National Challengers Dharamshala: nine qualifiers

by Sagar Shah
5/21/2014 – The final round started with eight players on 9.0/12 points, and eight more at 8.5/12. They battled it out for the nine places reserved in the forthcoming National Premier Championship, where they are joined by the five highest rated playes in India. The Challengers brought some very exciting chess, even before the final round, as Sagar Shar describes in this final report.

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52nd National Challenger Chess in Dharamshala

Final report by Sagar Shah

The last round of a qualification tournament is always interesting. The players in the lead often tend to play it safe and we witness few quick handshakes. One of the leaders is often quite ambitious and tries to win the championship, much to the displeasure of his opponent who had come to make a draw! The players who are trailing the leaders are in a must-win situation and put everything at stake in order to win.

Something similar was on show on 19th May 2014 at the 13th and the final round of the 52nd National Challenger’s tournament held at Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. Nine spots were there to be taken. These nine players would qualify for the National Premier Championship’s to be held in November 2014. The following was the pairing for the top eight tables in the final round.

Ti. Name Rtg
Ti. Name Rtg
GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2606
GM Grover Sahaj 2469
GM Sengupta Deep 2536
IM Shyam Nikil P. 2422
GM Deepan Chakkravarthy 2513
IM Girinath P.D.S. 2312
IM Swayams Mishra 2442
GM Kunte Abhijit 2484
GM Sethuraman S.P. 2582
Sunilduth Lyna N. 2402
IM Das Sayantan 2373
GM Lalith Babu M.R. 2571
GM Vishnu Prasanna. V 2467
IM Rajesh V A V 2382
IM Murali Krishnan B.T. 2299
GM Laxman R.R. 2450

There were eight players in the lead with nine points as you can see. GM Vidit Gujrathi (2606) had the best tie break. As Vidit rightly said, in such tension-filled last rounds it’s usually the prize money which motivates the players to go for a win. But here the prize money was so low that there was nothing to gain and everything to lose. Naturally all the leaders played it safe and made quick draws.

The real fun started from the fifth board. Sethuraman was able to beat S.L. Narayanan in a Ruy Lopez, where more than the quality of moves, it was the control of nerves which helped the young GM to win. On the 6th board Sayantan Das’s decision to play the Trompowsky was highly questionable. After all it was certain that his 200 points higher rated opponent would go for the win. But the complicated opening was just what GM Lalith Babu required. He played a nice game to finish off his opponent in just 30 moves.

The last game of interest for us was on board seven. Vishnu’s 5.e3 in the Grunfeld was not so smart and Rajesh equalized without any difficulty. He never really gave Vishnu a chance at an advantage, which must have frustrated the GM. In his bid to win Vishnu overstretched so much that finally he was left with a very difficult position to defend, which he was not able to. Rajesh managed to win and also finished with 9.5/13.

Thus, we had an eleven-way tie at the top. As GM Pravin Thipsay rightly mentioned in his post on Facebook, “National Championships are getting tougher day by day! In the National rapid there was a seven-way tie for top spot, and now in the National B, it is an eleven-way tie for the title!”

Naturally there were going to be two players who were going to be out of the top nine qualifiers, and they were GM Abhijit Kunte (2484) and IM PDS Girinath(2312). The winner of the event was Vidit Gujrathi who played very consistently with six wins and seven draws to finish with a score of 9.5/13.

Vidit, receiving the winner’s trophy and a cash prize of Rs 60,000 ($1000).

Though Vidit won this extremely strong championship, he wasn’t thoroughly impressed with his play. When asked about his favourite game from the tournament he said. “I didn’t play very good games, but if I had to choose then the game against Swayams was interesting, although the combination against Rajesh was more attractive.” Here are both the games that Vidit mentioned.

