Published : Dec 01, 2001 00:00 IST


FROM 1996 when Pendyala Harikrishna won the World under-10 boys' chess championship at Menorca, Spain, every year India had been winning at least one gold medal at the World Youth Chess Festival. However, this year at Oropesa (Spain) it had to be content with a solitary silver. In the absence of both Koneru Humpy and Harikrishna, who chose not to play in the festival this year as they have become Grandmasters, India had to depend on others.

When the team left for Oropesa, the hopes rested on Dronavalli Harika to have a go at the gold in the under-12 girls' category. In 1999, against all expectations, Aarthie Ramaswamy won the World under-18 girls' title and last year Deep Sengupta had won the World under-12 boys' crown. So, India hoped that some unknown hero would emerge from the 27 Indians who competed at the Spanish Mediterranean holiday resort at Oropesa.

The expectations raised by Eesha Karavade (she started with 4/4 in the U-14 girls) and Deepan Chakravarthy (U-16) were dashed. With only two rounds to go in this 11-round Swiss system festival, the hopes hinged on Saheli Nath in the under-12 girls and Dhyani Dave in the under-10 girls, besides Harika. But this time, the Indian contingent was not lucky and it had to return with the lone silver medal that Harika got the team in the under-12 girls category.

Harika had won the silver medal last year in the under-10 section. This year, in the under-12 girls she did the same. She started well, winning her first four games and led by half a point. But in the fifth round she was defeated by Ana Muzychuk of Ukraine and three girls overtook her. At this stage Harika was in joint second spot with four others, two of whom were compatriots Saheli Nath and Anoori Shah.

After the sixth round Muzychuk was half a point ahead of Harika. Harika was tied for the second spot with the top seed, Woman International Master Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine, and Saheli Nath. In the seventh round Harika joined Muzychuk at the top of the points table by beating Saheli, while Muzychuk was held to a draw by Lahno.

In the eighth round, Yang Shen of China, the eventual winner of the championship, toppled Muzychuk in a very nice game and joined Harika at the top. As Harika had earlier beaten Yang Shen and had a higher progressive score which decided in case of tied results, all that Harika had to do to win the gold medal was to match the Chinese girl point to point. But then came another Chinese player, Shuyu Ding, who had dropped 1.5 points in her first four games including a draw with M. Rajadarshini, the Indian National under-12 girls' champion. She came well prepared for the ninth round game against Harika and won comfortably.

Meanwhile Saheli Nath beat Muzychuk and all of a sudden Saheli was just half a point behind leader Yang Shen and half a point ahead of Harika. In the penultimate round Yang Shen beat her compatriot Ding while Saheli unexpectedly lost to Hungary's Maria Ignacz.

In the final round Yang Shen was a full point ahead of Harika who was in a tie for the second place. Yang Shen sealed her gold medal by drawing against Lahno. Harika drew a quiet game with the American player Katherine Pelletier to finish second, one point behind Yang Shen. For Harika, this is not exactly a big disappointment because at one stage it looked as though she would have to return empty-handed. The last round game between Ding and Saheli decided the bronze medal in this section. Had Saheli won, she would have got the bronze, but she failed. The manner in which Shuyu Ding defeated Harika in the ninth round indicated that the Chinese have studied Harika's games very thoroughly and had specially prepared some new variation for her.

In the under-10 girls' section, Dhyani Dave and the other Indians were making no headway. In the last round Dhyani was involved in a peculiar incident in her game with Livschitz of the United States. Dhyani offered a draw without making a move but her opponent rejected it. Then Dhyani made her move and went to the toilet. When she returned, Livschitz accepted the offer but Dhyani asked her to continue saying that she (Livschitz) had already rejected the offer. The Chief Arbiter of the under-10 section, WGM Elizabeta Polihroniade of Romania, ruled that when a player offered a draw without making a move (which is improper, anyway), the opponent had a right to see her move and then reject or accept the offer. The game was terminated as drawn. Dhyani left the hall in tears, refusing to shake hands with her opponent.

