited to the international governing body of the Blinds' chess - IBCA - also helps the players to go abroad. The All India Chess Federation for the Blind has been sending teams to international events in Europe since 1998. The chess for the blind is headed for another major boost as Mumbai will be hosting the Asian chess championship for the blind in May next year.

Bengal, which dominated last year's event, had to be content with the third spot won by Dibakar Paul. The Bengal player's only consolation was his seventh round win against Swapnil Shah, which put the latter out of the title race. Lakshminarayan Adhikary, the runner-up last year, finished fifth with six points while the defending champion Shankar Chakraborty did not figure among the top 10. Adhikary and Sudeep Rajbanshi, who took the eighth spot, and Naresh Pramanik impressed with their show in the meet and are expected to perform better in future.

The Alekhine Chess Club - Kolkata's premier chess institution - provided all the technical support, including the arbiters, helping in the smooth conduct of the event. The nine-round Swiss league tournament, patronised by National Insurance, Allahabad Bank and State Bank of India, saw 80 visually challenged players from 14 States taking part. The winner received a purse of Rs. 5,000 apart from a trophy while the runner-up got a purse of Rs. 3,000. There were cash awards for all the top 10 finishers.

The top 10: 1. Shirish Patil (Mah) 8.5; 2. Swapnil Shah (Mah) 7.5; 3. Dibakar Paul (Ben) 7 (progressive score-37); 4. Pradip Jha (Ben) 7 (36); 5. Lakshminarayan Adhikary (Ben) 6 (36); 6. Ramesh Bhura (Guj) 6 (34); 7. Ingar Ibrahim (Guj) 6 (32.5); 8. Sudip Rajbanshi (Ben) 6 (32, ELE-31); 9. Madan Jana (Ben) 6 (32, ELE-30); 10. Bapan Das (Ben) 6 (30.5).