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Hi"] [Date "2014.05.13"] [Round "6.3"] [White "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"] [Black "Rajesh, V A V."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D99"] [WhiteElo "2606"] [BlackElo "2382"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "2r1qr2/1p3pk1/p1bR2p1/2Q1p3/2B1P3/2P2P2/P4P2/4K1R1 w - - 0 26"] [PlyCount "11"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] {After increasing his edge slowly White is placed perfectly for the final blow. As is often the case, the most heavily defended point in opponent's position is often the place where a sacrifice occurs.} 26. Bxf7 $3 {Though the combination is not very difficult to spot, it is aesthetically quite pleasing. The f7 point was defended by 3 black pieces but whichever way Black recaptures he is in trouble.} Bxe4 {Rajesh doesn't take on f7 but instead goes for a discovered attack which fares no better.} (26... Rxf7 {Taking with the rook leads to a quick mate.} 27. Rdxg6+ Kh7 28. Rh6+ $1 Kxh6 29. Qd6+ Kh7 30. Qg6+ Kh8 31. Rh1+ Rh7 32. Rxh7#) (26... Qxf7 27. Qxe5+ Kh7 (27... Kg8 28. Rdxg6+ Kh7 29. Qh5#) 28. Rh1+ Kg8 29. Rh8#) (26... Kxf7 27. Rgxg6 $1 (27. Rdxg6 $2 Bxe4 $1 28. Rg7+ Ke6 {and black is clinging on.}) 27... Qe7 28. Qc4+ Ke8 29. Rge6 $18) 27. Qe3 $1 Rxf7 (27... Qxf7 28. Qxe4 $18) 28. Qxe4 Rc6 29. Qxg6+ Kf8 30. Qh6+ Ke7 31. Qe6+ {a very nice combination played by Vidit – simple yet the patterns were very beautiful.} 1-0

Vidit (left) in a pensive mood in his crucial eighth round encounter with Murali Karthikeyan. With this game Vidit snatched the tournament lead and never let go. And here is a small trivia for the readers. What was the other significance of this game apart from Vidit becoming the leader of the tournament? You can find the answer at the bottom of this article.

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Hi"] [Date "2014.05.15"] [Round "9.1"] [White "Swayams, Mishra"] [Black "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E46"] [WhiteElo "2442"] [BlackElo "2606"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "61"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 O-O 5. Nge2 {This 5.Nge2 line has gained a lot of popularity recently because of a number of books written on it. But Swayams has been playing it for many years. Hence its not so easy to trick him here.} c6 $5 {This variation has risen in popularity recently with Black having a very good score. The idea is to make a square available for the bishop on c7 and also when White takes cxd5 Black can reply ...cxd5.} 6. a3 Ba5 7. g3 {This is not played much, but then the line itself is relatively rare. I guess Swayams did not expect it and improvised over the board.} (7. b4 {is the most logical move gaining more space.} Bc7 8. e4 {This seems like a critical move.} (8. Ng3 d5 $11) 8... d6 $1 (8... d5 9. e5 $14 {Gives White an advantage. }) 9. Ng3 e5 $11 {and Black is doing well in this position.}) 7... d5 8. b4 Bc7 9. cxd5 cxd5 (9... exd5 {[%cal Gc8g4] was definitely the much more logical choice, opening the bishop. I am not sure why Vidit didn't take it this way. The only explanation can be that he wanted to make use of the weaknesses on the c-file.}) 10. Bg2 Nbd7 $1 {The knight is planning to go to b6 to take advantage of the c4 square.} 11. O-O Nb6 12. e4 Nxe4 13. Nxe4 dxe4 14. Bxe4 Nd5 15. Qc2 h6 16. Nc3 Bb6 17. Rd1 Bd7 $1 {I like this move very much. It does not lose a pawn because of the Bg4 dicovered attack trick. But overall this move fits so well into the scheme of things and gives Black a nice position.} 18. Nxd5 exd5 19. Bf3 (19. Bxd5 Bg4 $17) 19... Qf6 $1 {In this nearly symmetrical position what counts for is activity, and Black is much more active. Look how Vidit makes use of this little factor to his advantage.} 20. Bxd5 Bxd4 21. Ra2 (21. Rb1 Bf5 $19) 21... Bg4 $1 {Once again this is the only move to keep the initiative. Black must play very accurately, as one wrong move and the positions peters out to a draw.} 22. Re1 Rad8 (22... Rfe8 {was also a good option. Somehow White is unable to keep things together and has to ruin his structure after} 23. Be3 Bxe3 24. Rxe3 Rxe3 25. fxe3 Be6 $15) 23. Qe4 (23. Bg2 Be6 $17 {[%csl Ra2]}) 23... Rxd5 $1 {A little exchanging operation.} 24. Qxd5 Be6 25. Rxe6 fxe6 {[%csl Rf2,Gf8][%cal Gd4f2,Gf6f2,Gf8f2] The rook on f8 comes to life and starts putting pressure on the f2 point.} 26. Qg2 Rc8 $1 27. Qf1 { Swayams tries to defend as accurately as possible, but somehow his position is extremely unpleasant.} Qf3 28. Qe1 (28. Rd2 {with the idea of Bb2 should have been preferred.}) 28... e5 29. Be3 $6 Rc3 $1 30. a4 $2 {White just collapses in one move. But it was result of the pressure built over the last 10-12 moves by Vidit.} (30. Bxd4 exd4 $15 {Black has excellent winning chances, thanks to his active pieces and the passed d-pawn.}) 30... Rxe3 $1 31. -- {A very nice game by Vidit who slowly and steadily accelerated the pressure in the position until it became unbearable.} (31. fxe3 Bxe3+ 32. Rf2 Bxf2+ (32... Kf7 { Preparing for a pawn endgame would be a horrible blunder thanks to} 33. Qxe3 $1 $18) 33. Qxf2 Qxf2+ 34. Kxf2 Kf7 {and the pawn ending is winning for Black.}) 0-1