Even if Dhyani had won that game she would have got only the fifth place and not the bronze medal. As it was, she finished seventh and had the best Indian result after Harika.China's Tan Zhong Yi won this section for the second year in a row. She scored 10 points and was 1.5 points ahead of the players who finished second.

In the under-10 boys' category, Gobin Luwang had a good start, but faltered in the end. He needs more tournament experience. Tamas Fodor of Hungary won this championship in a very close race. He was tied with two others on 8.5 points but had a superior tie-break score.

The trio of G. Rohit, Abhijeet Gupta and Vijay Keerthi were always near the top circle in the under-12 event but were unable to break their way into it. This category was also a very close affair as the winner, Sergei Karyakin of Ukraine, scored only 8.5 points and was followed by eight players on eight points each.

Eesha Karavade (13th) and P. Priya (21st) in the under-14 girls' event need more strength and experience. Salome Melia of Georgia won this category.

Last year's World under-12 boys' champion, Deep Sengupta, playing in the under-14 section could not provide the sparkle this time. He was the 14th seed and he finished 14th. This category was won by Viktor Erdos of Hungary.

India's National under-16 girls' champion, Anuradha Beniwal, always figured in the middle boards. This was her maiden trip outside India and she was amazed to see top seed Nana Dzagnidze's first round opponent Iryna Bialko of Belarus calmly taking out a pocket mirror and applying lipstick when Dzagnidze was thinking. Later, this paled into insignificance when she saw one of her opponents rushing out of the tournament hall after making a move to have hurried puffs at her cigarette! Dzagnidze won the section with nine points and this was her third World title. It may be recalled that. in 1999. it was Dzagnidze who pushed Humpy to second place in the under-12 girls.

The under-16 boys' tournament had 103 players of whom seven were IMs and 74 were FIDE-rated. Deepan Chakravarthy had a good chance of making an International Master norm as he played with the top three seeds who were all International Masters with ratings of plus 2500. A friendly, jovial person ready with wise-cracks, it was difficult for Deepan to be serious and totally focussed when staying with 44 Indians in a foreign land. He finished 36th. In this event Konstantine Shanava of Georgia narrowly edged out four players who were just half a point behind.

J. E. Kavitha was well prepared for the under-18 girls event but she started with only 2/6. However, in the last five rounds she recovered to score four more points to finish 25th. Sopio Gvetadze gave Georgia its fourth gold by winning this category. Himanshu Sharma was seeded 54th but finished 22nd in the 83-player under-18 boys' category. He played quite a few splendid games the best of which was his two-piece sacrifice against the top seed, Grandmaster Jobava of Georgia. He had the GM at his mercy but let him escape in the ending. Russia got its lone gold medal in this category through Dmitri Iakovenko.

Though India got just one silver medal unlike last year when it won two golds and a silver, the general performance of the Indian players, with a few exceptions, was quite good. There were 15 official entries from India plus 12 special entries. Three of the special entries scored only 2.5, 4.5 and 3.0 points from 11 games. All the rest scored six points and above.

The organisation of the festival was smooth as always. The circulated regulations were followed scrupulously, without deviations and exceptions. The only matter that irked everone was the organiser's insistence on putting six people in an apartment equipped with four beds and a sofa.

The prize distribution ceremony was simple. After short speeches 30 cups were given away to the top three in the 10 categories. Then followed entertainment, a spectacular Spanish folk drama, choreographed with music and synchronised with fireworks of very high order.

Medal winning nations:

1. Georgia - 4 golds, 1 bronze; 2. China - 2 golds, 1 bronze; 3. Hungary - 2 golds, 1 bronze; 4. Russia - 1 gold, 3 silvers, 1 bronze; 5. Ukraine - 1 gold, 3 silvers; 6-9. India, Vietnam, USA, Romania - 1 silver each; 10. France - 2 bronzes; 11-14. Belarus, Lithuania, Mongolia, Poland - 1 bronze each.

