Sunday, May 24, 2015

MCL 2015: Bigger, better, stronger!

Over the past few weeks Amruta and I have been traversing different countries in Europe. The wonderful thing in European nations, apart from having some superb open tournaments, is the culture of have having Leagues. The Hungarian Chess League, the French League, the Spanish league... Almost every European nation has its own chess league. Whenever I ask a European player which is his next tournament, he would come up with some or the other league that he is playing in! These leagues actually help the chess players to sustain and pursue the sport. They get paid for every game they play by their owners, irrespective of whether they win or lose. It's a perfect way to improve your game and at the same time have good financial security. "Too bad", says my European friend, in a sadistic tone that there is no chess league in India. While there are no league tournaments that have started at the national level in our country, as a chess player I am relieved that a chess league takes place in India called Maharashtra Chess League (MCL). And guess what, it is already in it's third year! 

The MCL will be held in PYC, Hindu Gymkhana, Pune from the 11th-15th of June 2015.

Vishy Anand being the brand ambassador has given the MCL a lot of credibility and media exposure. But the organizers played a master stroke this year as they were able to get Aamir Khan to attend the auction ceremony on the 22nd of May 2015!

When perfection meets perfection!

Aamir's love for the game can be gauged from the fact that he played the Ruy Lopez from the White side and was theoretically booked up almost up to the 10th move! Below is a video where you can see both Anand and Aamir making some wonderful comments about each other! Let's put it this way: If Aamir starts to promote the game, chess players are in for a great time in the future!

The MCL auction was held in hotel Novotel, Mumbai on the 22nd of May 2015. The auction is really one of the best parts of the MCL. The bidding process decides the amount of money that will be received by each player and which team he would play in. But there are a few limitations which you have to be aware of:

1. Each team must have three Maharashtra players playing out of the 6 boards.
2. Each team must have two woman players playing.
3. Each team must have at least one untitled player playing out of the 6 boards.
4. Each team has a maximum of Rs 4,00,000 (increased by Rs. 50,000 from the last year) to buy the players.
The downside for me this year is that I am not playing the MCL. The upside is that I can freely comment about the teams, their strengths, weaknesses and what are their chances. In this article below I have placed the six teams in the descending order (best team at the top) based on their composition.
Of course, this is just a personal opinion and my predictions can go horribly wrong. Chess is after all a sport!

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Where exactly is their weakness? Look at the perfect composition of the team. Seven players means that they always have one player who can rested. Four players from Maharashtra means that there is flexibility over here too. 

The two strong women players in Eesha Karavade and Soumya Swaminathan gives this team a very stable look

Though Lalith Babu is a class act, I am more interested to see how the other GM in the team will fare in his first outing at the MCL.

Aravindh Chithambaram

If Aravindh clicks, there is no stopping this team! This little boy from Tamil Nadu who is India's latest grandmaster is just 16 years old but has already proven himself on numerous occasions! And every time I write about him, I do not forget to mention that he is beaten the legendary Alexei Shirov and that too with 1,b3!

Rs 30,000 for IM K. Rathnakaran

As for Rathnakaran, I think he is an excellent choice. This guy plays his classical games as if they are blitz! There is no doubt that the MCL format will suit him and if I were his opponent I would definitely be on the look out for an unsound piece sacrifice coming my way! 

The only weakness I can think about this team is that there is a lack of experience which might become an important factor for the team bonding and morale of the team.

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The Pune Trumasters performed dismally last year. It was not that the team had bad players. In fact the team was extremely well balanced in 2014. But there was something missing in the team. I think the owners have addressed this fact by buying one of the most experienced GMs in the Indian chess circuit.

GM Abhijit Kunte: If sufficiently focused, he is the best in the business

Two strong women players in Mary Ann Gomes and Swati Ghate

The reigning National Champion, Sethuraman has been one of the most consistent performers in the year 2014

You have a good deal when you get a player who has completed all the formalities for becoming an IM in the rated player section. Abhishek Kelkar from Pune

And lastly one must not forget that in the recently held Deltin Rapid which was one of the strongest rapid events in India, IM Swayams Mishra won it with a score on 9.0/10! Another good buy for the team.

