Top seeds tumble as new champions emerge

ARVIND AARON

THE under-14 National chess titles for boys and girls were decided with a round to spare while the under-12 champions were decided at the wire, yet all the winners scored the same magic 9.5 points and did not require the tie-breaks to be applied.

The boys' under-14 champion: Gogineni Rohit.-ARVIND AARON

The Ramco National chess championship was held at the S.B.O.A. School, Chennai from May 15 to 23 and it attracted a record number of entries for the Rs.1 lakh prize money. As disappointment and celebration went side by side, the four sections were held in three different parts of the school with the Indira Gandhi Auditorium being the venue for girls.

This event will be remembered for producing four champions, none of whom started as top seed. Two of the top seeds, V. K. Sindhu in the girls under-12 and Deep Sen Gupta in the boys under-14 managed to finish third while the others, Anoori Shah in girls under-14 and Tejdeep in boys under-12 failed to make it to the medals bracket. Children's events are known for producing surprises. Only Gogineni Rohit of Champions Club, Guntur was winning for the first time although he had won medals in international meets before. The under-14 boys section attracted 149 entries. In children's chess, India is one of the frontline nations. Our players easily win medals in Asian and British championships but the ultimate test is the much stronger Indian championship. Winners here emerge as big stars of the future. Snatching the lead with a seventh round win, Rohit reached 6.5/7 and never let go the lead. Winning round nine and ten games, he ended his title hunt with a round to spare.

His main rivals, Deep Sen Gupta and Abhijeet Gupta failed to score and catch up. Abhijeet who jumped to joint lead with a win over former World under-12 champion and top seed Deep Sen Gupta on 5.5/6, lost the next two games played on May 20. His father Ajay Gupta said "his son did not sleep all night due to power failure, but he was not offering excuses." One of the defeats was against Rohit to whom he had lost more number of times than he had won before.

Rohit, 13, trained by Kesavananda Krishna and sponsored by Hero Honda had won four medals in international competitions. He is a ninth standard student of Vignan High School, Guntur and started playing chess in 1996. His father told The Sportstar that "the best incentive is available in Andhra Pradesh in the form of a Rs.30,000 cash award and a laptop computer". He had previously been runner up in two National under-12 championships.

The widest of margins in the four sections was achieved by Saheli Nath of West Bengal who won the 63-player section by 1.5-points. Saheli scored eight wins and three draws to claim the girls under-14 title. Having won the tournament with a round to spare did not quench her thirst as she humbled Tamil Nadu's Raghavi in the final round, leaving her in tears. Rajadarshini of Tamil Nadu drew with Megha of Karnataka to complete the medals tally with the former getting the silver and the bronze going to the latter. Other well known players like Mary Ann Gomes, L.Ishwarya Shobana did not impress in this section.

Saheli Nath, top-performer in girls' under-14.-VINO JOHN

Saheli Nath, 12, is a seventh standard student of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kolkata. She is trained by IM Atanu Lahiri. The only child of doctor parents, she likes to become a chess professional and her father says "she does not have any sponsor or a laptop." Her previous titles have been the National under-9 at Gandhi Nagar in 1997 and the Asian under-12 at Bikaner in 2001.

The boys under-12 section was expected to go for a photofinish but after the dramatic final round, Subodh Lakhey of Maharashtra emerged as the winner with an undefeated 9.5 points from eleven games. A record 230 players took part. All three leaders, posted different results, the one with the best tie-break score, Krishna managed a draw while the defending champion Vijay Keerthy crashed to defeat against the under-10 champion. Lakhey, the small made Nagpur boy won a tactical battle for his second National title in his career.

The top seed Tejdeep lost out much early due to poor form while Vijay Keerthy lost one game by stretching a drawn rook ending. There, his opponent, C.R.G.Krishna claimed a draw but arbiter Srivatsan asked to continue with the game. In the next few moves, the Mysore boy who had a rook and pawn against his opponent's lone rook, blundered his rook to gift Krishna a full point.

Lakhey, who completed sixth standard from the Somalwar Ramlaspeth Nagar School, is trained by Saurab Khardekar with guidance from IM Anup Deshmukh. His father, Sanjay Lakhey revealed that "he and his son beat the Chennai summer heat and the mosquito menace by sleeping in the open in the school premises". Previously he had won the National under-7 title in 1997 at Gandhi Nagar. "We are used to sleeping in the terrace in summer in Nagpur," said his father.

The girls' under-12 section looked a one horse race with Ramya Krishna galloping to a big 8/8 score with three rounds to go. But Praneetha was in pursuit with 7/8 and the pressure told on the leader in the next two rounds. At the start of the final round, Praneetha led 9/10 but was defeated a second time by Sahiti and it cost her the title. Ramya Krishna, who had given a draw by claim to Mitali Patil in round nine, suffered a defeat at the hands of top seed V. K. Sindhu. Ramya, the well built girl won the final round for her second National title.

Subodh Lakhey won the boys' under-12 championship.-VINO JOHN

The strange part of the girls under-12 section was that all the three medal winners defeated each other. All that mattered thereafter was scoring efficiency against other players and here Ramya excelled while Sindhu who had started sluggishly with draws got the third place on nine points. Praneetha also scored the same points but had better progressive score for the second place.

Ramya Krishna of Nasr School, Hyderabad, came into chess in 1998 when Koneru Humpy won the World under-12 title and got the inspiration from her after visiting her in Vijayawada. Her father, I.S.K.Prasad, a Central Government employee told The Sportstar that "she has no sponsor and had to miss the Asian event". She won the National under-9 championship in 2000. Her advisor is Bappi Raju and Narasimha Rao is providing computer assistance.

