Sunday, March 30, 2014

Oliver Barbosa conquers Kolkata Open 2014.

It was already 5 hrs into the final 10th round. All the games had been completed except one. The top board game was in progress. It was a battle between two of the most talented youngsters of India. GM Vidit Gujarathi (2602) vs GM Lalith Babu (2575). The crowd had gathered near the board in huge numbers. The winner of the tournament was undecided. Oliver Barbosa had made a draw with Ziaur Rahman and was sitting at the top on 7.5/10. But Vidit was on 7 points and if he were to draw his game, he would have been the champion due to his better tie break.

The extremely tense top board game between GM Vidit Gujarathi (L) and GM Lalith Babu (R).

It was white to play here and this was Vidit’s last chance to make a draw.
Vidit, who was white had a great position from the opening. Call it championship pressure or momentary lapse of concentration, he blundered a piece! The position was worth resigning but Vidit kept fighting and reached the above position.
White had to play Rd7! in this position.  If Kh5 Rd5 Kg4 Rb5= would have secured Vidit the title. But as things stood, Vidit played Kd1 which was a mistake and after Lalith’s excellent move Rf2!, with the idea of Rf6, the point was in the bag and Oliver Barbosa must have heaved a sigh of relief!
GM Oliver Barbosa and GM Lalith Babu both finished with 7.5/10 but Philippine player won the 6th Kolkata Open 2014 due to his better tie break.

A jubiliant Oliver (center) flanked by runner up Lalith on his left and 3rd placed GM Abhijit Kunte on his right.

The Kolkata Open, formerly known as the Goodricke Open was held in Gorky Sadan, Kolkata from 18th to 27th March 2014. 
The tournament is one of the strongest open tournaments in Asia. This tournament witnessed 27 GMs, 18 IMs and 4 WGMs taking part. Players from 13 countries took part in this tournament making it a truly global event. The average rating of this tournament was an astonishing 2394 inspite of the fact tat 77 players had participated. The strength of the tournament can be gauged when GM Nigel Short, the top seed of the event played GM Sundaranjan Kidambi (2400) in the first round itself.  The tournament has a long standing pedigree and likes the Smyslov, Korchnoi, Anand,Bologan,Short and many more star players have taken part in the previous editions. No wonder it is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
The total prize fund of the event was 14 lakh Indian Rupess (approx 23300$)
It was 10 round tournament with a time control of 90 mins for 40 moves and 30 mins for the rest of the game with an increment of 30 secs from the 1st move. Every round began at 14.00 IST except for the last round which began at 10.00 IST. 

GM Oliver Barbosa of Philippines who won the tournament played some excellent chess and finished unbeaten with 5 wins and 5 draws with a rating performance of 2688 and bagged the winner's purse of 4 lakh rupees (approx 6500$). What was amazing was that Oliver faced 7 GMs and 3 IMs and inspite of such a strong opposition scored very heavily. He scored wins over strong 2600+ players like Levan Panstulaia and Landa Konstantin and was a well deserved winner. Oliver’s hard working and determined nature can be seen from his cover picture of facebook.

When I got the chance to talk with him after the tournament, his humility and down to earth nature could be easily seen. Oliver mentioned, “When I came to Kolkata one day before the tournament, I didn’t even know the player’s list. I was pleasantly surprised to see that so many strong 2600+ players had participated. I thought to myself, a top 5 finish would really be good. But I played well and won the tournament and I am very happy.”
About the strength of the tournament he mentioned, “It was such a strong tournament that it was barely possible to underestimate anyone and Indian players I think are very strong. Even a 2100 player here can beat a GM if you take him lightly.”
This was Oliver’s 3rd tournament victory in India after he had once won the Bhubaneshwar Open and the Delhi Open. However this was definitely the strongest tournament of the 3.
Oliver’s favourite game from the tournament was the one against Konstantin Landa where he as white he gained a small advantage. It seemed absolutely nothing at first. Slowly and steadily just like Capablanca he beat his strong Russian opponent. To outplay such a player like Landa with just a miniscule edge speaks volumes of Barbosa’s talent. Here is the game.

With a live rating of 2580 I consider Oliver Barbosa to be one of the finest talents not only from Philippines but also from Asia. He seems extremely focussed and hardworking and what separates himself from the rest is his will to win. You must definitely watch his queen endgame against Levan Pantsulaia where inspite of being down to his last few seconds and facing stiff resistance from the Georgian GM, he showed amazing tenacity to win the position. Le Quang Liem won the Kolkata Open and shot into prominence on the world level pretty soon. I sense something similar on cards for Oliver!

