Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rd.8 Sasi all alone at the top!!

The biggest Upset of Rd 8 has to be the loss of Lalith Babu at the hands of Akshat Khamparia. This means that Sasikiran got the green signal for leading the tournament all alone!
The battle between two Karnataka players was much anticipated. Thej is definitely the more experienced of the two but Stany is fearless attacker. So the game was going to be interesting! It started with a bang when Stany played 1.f4 instead of his customary move e4. Its safe to assume that no player including Sasikiran has studied black defense against 1.f4 in depth. As it was the game soon left its theoretical boundaries and an original position arose on the board. Both the players played pretty well and didnt let their opponent snatch the advantage. the result was a draw on the 26th move. Thej was thus pushed back to the 6th position because Ashwin scored a resounding victory against Adhiban!!

The talented GM Adhiban was in full flow before the rest day. However it seems like the rest day has put a spanner in the works for this youngster's rhythm as he not only drew the 7th round against Akshat but also lost the 8th Round against Ashwin. I think Ashwin has always played well against Adhiban and today was no exception. Adhiban chose the Taimanov opening in the Sicilian and seemed extremely well prepared. However Ashwin was upto the task and always maintained a decent position. It was around the 30-35 move range, that Adhiban started to go wrong and Ashwin won a pawn. Of course Adhiban was not going to lose easily. He had counterplay against the white king. But Ashwin was very careful on the day and he transposed the game into a winning bishop ending! It was an excellent game by Ashwin!

When you meet Akshat you come across a lad who is confident about himself. He backs himself no matter the situation and one gets the feeling that its not so easy to intimidate him. In the 8th round he faced the tournament leader M R Lalith Babu. The form of Lalith could have put anyone under pressure but not Akshat. He played freely and gained a decent position from the opening. But Lalith was able to start weaving his magic as in the middlegame he outplayed the king of Madhya Pradesh. Lalith could have won an exchange but he craved for more. I dont know whether it was some heavenly inspiration or some inspiration from the room mate : i.e Rathnakaran, But Akshat made an amazing Tal like Queen sacrifice. I know that distractors will say but after Qf8 black was just winning! But then how do you win against a strong 2570 player like Lalith? You must put him under pressure and the queen sacrifice did just that. Lalith went wrong with Qb6 and it resulted in his king getting brutally murdered. An excellent game by Akshat who will remember it for days to come!

NEGI vs SHYAM 0.5-0.5
Just when it seemed that Negi would press on the accelerator with his win against Rathnakaran in round 7, his momentum was grinded to a halt by Shyam Nikhil who made an easy draw against him. Shyam chose the super solid Fort Knox variation in the french defense. It is supposed to give black a solid Caro Kann like position without studying reams of theory. It was a perfect recipe against Negi who couldnt get any glimpse of any advantage. The pieces got periodically exchanged and a draw was agreed! A good achievement by Shyam!

To play with Sasikiran with black pieces is a huge headache. First you must navigate through his huge repertoire which supposedly has no holes! And once you have selected your line, you must be ready for a deeply prepared Novelty at home!! If someone could stop Sasi, it was definitely Deepan. But during the game, Deepan badly mixed up something in the opening and got such a passive position, that it seemed the black position would die out of suffocation!! But Deepan said, I couldnt see a clear cut way for white to win and I continued a tenacious defense. Slowly and steadily like evacuating people from a disaster struck area, Deepan started exchanging his pieces and before you knew it only bishops were left on the board. Sasi tried right upto the bare kings but Deepan held fort. It was truly an inspired defensive effort by Deepan but Sasi still leads with 7/8.

Both of them are India's newly minted GMs. So who amongst them is superior was to be decided by this game! It turned out that the latest GM i.e Debashis Das turned out to be the guy with more ammo. In a Nimzo Indian defense game Debashis gained a nice position with an isolated queen pawn in the opening. Vishnu was upto the task as he defended well and also won a pawn. However white had good compensation for it. As white pieces menacingly viewed the black king, Vishnu had to be on his toes on every move to maintain the balance. But he faltered with his move Rd8 which was met with the nice blow Nf7! and 1 one move the position from being extremely interesting became totally one sided in Debashis's favour. It didnt require the Orissa lad to convert the game into a full point!