Praneetha's father, a Chartered Accountant, is working hard to send his daughter to the British championship and look for laurels outside the country. Chess in Andhra has come a long way as there is hope that their kids will one day win the world age group title like Harikrishna or Humpy. Indian girls have excelled in the under-12 section in the past.

The four winners of the event will get a choice to play either in the World Children's Festival to be held at Iraklio, Crete, Greece from Nov 14-22, 2002 or in the Asian championship. The runner-up will get the other event but without choice. India is a force in these world events but the present set of winners have a lot to work to do before they can achieve title results. In the Asian events, India dominates or is part of the medal list depending on the Chinese participation.

The popularity of the game in India particularly in Chennai can be seen from the big rise in the number of entries from 454 in Bangalore 2001 to 543 in Chennai 2002. When the inaugural children's event was held in IIT Madras in 1988, just 83 players took part. As the present rising trend can only contribute to organisational difficulties, splitting up the under-12 and under-14 sections for the first and second half of May will give relief to the organisers and additional revenue to the All India Chess Federation as those competing in under-12 can also compete in under-14. By all means, these events together have the largest gathering for any National meet and the boys under-12 section will soon exceed the men's National 'B'.

Ramya Krishna, winner of the girls' under-12 event.-VINO JOHN

There were many minor incidents involving parents. Some of them were picked up by the police for smoking outside the S.B.O.A. School gate as they did not know the ban on smoking in public places applicable in Chennai city. The heat was very much there as two parents nearly came to fist fights outside the boys under-14 playing hall and arbiters had an additional responsibility of disciplining parents and clearing the area of noise. The situation at the Indira Gandhi Auditorium where the girls' under-12 and 14 sections were held was less tense. Eager mothers, peeped through the windows and doors and were always trying to get information of what was going on inside, although they could not watch their kids in action. Leading chess players of Chennai like P. Konguvel, V. Saravanan, T. S. Ravi, AICF officials, journalists and arbiters were the only spectators as entry was banned for others. "There is little difference between a defeat and a win for a kid, we are the emotional ones waiting for the result," said Dr. U. Nath, father of Saheli Nath, who won the under-14 girls section by a mile.

Capa Chess Academy which is in its tenth year managed the event with ease. Capa is a short form of former Cuban World chess champion Jose Raul Capablanca. Visiting players admired the event for many reasons, chiefly since the previous edition at Bangalore in May 2001 had problems and the venue had to be changed twice. Most of the eleven rounds were held in the morning. Games continued even when power failed during many of the earlier rounds. The pairings for the games were done by the computer programme Swissperfect and nobody challenged them. The chief arbiter R.Anantharam was assisted by a band of efficient arbiters.

The next event will be held at Kolkata from December 22 to 30 and many expect the entries to rise further from the record 543 seen here. Tamil Nadu players dominated the event in numbers with nearly 200 entries but failed to win a single title.

Two of the four titles went to Andhra Pradesh, one each to Maharashtra and West Bengal. "The difference between Andhra Pradesh and the rest is, the cash incentive of Rs. 30,000 and a laptop for each national title offered by their chess supportive Government. More tournaments and coaching are also aiding their successes", said V. R. Bobba, Secretary of the AP Chess Association, Vijayawada.

The final placings:

Boys under-12: 1. Subodh Lakhey (Mah) 9.5/11, 2. C. R. G. Krishna (AP) 9 (progressive tie-break 59), 3. Y. Sandheep (AP) 9 (53), 4. K. Vijay Keerthy (Kar) 8.5 (56.5), 5. P. Saravana Krishnan (TNGR) 8.5 (54), 6. M. Suraj (Kar) 8.5 (50.5), 7. D. Sai Srinivas (AP) 8 (53), 8. S. P. Sethuraman (TN) 8 (49), 9. B. Adhiban (AVC) 8 (48), 10. S. Saikrishna (AP) 8 (48).

Girls under-12: 1. I. Ramya Krishna (CAH) 9.5/11, 2. K. L. Praneetha (AP) 9 (59), 3. V. K. Sindhu (TN) 9 (51), 4. Devangi Patankar (Mah) 8 (49), 5. P. L. Sahithi (AP), 8 (44), 6. M. Soundaram (TN) 8 (42), 7. Anjanaa N. Sowjanyaa (TN) 7.5 (53), 8. P. K. Jayashree (CHRC) 7.5 (48), 9. Priya Pritam (Bih) 7.5 (47), 10. P.Uthra (TN) 7.5 (43), 11. Ch. Divyashree (AP) 7.5 (43).

Boys under-14: 1. G.Rohit (CHMP) 9.5/11, 2. Ninad Vijay Puranik (Mah) 9, 3. Deep Sen Gupta (AICF) 8.5 (53.5), 4. Abhijeet Gupta (Raj) 8.5 (53), 5. V.Karthik (TN) 8.5 (47), 6. S.Arun Prasad (TN) 8 (54), 7. Sriram Sarja (Kar) 8 (51.5), 8. Purushothaman (CHMP) 8 (51.5), 9. T.U.Navin Kanna (AVAD) 8 (48), 10. Vipal Subhashi (Bih) 7.5 (49.5).

Girls under-14: 1. Saheli Nath (WB) 9.5, 2. M.Rajadarshini (TN) 8 (51.5), 3. J.Megha (Kar) 8 (51), 4. Kiran Monisha Mohanty (Ori) 8 (48), 5. T. Vennela (CHMP) 7.5 (48), 6. P. Sivasankari (TNA) 7.5 (47), 7. N. Raghavi (TN) 7.5 (46), 8. R.K.Shruke (AACA) 7.5 (40.5), 9. Mary Ann Gomes (GNCA) 7 (47), 10. Kruttika Nadig (Mah) 7 (46).