Maybe I could have placed this team as my favourites to win the MCL this year as they look extremely balanced and well composed unit.

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Vidit Gujrathi and B.Adhiban

The only reason why I would put this team on the third spot is because of these two guys! Vidit recently became the number four ranked player in India after Anand, Harikrishna and Negi! And he also entered one of the most remarkable records by an Indian chess player.

You see the percentage of 90.47 next to Vidit's name. It means that he 90% of his moves are the first choice of the computers! Now how can someone beat a guy who is plays such accurate chess!

Adhiban, of course is equally strong and was also the best player in last year's MCL. Srinath Narayanan has a rating of 2464 and three GM norms. So he is almost a GM.

IM Srinath Narayanan is seriously preparing for this event by spending 10 days in silent meditation prior to the tournament in Vipasanna!

But apart from these three guys, the team is a little shaky. There is no denying the fact that Nubairshah Shaikh is an extremely talented player in rapid formats, but this is his first edition of MCL. 

Also, the team has six players and hence there is no flexibility and the opponents will not have to keep guessing about Jalgaon's team composition for a specific round.

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The Pune Attackers seemed to come to the auction with one aim in mind: Get Padmini Rout!

The Orissa girl was worth Rs.1,50,000!

Padmini Rout has become the third highest ranked player in India now after Humpy and Harika. Her past performances in the MCL and in general make her one of the most valuable players at the auction. But spending 1.5 lakh rupees on her meant that the team could not afford more than six players. Yet, there is high quality in the team as the team has roped in one of the best rapid players of the country:

It's surprising that the cool and calm Venkatesh who scored 7.0/7 in the first edition of MCL was auctioned for just Rs.90,000

The team's quality quotient is further enhanced thanks to the retention of two IMs Swapnil Dhopade and M.S Thejkumar. Both have three GM norms and in effect are almost equivalent to grandmaster strength.

Aniruddha Deshpande and Parnali Dharia are both solid and strong players in classical time controls but what about the rapid games of 25 minutes in MCL? Their performance might well be the determining factor in this team's success.

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Another team that had to be content with only six players. However, the Mumbai team will be the center of attraction at this year's MCL as they have in their team, the second highest rated woman player (not counting Judit Polgar) in the world!

This will be the first time you can see Koneru Humpy live in action (apart from the inter petroleum championships) on Indian soil after she tied the knot

Humpy serves the dual role of being a woman player as well as a GM. I guess the Rs.1,52,000 in her case were completely justified. Apart from her, the team has another strong grandmaster in Vaibhav Suri. The Delhi lad appears for the first time in MCL but judging from his overall chess strength he will be a very tough player to beat. 

Diptayan Ghosh is an excellent pick as he is very good at rapids and Vikramaditya Kulkarni, when in form, can beat the best in the business.

The man to watch out for is Rakesh Kulkarni who has established himself as one of the best rapid players in Mumbai by winning almost every rapid tournament that he plays!

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8 players??!! What is the team going to do with so many! The worrying factor here is not the lack of quality in the team but the relatively inexperienced women players and technical problems with the fielding of the team.

GM Abhijeet Gupta is definitely a great buy!

And so is Shyam Sundar, the man who drew with Vladimir Kramnik recently!

Assuming that these two GMs will play every game, and also the two girls Rucha and Akanksha that means that they need to field one more Maharashtra player. Suppose IM Shardul Gagare plays, it would mean that IM S.L. Narayanan's services would be wasted as the team has to field one untitled player. 

Last but not the least, we mustn't forget IM Saravanan who makes this event all the more interesting by interviewing players and coming up with some really deadly questions before the start of the play! 

The Maharashtra Chess League is surely one of the most colourful and vibrant tournaments in the Indian chess calendar. With big names like Vidit, Adhiban, Abhijeet, Humpy and many more players playing in this event, it will surely be something to look forward to not only in terms of entertainment but also in terms of quality of play. 
The games begin on 11th of June, so you have a fortnight to decide the team you will be cheering for. As for me I am rooting for the Mumbai Movers, not only because I really admire Humpy as a player but also Mumbai is my home town and Prathamesh Mokal who is the coach of the team is my brother-in-law!
What's your reason?!
Many of the pictures by Amruta Mokal