It doesnt matter who he is playing, Rathnakaran will not change his opening neither his playing style! Against Akash he employed his beloved French Defense. With a pawn sacrifice on d4 Rathnakaran followed the game of Karjakin vs Topalov. But not did Rathnakaran sacrifice the d4 pawn, he also sacrificed his knight on c2. This must have come as a shock for Akash who immediately went wrong taking the knight with the queen when he could have taken it with the bishop. The evaluation of the game swung vociferously and Akash missed several winning chances. But as he himself said, Rathnakaran feels at home in lost positions. He played actively and improved his position little by little and finally was able to scrap through with a draw! A truly entertaining struggle which could have been on the top board in any rating tournament but in this super strong National Premier it was on the last board.


Abhijit Kunte, One of the legends of Indian Chess is present at the tournament. Its always a pleasure to know his candid opinions and views. So I decided to take a small interview with him. The below interview is his opinion about the current National premier, prize structure, strength of the players etc. In the part II of the interview which will be published tomorrow, you will get to know more about his life and Abhijit Kunte as a chessplayer.

SS: How many times have you played National A (premier)?
AK: I have been playing National A since 96 upto 2012 leaving one in between. So I have played altogether 16 National Premiers. So I have spent almost 225 days in National A. (laughs)

SS: So how do you assess the strength of this National Premier?
AK: The average rating of this tournament is excellent i.e 2493 but I think there are clearly 2 groups of players in this National Premier. One group is much better than the other. So in that sense it is not a balanced National Premier.

SS: According to you Who is the favourite to win this tournament?
AK: Of course Sasi. And Negi was a favourite too but after the first half I dont think he has chances to win anymore.

SS: Why did Negi play so badly in the first half of that event?
AK: You have to ask that question to Negi! (smiles)

SS: How are the conditions given to the players in comparison to the previous National Premier?
AK: As far as I have seen, its one of the best National A in terms of organisation. Lodging, boarding and playing conditions are excellent and more importantly players are being given a lot of respect which is very important.

SS: What is your opinion about the prize structure of the tournament?
AK: (immediately answers) Its very poor! (smiles)

SS: So then what should be a decent prize fund?
AK: First I dont really understand why this National premier is being organised in this format. Only 6 GMs are playing. Hari, Ganguly, Sandipan, Humpy are not there. And many didnt play in National Challengers itself like Abhijeet Gupta, Gopal, Arun Prasad. The original idea was that all the GMs will be playing in National Premier and then it will be an extremely strong closed tournament. But it didnt work out that way. So the question is: Did this happen only because of prize money or something else, that is the key question.

SS: So you are questioning the reason why this tournament is held  in this format?
AK: Yes, because if it was for making GM norms, then I think its extremely difficult to make a norm here. And if this tournament is held for choosing the best team, still I think this tournament doesnt serve that purpose. But coming back to your prize money question: From the point of view of National premier its a very less amount. According to me 5 lakh should be the first prize so atleast 20 lakh prize fund. But AICF has increased the fund from 5 lakh to 10 lakh so its a good improvement. Maybe in the coming years we can expect more.

SS: OK. So how should we attract players like Harikrishna and Ganguly to play this tournament?
AK: Well Ganguly wanted play but he is not in top 4 rating wise players in India, and definitely he wouldnt like to play the National challengers. As for Harikrishna I guess 10 lakh prize fund was too less to attract him. You see if he wins Biel he gets 10 lakh Rs and that too in less number of days. Also its possible that if he plays here and doesnt score heavily, he might lose rating points.So all in all its not such a huge gain for him to play in National Premier.

SS: I would like to ask you this final question as to how would you describe the top 4 players of this tournament in a word or a line.
 Sasikiran : Grinder. He will grind you very will in the game.
 Negi : I think I must speak about before this tournament Negi (laughs). I think he is a very good attacker. The next 2700 player from India.
Lalith: Fire at will. He can win at his will!
Adhiban: (pauses) He is a kid! He just plays everything!!

SS:Thanks a lot for your views on this National Premier!

Stay tuned for the report from round 9 tomorrow and also the interview with GM Abhijit Kunte as to how he developed as a chess player, How he plans to change the chess in India and what are his opinions on leading a balanced life!! An in depth interview coming your way!! :)

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