The top seed and the biggest attraction of the event was definitely Nigel Short. Being a World championship finalist and locking horns against the Great Garry in 1993 World Championship, Nigel is nothing short of a legend in the chess world. However in Kolkata, as Nigel would say, like the English Cricket batsmen, he just couldn’t get going. The tournament signalled off to a bad start for him when he couldn’t win a won endgame against GM Kidambi in the first round. And it went really bad when he lost his 3rd round game against GM Ziaur Rahman.

Nigel was terribly dejected after his loss to Ziaur Rahman in the 3rd Round.
Nigel started making his way back to the top but could not reach the absolute top boards. After the tournament he said, “I am just gathering steam now. Too bad the tournament is already over!”
A 12th position finish was not something GM Nigel Short was proud of. However, his presence surely enhanced the aura of the event.

GM Lalith Babu (2585) finished with a score of 7.5/10 and was the runner up of the event. Inspite of losing the 3rd game to Deepan Chakravarthy, Lalith fought back with a sizzling 4.5/5 end to clinch the silver medal. There is something extremely unique about this 20 year old talent. He is able to find quite excellent resources even in lost positions and this "never say die" spirit helps him to turn many of the inferior positions in his favour.

Known in Indian chess circles as Dada (elder brother in Marathi), Abhijit Kunte was one of the best players of the country during the period of 2000-2005. He has been the national champion on many occasions and also the British champion in the year 2003. 
Off late he had been performing quite poorly and his rating had dipped quite low to 2439. But everyone is aware of his class. It was only a matter of time before the classy player from Maharashtra came back in form. Just when Anand showed his supreme form in Candidates 2014, Abhijit Kunte did the same in the Kolkata Open by gaining 31 elo points with a rating performance of 2671. He dispatched strong GMs like GM SP Sethuraman (2578), GM Deep Sengupta (2529), GM Abdulla-Al-Rakib (2518). If Kunte keeps up this form, then I am sure we can see him back in the 2500 elo range pretty soon!

Touted as one of the biggest talents of Indian Chess, GM Vidit Gujarathi (2602), finished 4th at the tournament. He knows when to press the accelerator and when to pull the brakes, Thus, you can see his 20 odd moves nice win over GM Debashish Das and also his safe draws against GM Kunte and GM Chakravarthy. It was only because of his last round loss to GM Lalith Babu that he lost out on becoming the champion. The 2013 World Junior bronze medallist has a very bright future ahead of him and I surely think he will soon cross the 2700 elo barrier!

GM B Adhiban (2608) who had shot to fame earlier by entering the quarter finals of the World Cup 2013, had broken into 2600 with a strong performance at Gibraltar Open, finished 5th at the Kolkata Open. His style of preparing before the game by listening to music, is going to gain a lot of followers! Is it the secret to reach 2600?!!

Finishing 6th in the tournament is not such a big deal for a strong player like GM Ziaur Rahman (2486) from Bangladesh. However, the fact that he remained unbeaten with a performance of 2688 and also beat 2 strong players Nigel Short and Sergey Fedorchuk and at the same time gained 26 elo points means that he had a tournament of his life! Great play by the Bangladeshi genius!


The beautiful Alexandra Samanagova (2029) from Kyrgyzstan. 

Women power in India!! WGM Kiran Manisha Mohanty on the left, WGM Swati Ghate peeping and  IM Nisha Mohota who is always a live wire! In the background (center) WGM Mary Ann Gomes is also seen along with S Harini (extreme left) and WIM Ivana Maria Furtado! This covers almost all the Indian women taking part in the event except for...

The very cute and affable WGM Padmini Rout!

WIM Ivana Maria Furtado (2177) was surely the find of the event. She not only gained 43 elo points but also scored a WGM norm with a performance of 2406. On her way to her maiden WGM norm she accounted for strong IMs like V Saravanan and Somak Palit.

Putting on his thinking cap! IM Prasanna Rao (2410)

Behind every succesful man is a woman! Recently wed IM Karthikeyan (2355) gained 25 elo points and performed at an elo of 2555. No money for guessing who his second was! :)

Abhishek Kelkar (2286) who is an extremely aggressive player on the board made his maiden IM norm.

