Sunday, October 27, 2013

The National Challengers 2013!!

The National Challengers 2013, took place in Bhopal from the 12th to 22nd of October 2013! I was one of the proud participants of the tournament and I must say it was one of the finest Chess events ever to take place in India!
First of all the thing that made a huge difference was the excellent playing hall.

The air conditioned hall was spacious. Players didnt have to bump into each others elbows to write a move! Sometimes its these little things which motivates a chess player to fight harder on the chess board!

I must also mention that the food in the city of Bhopal was excellent. In particular I visited a restaurant called Indian Coffee House on the first day of my arrival and my next 13 days i.e 26 meals were taken in the same place!
It is my firm belief that often to make good moves , you need good food! Bhopal didn't disappoint the players in that aspect!

Coming back to Chess. This year's National B witnessed 8 GMs and nearly 34 IMs in action out of the 282 participants! With only 9 seats up for grabs (which I think later has been increased to 11) for National A it was going to be one hell of a blood fight!
Unlike the previous National B's where there would be 30 spots and players would just come to the board and sign the truce, in this edition I hardly saw players agreeing to a draw! The time control of getting 30 mins extra after 40 moves made the tournament even more interesting and tiring for the players!
After 13 rounds of high pulsating Chess who were the players who entered into one of the Premier events of the country?!!
Lets start with the 11th place (As per my knowledge, 9 players were to be selected but the fact that Anand and Harikrishna wont play in National A means that 11 players got the berth)

11. GM M.R.Lalith Babu! 2583 (9/13)

Lets say he is one of the coolest GMs in India. If you by chance happen to be his room mate during a tournament, then you will think that becoming a GM is a piece of cake! The ease and poise with which he plays is truly world class! He spends more time playing counter strike game during the tournaments than preparing for his opponents! But make no mistake dear friends, at home he toils! He toils day and night and the rating of 2583 is the reward for his hard work and dedication!
He didnt play so well in the tournament, But still was able to book the last seat to the National Premier!

10. GM B Adhiban! 2587 (9/13)

This Guy needs no introduction! After his exploits at Tromso Norway, it would have been a huge disappointment for chess viewers to see him missing from National Premier. Though he had a tough tournament with 5 wins and 8 draws!! None of his opponents could go back home with the sweet feeling of having tasted victory against him! The fact that he has qualified for National A, makes him one of the favourites to win the title!

9. IM K Ratnakaran! 2428 (9.5/13)

This man has made a lot of changes in his life it seems! A glimpse at his picture above will show that he has lost a lot of weight which is very difficult and secondly he has started to think more!! :) something which is so very Unratnakaranish!! :) Results have immediately started to show as Ratnakaran qualified for the National A this year! What can I say about him as a player! I would rather like to show you a diagram from his game which will give you an idea about his play.

Ratnakaran-Sethuraman Round 13
White to play.

It was the crucial last round. So much was at stake! Ratnakaran as white plonked his rook on d5! 1.Rd5. Sethuraman calmly defended with 1...b6. Now starts some real fireworks! 2.Rf5!!?? Maybe a wrong sacrifice but who cares! 2...gf5 3.Ng5 h6.

White to play
When i was young my coach used to say, if a pawn attacks your piece, then save your piece because 3 points to 1 point is a bad deal! Maybe Ratnakaran had learnt something else! We need to find his coach!!

Without much fuss he put another piece into the fire, with 4.Qh5 and after hg5 he was an entire rook down with no real visible mate! Yet he was able to beat a strong GM as Sethuraman from such a position with moves like Bg5,g4,Kh1!!?? Rg1!!??. Just shows what high level of practical skills and optimism he possesses!

8.GM Deepan Chakravarthy 2476 (9.5/13)
This GM from Tamil Nadu has a style of play which is pretty unique! I call it the logical style! He makes the most logical moves in the position! Some might think if he just makes logical moves how can he become a GM? But making logical moves in chess is like having common sense in life! Common sense is really uncommon and people are often attracted to flashy and faulty ideas on the chess board! But not Deepan!
I can give you one such example from the tournament!

