The qualifiers

R. B. Ramesh: The only player who never trailed in the qualification race. Consistent, committed and considerate. Retained his place in the National `A' in an impressive manner. Part of the Indian team in 1995 and 1996. This double Grandmaster-norm holder is tipped to become the next member of the `GM Club'.

Sriram Jha: Very consistent performer in several Swiss League tournaments at home in the past year. Took his form into the championship and made it comfortably. Tough on the board and sometimes terrible off it, he is not very popular among his peers for his abrasive ways. A good player who can get a lot better.

M. R. Venkatesh: Another colt from the Chennai stable. He did just enough to qualify with ease. In the last National `A', he made a whopping 18-game International Master norm — an unprecedented accomplishment by any debutant in the premier competition. A cool customer with a bright future.

Suvrajit Saha: The defending champion covered the distance without any serious threat to his chances of qualifying. This humble gentleman from Railways was not among those seeded to qualify but performed creditably in the key games. Just walked across the finish-line following two friendly draws. Not many remember that he was the only player to beat champion K. Sasikiran in the last National `A'.

Vikramjit Singh: The surprise of the championship. This former National (under-14) champion from Imphal was an unknown quantity for most of his rivals. With every passing round, his self-belief grew. By the end of the championship, he had grown in stature. Benefitted a great deal from those who committed the mistake of underestimating him. An astonishing performance for someone who does not get to play much of competitive chess.

M. Srinivasa Rao: Better known as a coach for players like teenage champions, Y. Sandeep, Nikhilesh Kumar, D. Sai Srinivas and Eesha Karavade. Winner of the Andhra Pradesh state championship in 2000 and 2001 and more recently claimed the top prize on the second board in the National Team Championship at Vijayawada. Still, he was never a serious contender for a qualifying slot. Made it through some fine victories in three rounds leading to the final round.

V. Hariharan: Perhaps the highest ever seed, at 103, to find himself among the qualifiers. This gentle coach of the reigning Asian junior boys champion P. Magesh Chandran returns to the National `A' after 1986. Even in this era where younger champions are holding sway, this soft-spoken banker proved that experience was not an outdated weapon.

Vishal Sareen: One player who gives the impression of not playing for qualification and still makes it. After a lazy start, he posted seven wins and two draws to finish among the qualifiers. For one occupied with several chess-related activities, this recently-married LIC man once again showed that sometimes casual looks can be deceptive.

S. Satyapragyan: Retained his place by playing better than last time. Unbeaten until the final round, he had his chances against Humpy before crashing to his lone loss. Known for his unassuming ways and solid groundwork. His best is yet to come.

Prathamesh Mokal: The latest to join the country's International Master Club. Fresh from winning the bronze in the Asian junior championship, this Pune-based youngster made it with fighting draws in the last three rounds. Known for being Humpy's nemesis, he, however, lost in his bid to record a third straight win over her.

Roktim Bandopadhyay: Another first-timer into the National `A'. Took a huge risk in agreeing to a friendly draw with Saha in the final round. Fortunately, decisive results on some of the other boards made him a qualifier. Rode on his luck towards the end and enjoyed himself thoroughly.

Arghyadip Das: Another debutant qualifier from Kolkata. Worked hard all the way and eventually made it past T. S. Ravi on superior `cut progressive'. After some good results in the National age-group events, this youngster has finally gained a chance to cross swords with the best in the country in a round-robin competition.