Sriram Jha unstoppable

IT was Sriram Jha all the way at the Rochess international rating chess tournament held at Thane.

RAGHUNANDAN GOKHALE

IT was Sriram Jha all the way at the Rochess international rating chess tournament held at Thane. The tall and well-built International Master from Life Insurance Corporation of India, Delhi, remained undefeated on his way to the first prize of Rs. 30,000 and a glittering trophy presented by the Mayor of Thane.

International Master Ravi Hegde, an officer with Union Bank of India, Bangalore, gave an exhibition of his tactical prowess but had to settle for the second prize. Young R. R. Laxman (TN), who tied for the first place last year here, finished third above many international stars.

The 25-year-old Sriram Jha has won four National level titles in his career. Surprisingly, he attributed his recent success not to any human help but to his little laptop computer. "I bought this computer in April 2002 and had four solid performances since then," explained the winner.

The tournament attracted around 200 entries, which included 55 rated players, eight International Masters and one International Woman Master. The tournament was well organised and the Bombay Chess Association's Chief Arbiter Praful Zaveri and his deputies, Dr. Deepak Tandel and Nitin Varde, ensured a smooth conduct.

In the first round, IM Arun Vaidya, not fully recovered from a bout of jaundice, was held to a draw by local player Aniruddha Kale. Though IM Sudhakar Babu and top-seeded IM Roktim Bandopadhyay took time to find their rhythm, there were no upsets at the top. However, on the distaff side, former National sub-junior girls' champion Amruta Mokal and Asian under-14 bronze medallist Kruttika Nadig lost their first round games.

Ravi Hegde faced youngster Snehal Bhosale in the second round. In a Reti Opening, Ravi, irritated by his opponent's frequent offers for a draw, lost his cool and called the arbiters to warn the youngster. But in the end it so happened that the game ended in a draw.

The third round was not so profitable for former National `B' champions Sriram Jha, IM Sudhakar Babu (Indian Bank) and R. Balasubramanium (ICF, Chennai). Former Kerala champion O. T. Anilkumar, reigning Kerala champion P. Sreekumar and former Maharashtra champion Deepak Andurkar (RBI, Mumbai) respectively held them to draws. Mumbai champion Vikramaditya Kamble, who won the Blitz tournament after the main tournament was over, fell to the guiles of IWM Anupama Gokhale (BPCL).

In the fourth round IM Sharad Tilak (UBI, Mumbai) easily defeated Anupama and shot into the lead with a fighting win over R. R. Laxman in the fifth. It was a string of victories where Sharad had to fight not only his opponents but also the clock. He managed it well but was exhausted in the end.

Young Pradeep Ghosh (WB) played well and halted Sharad's run of victories by holding him to a draw. Thereafter Sharad lost his touch and drew three games in a row. Roktim Bandopadhyay was surprised to see Sharad employing a passive set-up with the white pieces and scored a facile win to shatter Sharad's dream of winning the tournament in his hometown.

B. S. Sivanand is a player to watch in future. Though he is not so popular among his peers because of his whimsical ways — he likes to put the knight facing a different direction, takes objection to trivial things — he is well versed with the modern theory. Sivanand's win over National `B' champion Suvrajit Saha (Eastern Railways) gave evidence of his opening preparation in Petroff Defence.

Sriram conceded just four draws in 11 rounds. He won the first two rounds easily but was held to a draw by Anilkumar in the third round. Sriram lost his cool against Sivanand who objected to Sriram's glasses being kept on the table! If it was a psychological ploy a la Bobby Fischer, it surely worked as Sriram nearly threw his game away. Only a fantastic recovery in the endgame could salvage him half a point.

Sriram's string of successes is not a stroke of luck. "I am working hard," he confessed. Earlier he used to avoid main lines of openings. Now, equipped with a laptop, he dares his opponents in the latest lines and outwits them too. His win in Sicilian Najdorf over teammate IM D. K. Sharma was an exhibition of his preparation.

Ravi Hegde's only loss was against winner Sriram and he was in a better position at one point in that game, too. The 46-year-old Union Bank Officer plays with the zeal of a youngster. His attacking game against 19-year-old Vikramaditya Kamble was very good. "Once Ravi gets the initiative, it is difficult to stop him," was IM Arun Vaidya's crisp comment.

R. R. Laxman of Chennai likes to play unorthodox attacks. His unpositional play in search of attacks was well exploited by Tilak and Hegde but Laxman was quick to learn his lessons. His win over Anupama from the white side of the Benko Gambit in the penultimate round was a worthy one.

Pankaj Joshi is an all-rounder and his win over Sivanand was enough proof of that. Pankaj never gave a chance to the wily Karnataka player and deserved his fifth prize after a few setbacks in the initial stages.

Roktim Bandopadhyay gave a good performance in patches. He overcame Laxman's unsound piece sacrifice — the IM from Kolkata blundered a piece in time trouble and was never in the race for the first place. However his wins over Neelakantan (Central Bank, Mumbai) and Sharad Tilak had a stamp of class. Especially good was the way he handled the dangerous looking piece sacrifice from Neelakantan.

There was little to mention about the women players as Amruta Mokal and Kruttika Nadig faded from the scene after losing in the first round. It was left to Anupama Gokhale (7.5) to carry on the job. She did it quite competently by finishing in the main prize list and made way for tiny Dhyani Dave (6.5) to grab the special prize for the best woman player.

The youngsters made most of their chances. Particularly impressive were Meghan Gupte, Aditya Udeshi, Tejas Konde-Deshmukh, A. Kambli and Ninad Puranik. They troubled the rated players time and again and should achieve their ratings from FIDE soon. According to Deputy Arbiter Dr. Tandel, nearly 25 players have made the initial steps to earn Elo ratings.

Chief Arbiter Praful Zaveri was methodical and ran the show smoothly. Though there was little space to move around, he managed to control the crowd and let the players get along with their games without any interruption. The Rotary Club of Thane, North, found itself at sea when the previous sponsors expressed their inability to support the tournament, financially. But the dynamic duo of Mr. and Mrs. Agwan roped in the Thane Municipal Corporation to help conduct the tournament.

This tournament has become a regular feature of the All India Chess Federation's annual calendar. The organisers and the Bombay Chess Association have to discover ways to find bigger venues so that the ever-increasing number of players could be accommodated next year.

Final standings: Sriram Jha (LIC) 9 points; Ravi Hegde (Union Bank) 8.5; R. R. Laxman (TN) 8.5; Roktim Bandopadhyay (WB) 8.5; Pankaj Joshi (W. Railway) 8.5; Sharad Tilak (Union Bank) 8; Dinesh Sharma (LIC) 8; Anup Deshmukh (LIC) 8; Suvrajit Saha (E. Railway) 8; Sourabh Kherdekar (C. Railway) 8.

Special prizes: Under-19: Niranjan Gokhale (Mah); Under-14: Ninad Puranik (Mah); Under-12: Meghan Gupte (Mah); Best among ladies: Dhyani Dave (Guj); Veteran: Ravi Dandekar (Mah).