Deepan Vs Laxman
White to play.
When you first look at this position, the first thing that comes to your mind are the weakened dark squares around the black king. So you think about how to use your bishop rooks and queen to launch a mating attack. You calculate and in some lines even your king comes under some attack. Now look at what Deepan played! 1.Qe5!?  I dont vouch that this is the best move in the position but its so logical. After the exchange of the queens the game becomes totally one sided because the bishop is superior to the knight, our rooks are well placed and the white king is active in the endgame! Such a logical move yet we would try to bang our heads for hours trying to find a mating attack, come under time pressure and make some mistake! Now thats why I call Deepan a very strong player! He will surely be a tough nut to crack in the National A.

7.IM Stany G.A 2388 (9.5/13)

When I was learning chess, my coach told me be careful of the pawn moves you make because you can never take them back! I guess what Stany's coach had told me was that, Son, Push your pawns you only need to push them 5 times in order to make a queen!! :)
Known for his fearless style of play, whenever I see his games I see him making dangerous pawn moves all over the board. He loves to take space and then crush the opponent! His habit of pushing pawns gave him a very crucial last round victory against IM Swapnil Dhopade. This is what the position looked like after the opening.
Stany vs Swapnil
PAWNS & SPACE thats what Stany likes to have in Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner!! :)

This is a position you just cant afford to get against Stany! He has his favourite imbalance, that is the space and he has lots of pawns to push!! And he didnt disappoint! Within another 20 moves, he promoted the b pawn to a new queen! 
With such brave style of play, on his day, he can scalp even the strongest of GMs!

6. IM P.Shyam Nikhil 2412 (9.5/13)

He is extremely low profile! In fact he speaks so less that many times people dont even think he is present! But he surely makes his presence felt on chess board! An excellent tactician that he is , he is able to save many a inferior positions. He was 8.5/12 and faced the stiff task of beating the super solid Abhijit Kunte in the last round and he delivered! Just shows that this lad from Tamil Nadu doesnt really know what big match pressure is because he never comes under pressure! He is as cool as a cucumber! :)

5. IM Vishnu Prasanna 2496 (9.5/13)

A true student of the game, Vishnu is really good at all aspects of the game. He is one player who is well versed with theory, excellent in calculation and also very strong positionally. In short he has all the qualities of becoming one of the best players in the country! I always have admired him for his hunger of chess knowledge! He recently became a GM though his title is yet to arrive, he played a very nice tournament and capped it up with an excellent win against GM Neelotpal Das in the last round to qualify for the National A.

4. IM Debashis Das 2497 (9.5/13)

A great addition to the list of Indian GMs!!

His passion for the game of chess is mind blowing and so is his confidence! Passion I say because: he has taken a separate apartment in his hometown so that he can alone practise chess without any disturbances!!
And confidence because he addressed a gathering in Orissa in Jan 2013 I think, that he shall be a GM in 6 months and though he missed it by a few months, it really is a great achievement!
Coming to his chess skills, I think one thing which separates Debashis from his contemporaries, is his excellent Endgame Technique.
And it really was a befitting tribute to his endgame skills when he beat Aniruddh Deshpande in a slightly favourable endgame to earn the GM title!!

Debashis with the white pieces was able to cross the 2500 mark by playing a really long endgame with the white pieces and showing that it pays to be a good endgame player!

3. IM Akshat Khamparia 2384 (9.5/13)

Akshat didnt disappoint the home crowd!!

You can call him the dude of Indian Chess! He is truly one of those talents who can play at a very high level irrespective of whether he prepares or not! However for the National B, Akshat seemed to have come in altogether different mode! He was focussed and as he himself said, took one game at a time. As one knows, its never easy to perform in front of home crowd. Akshat had the pressure of the entire Madhya Pradesh on his shoulders which he carried with full responsibilty.
Maybe Vishy Anand can take a few tips from him, after all he will be playing in his hometown in the coming world Championship match!! :)

One thing which I love about Akshat is his courage. Have a look at this position from his game against IM Murali Karthikeyan

Murali Karthikeyan vs Akshat Khamparia
Black to play.

