Xu Jun is champion

Published : Sep 08, 2001 00:00 IST


THE best thing to have happened to Indian chess at the end of the third Asian individual chess championship was the qualification of three players, Grandmaster Dibyendu Barua, International Master Surya Sekhar Ganguly and IM Pendyala Harikrishna for the fourth World knockout chess championship. Add to the list the FIDE World champion GM Viswanathan Anand, who would be a seeded player, and GM Krishnan Sasikiran. There was much to cheer about with these achievements as the Indians' performance surpassed the expectations in the nine-day, 11-round, Swiss league meet held at the Gorky Sadan in Kolkata.

On top of the heap was the Chinese GM Xu Jun. With an Elo rating of 2646, the top seed dominated the championship. He emerged victorious by registering six wins and five draws to take the gold medal with 8.5 points. Jun, who was unbeaten till the end, was originally seeded second behind compatriot Zhang Zhong, but was elevated to the top spot as the latter withdrew. GM Saidali Iuldachev of Uzbekistan, with an Elo rating of 2508, finished second with eight points.

There was a four-way tie for the third place with Surya Sekhar Ganguly, IM Zhang Pengxiang of China, GM Alexei Barsov of Uzbekistan and GM-elect Ehsan Ghaem Maghami of Iran all finishing with 7.5 points. In the tie-break, Ganguly was placed third, the Chinese took the fourth spot, the Uzbek fifth and the Iranian sixth.

The tournament was the qualifying meet for the world championship and the top 10 finishers made it to the world meet. Among the qualifiers were three Indians, three Chinese, Jun, Zhang and Li Wenliang, two Uzbeks, Iuldachev and Barsov, one Iranian Maghami and a Qatari, GM Mohamad Al-Modiahki. Among the 10, Al-Modiahki had already qualified from a Zonal tournament. This meant the 11th placed player, Uzbek GM Shukhrat Safin, had to be promoted. Interestingly, even he had qualified earlier, leaving the 12th placed Chinese IM Yu Shaoteng to get the final berth. Yu's qualification meant that four Chinese made it to the world meet from this championship.

An elated secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF), P. T. Ummer Koya, said at the end of the championship that as per the old system only five from Asia would have made it to the world meet. Koya, one of the FIDE vice-presidents from Asia, said, "the new system helped a large number of players to qualify from the continent."

The championship, the strongest after the world meet held in New Delhi, proved to be unlucky for many seeded players. The third seed GM Evgeny Vladimirov of Kazakhstan finished 19th overall, while the second seed Chinese GM Peng Xiaomin, fourth seed GM Pavel Kostur of Kazakhstan, fifth seed GM Utut Adianto of Indonesia and sixth seed GM K. Sasikiran of India, all finished beyond the 24th place.

The championship produced 14 norms, seven GM and as many IM norms, a record for any tournament in the continent. Out of the 14, three were very significant, for they earned titles. For Maghami this venue had been a very happy hunting ground. He got his second GM norm at the 12th Goodricke Open chess held earlier this year and now the third at the Asian championship. IM Zhang Pengxiang too earned his third GM norm and the title and National 'B' champion Sriram Jha confirmed the IM title taking the third and final norm.

IM Harikrishna, who earned a 9-game GM norm, had three wins and eight draws, the last five in a row. Playing the last two rounds with white pieces, Harikrishna could have pressed for victory. Taking on Iranian GM elect Maghami in the final round, he lost 15 valuable minutes in reaching the playing venue. He contended that the vehicle which had to fetch him from the hotel came late while the organiser put the blame on the traffic for the delay. The Indian IM was really under time pressure and was content to settle for a draw, which, at that moment, might have seemed to be a safe option.

The most heart-warming show came from Surya Sekhar Ganguly. In finishing third, the Indian IM had six wins, three draws and two losses, both sustained early on at the hands of Chinese players. Ganguly's march towards the qualification was like a fairy tale. Losing the first and third rounds, Ganguly won the second, fourth, fifth, seventh, ninth and the 10th. He drew the sixth, eighth and 11th round games.

What surprised everyone was the defeat of Vietnam GM Anh Dung Nguyen at the hands of Ganguly in round 10. The fancied player not only lost his first and only game of the tournament, but also played a wrong move in the middle game, unexpected from a GM in form. Interestingly, Nguyen was one of the five, apart from GMs Sasikiran, Safin, Al-Modiahki and Vietnam GM Thien Hai Dao, from this field to have qualified for the world meet earlier from the zonals. Another significant factor in Ganguly's superb showing was his success rate against the Kazakhstan players. He defeated GM Salauat Izmukhambetov (2352) in the fifth round, beat IM Vladimir Magai (2537) in the seventh and drew with third seed and Indian coach GM Evgeny Vladimirov (2612) in the eighth.

Among the Indians GM Sasikiran was next-best placed with 5.5 points but way down in the merit list. GM Abhijit Kunte followed him with 5 points. The two, capable of better showing, failed to rise above mediocre display. Sasikiran, however, had qualified from the Colombo Zonal a couple of months earlier.

GM Pravin Thipsay, with five points, was placed beyond the 43rd position. IM Devaki V. Prasad, IM Sandipan Chanda and IM Neeraj K. Mishra all had five points while IMs Lanka Ravi and Ponnuswamy Konguvel finished at 4.5 points each. IM-elect Sriram Jha ended his campaign with four points.

The championship attracted 28 GMs, 31 IMs, one WGM/IM, three FIDE Masters and 13 untitled players to make a field of 76 from 17 countries. The Bangladesh GM Niaz Murshed fell ill during the third round and did not take further part in the tournament.

The competition was held in new time control using digital clocks with each player getting 75 minutes for the first 40 moves and 15 minutes for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 seconds per move from the first move. On two days two rounds were played, one in the morning starting at 9 a.m. and the next round in the afternoon beginning at 4 p.m. as decided in the players' meeting. The meet, for the first time, offered a total prize fund of $64,000 provided by the FIDE.

Harikrishna is India's youngest GM

PENDYALA HARIKRISHNA, at the age of 15, has become India's youngest Grandmaster. World champion Viswanathan Anand held the record when he became India's first GM at the age of 17.

Harikrishna achieved the distinction when he completed his third 9-game GM norm during the third Asian individual chess championship in Kolkata but was unaware of his feat. The Indian IM as well as the chief arbiter, All India Chess Federation (AICF) and the organiser, the Alekhine Chess Club, were under the impression that Harikrishna would have to make another 9-game fourth norm to get the GM title.

Later on it was found that one of his norms had come from the Chess Olympiad, an open tournament, in Istanbul. According to the rules, a player needs to complete the three norms in 24 games, if one of the norms comes from an open tournament.

The AICF will forward Harikrishna's case to the world chess body, the FIDE, which is expected to confer the title on him during the general assembly meeting in Greece.

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