The top three winners of the tournament: Vidit Santosh Gujrathi (first) with GM Sahaj
Grover (second) on his right and IM P Shyam Nikil (third) on his left

GM Sahaj Grover (2469), after becoming a GM and also playing in the prestigious C category Tata Steel tournament in 2012, witnessed a slump in form and also his rating. Maybe with this excellent performance the 19-year-old prodigy is all set to make his comeback.

The third place winner IM Shyam Nikhil played consistently, garnering 22 Elo points. This young lad from Tamil Nadu doesn’t speak much, and often it’s easy to miss him. But with such excellent performances, the world is bound to take notice of him sooner or later!

Sahaj playing against GM Deep Sengupta (2536) who finished fourth

GM Deep Sengupta (the picture above is taken from his Facebook page) is a fierce attacker on the chessboard. Sometimes he wins his games without his opponents really understanding where they have gone wrong. This can be attributed to his excellent tactical skills and combinative vision. Deep won the prestigious Hasting’s tournament in the year 2011. Maybe it is because of the growing defensive abilities of his opponents or due to some other reasons, Deep has lost almost 60 Elo points and from his career high Elo of 2589 and is now down to 2536. But finishing 4th here and now having the opportunity to play in the National Premier 2014, we can surely expect him to be back where he belongs, that is being one of the top players in Indian chess!

This man is made for big games! S.P. Sethuraman finished fifth
and qualified for the National Premier

Last year in National Challenger’s 2013 Sethuraman was on the same score of 8.5/12 and he faced IM K. Ratnakran in the last round. After building up a winning position, Sethuraman played poorly to lose the game and thus missed his chance to qualify for the National Premier 2013. But not this year. As already mentioned before, Sethuraman played with great patience and control on his nerves to beat S L Narayanan in the last round. This 1993 year born youngster from India is surely going to make it big.

IM Swayams Mishra (2442) finished sixth and gained 15 Elo points. Quite an unconventional player, Swayams is phenomenal at blitz chess. His Playchess blitz rating was at a point more than 2800 (currently 2611). After the tournament, when asked what was his secret of playing such a successful tournament, he modestly replied: “My opponents made more mistakes than me!”

IM VAV Rajesh (Elo 2382) played fighting chess throughout the tournament, especially in his last round game against GM Vishnu Prasanna, which he won and finished seventh.

Eighth place: India’s comeback man GM Lalith Babu (2571)

Lalith has becoming famous on two counts now.

  1. For his phenomenal fighting spirit. At one point in the tournament he was 5.5/9, after he lost both the eighth and ninth games. Things looked pretty bleak for him. But like a real champion Lalith scored four out of four towards the end, pulling off a qualification spot which looked simply impossible after nine rounds.
  2. For his yellow spectacles which I think are one of their kind in the chess world!

One of the most pragmatic and practical player in the Indian Chess circuit, Deepan Chakkravarthy’s style of play is so very unique. With minimum risks he achieves maximum results. And he is definitely one of the most consistent performers in India. The last qualification spot was taken up by him.