Black is definitely better. He has a pawn up position and wonderful development. In such a situation, atleast majority of the people would milk the advantage. But not Akshat! He made quite a stunning move
1...Rfd8! 2.Bd8 Rd8 And thus reiterating the old age principle :  its important what remains on the board and not what goes outside it. Akshat played a powerful game and won. The move Rfd8 was truly a tribute to his confidence and courage!

2.IM Ashwin Jayaram 2461 (whooping 10.5/13!!)

Head held high!! Great Play by Ashwin!

A deserving Joint winner at the National B championship 2013. Ashwin showcased his superiority over others not just by beating them but he annihilated almost all his opponents. Its one thing to beat good players but Ashwin beat super strong opponents. His list of victims included CRG Krishna,IM Vikramaditya Kulkarni,IM Shyam Nikhil,IM Akshat Khamparia,IM Murali Karthikeyan and GM Lalith Babu. Quite an impressive list I must say! The only thing that is between him and GM title is 13 elo points now. I am sure that he will achieve it this time! Ashwin is truly a deserving candidate to become a GM! His opening knowledge combined with attacking skills is one of the best in the country!

Usually Ashwin doesnt play well in India. He has lost a lot of rating points before, but this time it was totally different! He gained 26 elo points! I wonder what made the difference!

Ashwin with his mom, his lucky charm! :)

1. IM M.S.Thejkumar 2421 (10.5/13!)

One of my favourite players in India, M S Thejkumar proved himself to be a class apart when he scored 3 GM norms when he wasnt even an IM!! He has slowed down a bit recently but I have a feeling that this National Challengers victory will be the start of his upward climb once again!
Known for his amazing technique, I would like to confer upon Thej the title of Indian Smyslov!
His games are like poetry. Always a link and always free flowing! I could go on and on about Thejkumar but I would like to let the man speak for himself. I took an interview with him after the completion of the tournament and this is how it went.


Sagar Shah (SS): When you came to his tournament what was your aim?
M.S.Thejkumar(MST) : Actually i was not going to play the tournament as I had planned to play the World Cities representing Bangalore city. However the visa of one of our team mates was delayed and just 4 days prior to the National B i decided to participate. When I first came to the tournament, I said to myself, let me try to finish in the top 9 and get selected for National A.

SS: How do you feel after winning the National B tournament?
MST: I am extremely happy. Winning the National B is a dream of every chess player and today I am happy to have fulfilled this dream! (smiles)

SS: Which was your favourite game of the tournament?
MST: From the point of view of winning the tournament two games were very important. One was my game against Vishnu Prasanna and the other against Ashwin Jayaram. In both the games, I was able to beat the players leading the tournament. But purely from chess point of view I was very happy with my game against Ashwin.

SS: In the past one year you werent playing upto your potential, what exactly did you do differently to win this tournament?
MST: In the last year I played a few tournaments badly and that really affected my confidence level. I wasn't really playing confidently. So i decided to take a break from playing tournaments. In the break I didnt work so much on chess. I spent more time with my family. So when I came to the National B tournament, I was refreshed and raring to play some good games!

SS: how do you intend to complete the GM title that has been eluding you since some time now?
MST: I will play the GM open in Hyderabad and then also the National A tournament. I hope to complete my title by the year end.

SS: Finally before taking your leave, we would like to know the role of your wife in your chess career?
MST: She supports a lot. Some of the times she has to live alone for many days. Her career is also important. But for my chess career she has made a lot of sacrifices already. She is fine that many times I am not able to spend time with her. And one very important thing that helps me keep going is that she is very interested in the game of chess!
Thej with his wife Jayashree.

We wish Thej all the best for all his future endeavours in chess.

As Thej mentioned in the interview his favourite game from the tournament was against Ashwin Jayaram, we decided to analyse this game for the viewers.

M S THEJKUMAR vs ASHWIN JAYARAM (annotations by Sagar and Amruta)

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. Nf3 Bg7 5. Qb3 dxc4 6. Qxc4 O-O 7. e4 Nc6 8.
Be2 e5 9. dxe5 Ng4 
Thej introduces a strong novelty in this position.