The new World champions and Indian standings:

Girls' under-10 (70 players): 1. Zhongyi Tan (Chn) 10; 7. Dhyani Dave (Ind) 7.5; 17. I. Ramya Krishna (Ind) 7; 66. Akanshka Narain (Ind) 2.5.

Boys' under-10 (86 players): 1. Tamas Fodor (Hun) 8.5; 18. Gobin Luwang (Ind) 6.5; 23. Sankalp Modwal (Ind) 6.5; 28. Y. Sandeep (Ind) 6; 31. P. P. Prachura (Ind) 6.

Girls' under-12 (78 players): 1. Yang Shen (Chn) 9; 2. Harika (Ind) 8; 11. Saheli Nath (Ind) 7; 24. Anoori Shah (Ind) 6; 25. M. Rajadarshini (Ind) 6.

Boys' under-12 (117 players): 1. Sergei Karyakin (Ukr) 8.5; 15. Vijay Keerthi (Ind) 7.5; 12. G. Rohit (Ind) 7.5; 20. Abhijit Gupta (Ind) 7; 32. M. Suraj (Ind) 6.5; 47. R. Srinivasan (Ind) 6; 90. Abhishek Narain (Ind) 4.5.

Girls' under-14 (79 players): 1. Salome Melia (Geo) 9.5; 13. Eesha Karavade (Ind) 7; 21. P. Priya (Ind) 6.5.

Boys' under-14 (106 players): 1. Viktor Erdos (Hun) 9; 14. Deep Sengupta (Ind) 7; 21. Sunil Rangarajan (Ind) 7; 101. Samarth Modwal (Ind) 3.

Girls' under-16 (76 players): 1. Nana Dzagnidze (Geo) 9; 36. Anuradha Beniwal (Ind) 6.

Boys' under-16 (102 players): 1. Konstantin Shanava (Geo) 8.5; 36. J. Deepan Chakravarthy (Ind) 6; 46. S. Poobesh Anand (Ind) 6.

Girls' under-18 (55 players): 1. Sopio Gvetadze (Geo) 10; 25. J. E. Kavitha (Ind) 6.

Boys' under-18 (83 players): 1. Dmitri Iakovenko (Rus) 9; 22. Himanshu Sharma (Ind) 6.

Lock-outs and lock-ins:

WE had a few unfortunate incidents, being locked in or locked out at Oropesa. Last year we only had problems with the bathroom doors that could not be opened. Then we asked Harikrishna to use his expertise in opening them, which he did with a tooth pick or a hairpin. This year, he was not around. First to be locked in was K. K. Sharma, one of the two official Indian coaches. On the first day he could not get out of his hotel room and had to be helped by phone instructions from the lobby to find his way out. Then Gobin Luwang got locked in the bathroom of his apartment and panicked. As he speaks very little English and not much Hindi, instructions to him on how to handle the door from inside and come out had to be shouted through the door with great difficulty. The next victim was the mother of R. Srinivasan who could not get out of the bathroom. A very friendly Servicio Technico Francisco Perez, who does not understand any English except "Very Good," came to the rescue and got the door opened. Eventually he became the guardian angel of our team. The next lockout was when I forgetfully closed the door behind me with the key still inside our second floor apartment. The authorities told us at 2 p.m. that their housemaids were sleeping and they can send them to open the door only at 4 p.m. (8.30 p.m. IST) when it would be too late for sending the chess reports to India. Perez came and tried his best. As all efforts failed he used his walkie-talkie to summon a friend who came immediately. The distance between the door and the parapet wall is not even nine feet. Within this short distance that stout man picked up as much speed as possible and gave a flying kick on the keyhole with his heel. At the fourth kick the door flew open. And the lock was still serviceable! The last emergency was when in another apartment exclusively used by some of our senior girls, they heard the unnatural hissing of gas and fled the first floor apartment in panic leaving the key inside. The door got locked and could not be opened. Perez was sought. This time it was easy. He brought a ladder, climbed onto the apartment's balcony and through that entered the apartment, turned off the gas and opened the door. There was no problem with the gas cylinder either. It had been carelessly left open.

