From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.01 :: Jan. 03, 2009

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CHESS / YEAR-END REVIEW

Highly rewarding

The year 2008 should go down as one of the most fruitful for Indian chess. Seven World champions during the year surely reinforced India’s claim to being a chess superpower in the making, writes Rakesh Rao.

RAKESH RAO

Abhijeet Gupta (left), the World junior champion, coach Anup Deshmukh, D. Harika, the junior girls champion and Parimarjan Negi, junior silver medallist, on arrival in New Delhi after the World junior championship.

From the ‘king’ to the ‘pawns’ of Indian chess, the journey in 2008 proved highly rewarding. Seven World champions during the year surely reinforced India’s claim to being a chess superpower in the making. The domination at the Asian age-group level continued unabated and several teen-talents established themselves as the torchbearers of the future.

The number of medallists at the World and the Asian level reached a new high. Significantly, the Indian players made their presence felt consistently in several invitational and open events around the world.

The man, whose footprints these future champions follow, attained a position of legendary proportion during the year.

Viswanathan Anand, who continues to redefine excellence like no other Indian in an individual sport, scripted a new chapter in chess history. He retained the world title by overpowering Vladimir Kramnik in a historic battle spread over 11 games in Bonn, Germany. The scoreline of 6.5-4.5 reflected Anand’s domination of Kramnik who was undefeated in World Championship title-matches since dethroning fellow-Russian Garry Kasparov in 2000.

This historic triumph placed Anand among the greats seen in the 122-year history of World Championships. He became the only player to win the title in three different formats — knockout, tournament and now, in a match. The acceptance of Anand’s versatility was never so pronounced, as it was following the conquest of Kramnik, that too, in match-play format.

During the year, Anand retained all three titles — the prestigious Linares tournament, the annual rapid contest in Mainz, Germany, and the world crown — won in 2007. He expectedly claimed the Chess Oscar for the fifth time. He remained World number one for the better part of the year before his last-place finish in the Grand Slam Finals in Bilbao, in the days leading to the match against Kramnik, saw him slip to the fifth spot. For the first time in over a decade, Anand went out of the top-three bracket but recovered valuable rating points in Bonn.

K. Sasikiran and P. Hari Krishna, the next best Indian players after Anand, won a title each to draw some positives from an otherwise lacklustre year. Sasikiran beat the field in the Najdorf memorial event in Warsaw before Hari won the SPICE Cup in Lubbock, Texas. Sasikiran also played a noticeable part in India finishing second best to Equador in the Mind Games competition in China. In the absence of Anand and the women’s world championship semifinalist K. Humpy at the Chess Olympiad in Dresden, India performed on expected lines. The 13th seeded men’s team of Sasikiran, Hari, Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Sandipan Chanda and G. N. Gopal finished 16th. The 11th seeded ladies’ combination of D. Harika, Tania Sachdev, Nisha Mohota, Swati Ghate and reserve-board medallist Mary Ann Gomes took the 15th spot.

Earlier, India had retained the World Youth (under-16) Olympiad gold in Turkey after being tied with Russia.

It was in the World junior championship that the Indians well and truly stamped their authority. Though top-seed Harika expectedly won the girls title, Abhijeet Gupta and Parimarjan Negi turned on the heat in the last five rounds to give India a 1-2 finish. In fact, it was also the first time that a country had claimed both titles.

Abhijeet, earlier in the year, had won the Parsvnath International Open in New Delhi, ahead of several favourites, including Ganguly.

M.VEDHAN

Asian champions Mary Ann Gomes and Ashwin Jayaram with Anand.

Parimarjan galloped towards his goal with some amazing consistency. The 15-year-old, backed by the Tata Group, won the Philadelphia Open and tied for the honours in the World Open and Kaupthing Open to come delightfully close to the coveted rating mark of 2600. His admirable demeanour, maturity over the board and presentable ways made him the most sought-after Indian teen-player in Europe.

Another sub-junior to make an impression during the year was B. Adhiban. After settling for the silver in the Asian under-16 event, Adhiban led an Indian sweep in the World championship in the same category. In between, he struggled for form as he captained India to the Youth Olympiad gold.

Later, Adhiban and Parimarjan finished winner and runner-up in a formidable field at the National ‘B’ championship. This was also the first time that two sub-juniors occupied the top two spots in the event. Adhiban, along with country’s latest Grandmaster S. Arun Prasad, was instrumental in India beating a strong Armenian side in a three-match youth series. He finished the year by taking the bronze in a virtually Indian field at the Asian junior championship.

Like in the last edition, the Asian juniors saw Indians win all six medals at stake. This was a foregone conclusion since strong contenders like China, Vietnam and Philippines stayed away from the competition.

For the record, Aswin Jayaram and M. R. Lalith Babu finished ahead of Adhiban to make the medal-bracket. Among the girls, Mary Ann Gomes completed a hat-trick of triumphs in the competition. Kruttika Nadig, clearly the most improved performer among the girls in the country, and Bhakti Kulkarni were the other medallists.

In the younger age categories in the world, Indians thrived like never before. Vidit Gujarati, who impressed one and all with his display that led him to the seventh place in the Commonwealth Championship, won the world under-14 title.

Vidit’s opposite number, Padmini Rout claimed a ‘double’ by winning the World and Asian under-14 titles to reinforce the belief that she is the one to watch out for. Sayantan Das came good in the under-12 section.

At the Asian age-group level, the Indian domination was on expected lines since it had a lot to do with the lack of interest or financial support in most of the countries in the region. The same factors help India sweep medals in the Commonwealth meet that enjoys more patronage from the Indians, than those in authority in the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

Overall, the year should go down as one of the most fruitful for Indian chess. With every success, the young talents had an added reason to do even better. With Anand showing the way, these champions of tomorrow have a lot to look forward to.

THE WINNERS

The complete list of champions and medallists from India in 2008.

World championships

Men: Viswanathan Anand.

Junior boys: Abhijeet Gupta (gold) and Parimarjan Negi (silver).

Boys under-16: B. Adhiban (gold), S. P. Sethuraman (silver) and Debashis Das (bronze).

Boys under-14: Vidit Gujarati (gold).

Boys under-12: Sayantan Das (gold).

Junior girls: D. Harika (gold).

Girls under-18: R. Preethi (silver).

Girls under-14: Padmini Rout (gold).

Girls under-12: B. Pratyusha (bronze).

Asian championships

Junior boys: Aswin Jayaram (gold), M. R. Lalith Babu (silver) and B. Adhiban (bronze).

Boys under-18: Debashis Das (bronze).

Boys under-16: B. Adhiban (silver).

Boys under-14: Prasanna Rao (gold), Vidit Gujarati (silver) and Ankit Rajpara (bronze).

Boys under-12: Girish Koushik (gold) and Shardul Gagare (bronze).

Boys under-10: Diptayan Ghosh (gold) and Sidhant Mahapatra (bronze).

Boys under-8: Y. Grahesh (bronze).

Junior girls: Mary Ann Gomes (gold), Kruttika Nadig (silver) and Bhakti Kulkarni (bronze).

Girls under-18: P. Uthra (gold).

Girls under-16: Bhakti Kulkarni (bronze).

Girls under-14: Padmini Rout (gold) and Priyanka Kumari (bronze).

Girls under-12: B. Pratyusha (bronze).

Girls under-10: M. Mahalakshmi (gold), Ivana Furtado (silver) and G. K. Monnisha (bronze).

Girls under-8: Tejaswini Sagar (silver).



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