10. Nd5!?N (practically a very strong novelty by Thejkumar) 10...Ngxe5  (10... Be6 was better 11. Bg5 Ngxe5! 12. Bxd8 Nxc4 13. Bf6 Bxd5 14. Bxg7 Kxg7 15.exd5 N6e5 16. Nxe5 Nxe5 17. Rc1 Rac8 = can be a possible improvement) 
11.Nxe5 Bxe5 (11... Nxe5 12. Qxc7 +/=)
How to start an attack now?

 12. h4! the start of an attack,typical one when opponent is having a pawn on g6 which can be used as a hook. but surprisingly when the white king is still in the center and the center is open its a huge risk for white too and one inaccuracy can land him in a dangerous position. Be6 13. Bg5 Qd6 (13... f6 14.
Be3 Bxb2 15. Rd1 Be5 16. h5 white has tremendous compensation for the pawn by means of: tremendous piece activity, great co ordination amongst his pieces, weak black king and KS pawn structure.)

How would you bring the Rook on a1 into the game now?

14. Rd1! each and every piece of whites is at work. (14. O-O-O  move which looks most natural
safeguarding ones own king and also getting the rook on the best file. but this move is refuted by blacks counterattacking move b5! =/+) 14... Rfe8 15. h5 Bxd5 how long one can tolerate such a strong knight after all? 16. Rxd5 Qe6 17. hxg6 hxg6  (17... Qxg6 could have been better way to sustain in this bad
position. 18. Rh4 +=)

 18. f4! Bg7 (18... Bxb2 19. e5 Bxe5 20. fxe5 Nxe5 21. Qb3 Ng4 22. Qf3 +- and white will be a piece up. generally if pawns are a compensation, they need to be advanced to be effective which is not the case
here.) 19. e5 Ne7 20. Rd2 Nf5 21. Qxe6 Rxe6 22. Kf2 

White is clearly better in this endgame one which Thejkumar will convert with ease.

After the exchanges the ending is clearly better for white in view of his double bishops, and rook activity on the open files.} Bf8 23. g4 Ng7 (23... Ne7 24. Rd7 c6 25. Bf6 Rxf6 26. exf6 +-) 24. Bc4 Rc6 25. Bb3 Ne6 26. Bf6 Bg7 27. Bxe6 Bxf6 

White to play. Finish off the game now!

28. Bd5! White wins a piece and the rest is just a matter of technique. Rd8 29.exf6 Rcd6 30. Rhd1 Kf8 31. Ke3 Re8+ 32. Kf3 c6 33. Bb3 Rxf6 34. Rd8 g5 35. f5 Rh6 36. R1d7 Rxd8 37. Rxd8+ Ke7 38. Rb8 Rh3+ 39. Kg2 Rh4 40. Rxb7+ Kd6 41. Kg3

Truly a beautiful game by Thej who played a strong opening novelty, followed it up with powerpacked attacking moves in the middlegame and the endgame was converted with ease.
A game that could well have been played by a 2600+ player!

Some Pictorial Impressions from National B 2013.

With my great friend and room mate Mr.Atul Dahale (left)!!

A tale of inspiration for many. Darpan Inani! Not only is he a world junior blind bronze medallist, he has also cleared 1 group of inter CA!! 

IM P Karthikeyan recently married K Harini. As he said in his words he didnt feel that much different playing his first chess tournament as a Husband!

Beautiful trophies given to all the top 30 prize winners!

A very cute chess family. Anjali didi, Siya and Tejaswini Sagar.

The top 30 prize winners in one pic! Some of them wondering how can I run at such a lightning speed!! :D

I hope you enjoyed the Coverage of the National B. 

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  1. A very 'Clear Portrait' of National-B Chess Championship. Congrats Sagar!!!

  2. The humour in your writing is just priceless and adds beauty to all the information . Brilliant stuff,
    -Harikrishna S R.

  3. हमेशा की तरह बहुत ही शानदार !!! शुभकामनाए !!!