He already has 3 IM norms but what's the harm in making a 4th! CRG Krishna is surely way more than IM level material!!

Tenacity best describes the man on the left in the above picture. M Kunal (2339) made yet another IM norm at the Kolkata Open and is well on his way to the IM title.

Seems like a fan of Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang theory: Very strong IM from USA, Justin Sarkar (2452)

The Kolkata Open is often termed as a one man show when it comes to organization. Mr Soumen Majumar (who is seen with GM Harikrishna in this picture) is the whole and sole of this event. There is definitely something about this man and the way he organizes the tournament. He tries to not compromise on the quality and instead focuses on conducting a very high quality event. Isn't it one of the reasons why the average rating of the tournament was 2394.
Here are some of the things that are quite unique to this event.

The beautiful entrance to the tournament hall. It is well decorated with bright lighting to make one feel as if some gala event is in progress!

Near the entrance of the hall, you are greeted by all the world champions right from Wilhelm Steinitz to Magnus Carlsen. Looking at these world champions before the game motivates you to give your best!

In every game, the players were given something from which they could energize themselves. It was a small yet a very kind gesture by the organizers.

This picture is for posterity!! All the people in this picture are GMs and that too very talented ones! Sitting and analyzing are GM Harikrishna and GM Ganguly (who were not participating in the event) with Nigel Short. Looking at them with rapt attention are (from L-R) GM Vidit Gujarathi, GM G N Gopal, GM Abdulla Al Rakib, GM Enamul Hossain, GM Debashish Das, GM Shyam Sundar, GM Sethuraman, and GM B Adhiban.
A huge thanks to the organizer for having a separate analysis room with almost 8 chess sets. This shows that they understand the importance of analyzing the game after the round and players too never had to wait for analyzing their games with the opponent. As the very famous GM Pravin Thipsay of India once said to me. "Analyzing the game with your opponent after its over is a quintessential for a chess player's progress". 

All of the above were just little things but they somehow made the entire experience of playing at the Kolkata Open quite a memorable one! 

The only thing I feel that could have been improved was to not charge any entry fees to the IMs. That would have ensured many more IMs taking part in the tournament.

Some Scenes from the city of Kolkata.
Kolkata is one of the metro cities in India. It lies on the eastern part of India.

The Howrah bridge is one of the most famous symbols of the city of Kolkata.
It weathers the storms of the Bay of Bengal region, carrying a daily traffic of approximately 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians, easily making it the busiest cantilever bridge in the world.The third-longest cantilever bridge at the time of its construction, the Howrah Bridge is the sixth-longest bridge of its type in the world. (picture credit:

Beautiful Art work on the metro train stations. The people of Kolkata are very artistic and they respect all forms of art, be it music, painting or chess. The metro (underground) train service was opened in 1984 in Kolkata. It was the first of its kind in India. While it was revolutionary concept when it was opened, now Business Standard describes as an "exercise in antiquity". 

For living in India you do not need a home or any permission from the government authority! You just find a good spot on the road and build your little nest! :)

TEA: One of the most popular drinks in India and one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world. However the best part about the tea in Kolkata is that you get them in little earthen pots which lend its own special feeling while drinking it. Also unlike plastic cups it is environment friendly!

There are a lot of beautiful gardens near the playing venue.

Some players like GM Grigoryan Avetik from Armenia made excellent use of these parks in order to unwind and build their stamina in the evening after the game. That's real dedication!

Alexandra tries her hand at the very famous Bengali sweet Rasagulla! (which she loved!)

Nigel tries his hand at the Dahi (curd) Puchka, a bengali snack, which he found not so appetizing as it was a little sweet. Maybe next time, he must try the one without curd! 

The author of these lines, yours truly Sagar Shah (extreme right) and his wife Amruta Mokal are seen in the picture with the two best players of India GM Harikrishna (left) and GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly.

The game of Kings and Queens which is so close to the heart of every chess player, is highly respected in the city of Kolkata. I hope you enjoyed this little report on the 6th Kolkata Open 2014 and that you will make it a point to visit the beautiful land of India and play in this excellently organized event in the year 2015.

The official page of the Organizer:

A special thanks to my beautiful wife Amruta Mokal who clicked all the above beautiful pictures and made this tournament truly memorable!

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