GM Abhijit Kunte (above) and IM PDS Girinath were the unlucky ones. In spite of scoring 9.5/13 and tying for the top spot they couldn’t make it to the top nine.

Final standings (after thirteen rounds)

Rk. SNo Ti. Name Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 1 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2606 9.5 106.0 98.5 82.25
2 11 GM Grover Sahaj 2469 9.5 105.5 98.0 78.25
3 18 IM Shyam Nikil P. 2422 9.5 102.5 95.5 77.00
4 4 GM Sengupta Deep 2536 9.5 102.5 94.5 78.75
5 2 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2582 9.5 102.0 94.5 76.50
6 16 IM Swayams Mishra 2442 9.5 101.5 95.0 76.75
7 23 IM Rajesh V A V 2382 9.5 101.0 94.0 75.75
8 3 GM Lalith Babu M.R. 2571 9.5 99.5 92.0 76.75
9 6 GM Deepan Chakkravarthy J. 2513 9.5 98.0 91.5 75.25
10 9 GM Kunte Abhijit 2484 9.5 97.5 90.5 73.75
11 35 IM Girinath P.D.S. 2312 9.5 95.5 90.0 70.75
12 24 IM Karthikeyan P. 2380 9.0 100.0 94.0 69.75
13 15 GM Laxman R.R. 2450 9.0 99.5 92.0 71.75
14 8 GM Shyam Sundar M. 2486 9.0 92.5 86.5 65.25
15 37 IM Murali Krishnan B.T. 2299 9.0 92.5 86.5 64.00
16 19 IM Anurag Mhamal 2420 9.0 91.0 85.0 64.00
17 29 IM Himanshu Sharma 2350 8.5 105.5 98.0 70.50
18 10 IM Karthikeyan Murali 2475 8.5 104.5 97.5 70.75
19 12 GM Vishnu Prasanna. V 2467 8.5 101.0 94.0 67.75
20 7 GM Debashis Das 2501 8.5 97.0 90.0 65.75
21 22 IM Rathnakaran K. 2397 8.5 95.0 88.0 63.75
22 17 IM Swapnil S. Dhopade 2434 8.5 93.0 87.0 63.75
23 28 IM Nitin S. 2357 8.5 93.0 86.5 61.25
24 21 Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan 2402 8.5 92.5 86.0 60.75
25 27 IM Konguvel Ponnuswamy 2363 8.5 92.0 86.0 57.25
26 44 Patil Pratik 2259 8.5 90.5 84.0 60.50
27 41 Karthik V. Ap 2276 8.5 90.0 84.0 57.50
28 25 IM Das Sayantan 2373 8.5 86.5 81.0 59.50
29 32 IM Sangma Rahul 2333 8.5 86.5 80.5 59.25
30 79 Agarwal Brajesh 2065 8.5 82.5 77.5 51.25

The National Premier 2014 will consist of total fourteen players. Nine qualifiers from National Challenger’s, last year’s National Premier winner Krishnan Sasikiran and the top four highest rated Indian players. Currently the top four by rating are Anand (2785), Harikrishna (2726), Sasikiran (2669) and Parimarjan Negi (2643). As Anand will most certainly not play, and Sasikirian is already qualified as the National Premier champion of 2013, eleven players from the National Challengers 2014 will be selected. That means both Kunte and Girinath will qualify for National Premier 2014.

A final goodbye to the chess playing hall of National Challenger’s 2014. The All India Chess Federation (AICF) must be applauded for the fact that they chose such a picturesque location for the tournament.

And now to reveal the secret regarding the significance of the game between Vidit and Murali Karthikeyan from round eight. It was the first time (at least in the official databases) that Vidit opened a game with the move 1.e4! Many people watching the game live on the Internet thought it was a transmission mistake! But it wasn’t and currently Vidit has an astronomical success rate with 1.e4 –100%!


Part II of this article will follow soon but that will deal almost exclusively with the beauty of Dharamshala. Many of the beautiful pictures that you have seen above have been sent to us by IM Venkatachalam Saravanan (2341) who himself was playing the tournament. Not only a strong chess player, Saravanan is a wonderful writer and also a great photographer. You will get to witness more of his work in Part II of this article, which will follow soon.

Photos: IM Ratnakaran Kantholi, Venkatachalam Saravanan


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Topics: India

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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