Security beefed up at the festival:

This is the fourth consecutive year that Oropesa played host to the World Youth Chess Festival. There were totally 846 players from 80 countries in all the 10 categories put together. There must have been an equal number of accompanying persons and officials. (Next year this festival shifts to a new venue, the island of Crete in Greece). In previous years we rarely saw a "Guardia Civil" police patrol car. This year they were parked all around the venue. Obviously, after September 11 the local people thought that the venue of the festival could be a target for the local terrorist outfit called the ETA.

Rest days:

Oropesa is a nice, quiet, serene place where personal safety is assured. Children can roam around anywhere, anytime and not get into any danger. Even the sea is mild. The two rest days were spent with fun and frolic by most of the Indian players. Right from veteran Dutch International Arbiter Zwanepol to the tiny Dhyani Dave many were on the dance floor enjoying themselves. Players had the time of their lives in smoke-filled discos, billiards, blitz chess, mini-basketball, table football, etc. Late in the night one could hear the European children, both boys and girls, like IM Evgeni Alexeev of Russia (Elo 2548) playing football in the courtyard. Many found a new experience in the heated up swimming pool and a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.

A medical emergency:

We were all sore with the organiser's attitude of saving money by packing more people into each apartment than there were beds. However, they earned our gratitude and admiration on the day of the seventh round when M. Rajadarshini, our National under-12 girls' champion, had a medical emergency which needed her to be hospitalised for a few hours at Castellon, about 30km from the venue. The way they reacted to the emergency showed how much care is taken in Spain. As Rajadarshini carried overseas medical insurance they called the insurance company in London at their own cost. The insurance people said that we had to pay the first 100 dollars of the medical bill and then they would take care of the rest. At this time a policeman on patrol duty offered to take her in his police car to the Medical Centre at Oropesa. At the Medical Centre a nurse saw her passport and insurance and told us that she need not pay for anything, not even the 100 dollars. They made papers for Spanish Social Security for her which she said would take care of her medical expenses. They said that they had to send her to the General Hospital (GH) at Castellon for further tests and sent her by an ambulance. As the ambulance neared Castellon, the driver called the GH on his cell phone. S. Ramakrishnan of Delhi who accompanied Rajadarshini said when they reached the GH, a team of doctors and nurses was already waiting at the hospital portico with a stretcher for Rajadarshini's arrival. They swung into action immediately, conducted the tests and discharged her in a few hours. Finally everything was free. Even the Pta 13400 (about Rs. 3,500) ambulance drive to Castellon which we were first told that we had to pay for, was free. And she was fine. While she was at Castellon we were worried and asked the organisers what was happening to her. They phoned the GH at Castellon, located Ramakrishnan in the waiting room and put him on the line to speak with us. Ramakrishnan later remarked that there were more doctors and nurses than patients in the GH! Meanwhile, at the tournament hall, Modwal from Delhi asked the Arbiter to have Rajadarshini's game postponed by an hour. Both the arbiter and her opponent agreed.

No check-in for under-10!

On our return journey we had to travel by bus from Oropesa to Barcelona to board a flight to Paris. When Gobin Luwang presented his ticket and passport at the Air France check-in counter at Barcelona, they asked for his father. Unable to communicate with him they called me and asked me to talk with their airport security chief. They said that they cannot send a child alone. He cannot travel without some member of his own family. They did not accept my plea that we are one large chess family and that the boy's father was in India. "Your names do not match his, so you are one from his family," they said. Finally I showed them the final round bulletin at Oropesa with his name listed in the final standings of the U-10 category. Only after that they allowed him to travel.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment