National Challengers in Dharamshala

by Sagar Shah
5/18/2014 – It is one of the most important open tournaments in the Indian Chess circuit, extremely strong – 14 GMs and 22 IMs taking part, 56 players above Elo 2200 – with a weirdly low prize fund ($3,300). The 52nd National Challengers Championship 2014 is being held in the mesmerizingly beautiful city of Dharamshala, home to the Dalai Lama. Illustrated report with analysis.

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52nd National Challenger Chess in Dharamshala

Dharamshala is situated in the northern part of India in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is one of the most scenic destinations in the whole of India. The entire city is covered with dense coniferous trees which are mainly Deodar cedar trees. Though natural beauty is the selling point of Dharamshala, it is equally famous for being the home to one of the biggest spiritual leaders in the world: The Dalai Lama.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzing Gyatso,
established Mcleodganj, Dharamshala as his headquarters in the year 1959

Dharamshala is the centre of the Tibetan exile world in India. Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising there was an influx of Tibetan refugees who followed the 14th Dalai Lama. His presence and the Tibetan population has made Dharamshala a popular destination for Indian and foreign tourists, including students studying Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is no stranger to the world of chess. FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov met
the Tibetian leader in April 2012 at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates held in Chicago.

Dharamshala boasts of a lot of spots with natural beauty. If you are ready to trek for nine
kilometres from this city you reach one of the most pristine spots in the valley: the Triund hill.

This is how the same spot looks when it snows

Before we are completely lost in this natural beauty let me bring you back to the world of chess. The most important tournament in India is the National Premier (formerly known as National A). This is because the Indian Olympiad team is selected on the basis of this tournament. Earlier grandmasters used to get direct seeding into the National Premier Championships. However, now the rule has changed and any Indian grandmaster who wishes to play in the National Premier has to qualify through the National Challenger’s tournament (formerly known as National B). The top nine finishers of National Challenger’s 2014 will qualify for the National Premier Championship.

That explains why the 52nd National Challenger’s chess championship that is currently being held in Dharamshala from the 9th-19th May 2014 is so very strong. There are in all 14 GMs and 22 IMs taking part, and there are nearly 56 players in the tournament above Elo 2200. It is a 13-round event with a time control of 1 hr 30 minutes with an addition of 30 minutes after the 40 moves with an increment of 30 seconds from move one.

Beauty personified! On the right is the famous cricket stadium of Dharamshala, and on the left...

... in front of a mountain backdrop the stadium where the tournament is being held.

The badminton hall is converted into a chess tournament hall for the next ten days

Though the tournament is held in such a picturesque location with so many strong players taking part, it is simply disappointing to note the prize fund (the above is a snapshot from the tournament circular). The first prize is a meager Rs 60,000, which comes to around $1000, and the total prize fund is around $3,300. This is surprising because India is host to six to eight huge International Open events with the first prize of more than $4,000. I truly wonder what motivates the best players of India to play in such an intense tournament with such a low prize fund! Maybe it’s the love for the game of chess?!

The top seed of the tournament is GM Vidit Gujrathi (2606), and he was in the sole lead after nine rounds, with 7.5/9. Gaining three Elo in-spite of being the Elo favourite means you are playing excellent chess! Nigel Short in his recent article in New in Chess described Vidit as arguably the most talented youngster from India. The thing which separates the World Junior 2013 bronze medalist from his contemporaries is that he hardly loses. Even in his worst tournament for the year, the Asian continental 2014, Vidit made seven draws and two wins! Now that’s called consistency.

In this tournament, after a slow start of two wins and two draws in the first four rounds, Vidit stepped on the accelerator to score four and a half points in the next five rounds. Currently he is the hot favourite to win the title, given his super solid style of play. And if that doesn’t happen, I am sure he will be one of the nine players to qualify for the National Premier Championships. Though Vidit has played many a good games in this tournament, my favourite remains his first round victory over a player who was rated nearly 700 points below him!

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘B"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Him"] [Date "2014.05.09"] [Round "1.1"] [White "Srivastava, Mithilesh Kumar"] [Black "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B22"] [WhiteElo "1943"] [BlackElo "2606"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "54"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] {Games between players who have such a huge difference in Elo are often interesting to watch. This first round game was no different.} 1. e4 c5 2. c3 d5 3. exd5 Qxd5 4. Nf3 Nc6 5. d4 Bf5 {This move has the idea to not only develop the bishop outisde the pawn chain on f5 but also if ever White plays dxc5, then after the queen exchange the king will have no c2 square at his disposal.} (5... Bg4 {used to played quite a lot.}) (5... e6 {is mainly very solid move.}) 6. Be3 Nf6 7. Nbd2 (7. dxc5 Qxd1+ 8. Kxd1 O-O-O+ 9. Nbd2 Nd5 { and Black has a decent position.}) 7... cxd4 8. Bc4 (8. cxd4 {was possible, but then it doesn't really make sense to have the knight on d2. The knight would have been better on c3.} e6 $15) 8... dxe3 $1 {Excellent calculation. The important thing to note here is not only the fact that this is the best move in the position, but also that it was the first round and usually players don't like to take risks. Vidit takes the bull by the horns and calculates extremely accurately to get a better position.} 9. Bxd5 exd2+ 10. Qxd2 O-O-O $1 {The pin on the d-file ensures that Black regains his piece.} 11. c4 (11. Qf4 Rxd5 12. c4 Rc5 13. O-O e6 $15) 11... e6 12. Qf4 Bb4+ 13. Ke2 Bd6 14. Qg5 (14. Qc1 exd5 $15 {was also better for Black.} 15. cxd5 Rhe8+ 16. Kf1 Nxd5 $17) 14... h6 $1 15. Qxg7 Nh5 16. Qxf7 Nf4+ 17. Kf1 (17. Kd1 Rhf8 18. Qg7 exd5 19. cxd5 Bb4 $19) 17... Bd3+ 18. Kg1 exd5 {The complications are over, Black has regained the piece and also has excellent co-ordination.} 19. g3 Rhf8 20. Qg7 Ne2+ 21. Kg2 Be4 $19 22. Rhe1 Bxf3+ 23. Kf1 Bc5 24. cxd5 Rxd5 25. Qxh6 Rh5 26. Qe6+ Kb8 27. Qxe2 Bxe2+ {Though we must not be critical of such games because of the difference in strength, one thing is definitely clear: that a good player always plays the position objectively, irrespective of the strength of the opposition. Kudos to Vidit!} 0-1

Another lad from Chennai, hometown of former World Champion Vishy Anand, 15-year-old Murali Karthikeyan (2475) was playing excellently in the tournament. Karthikeyan was the sole leader with 6.0/7. In the eighth round he lost to Vidit Gujrathi and is currently relegated to the seventh spot. But that doesn’t take away from him the beautiful games that he had played up to that point.

Karthikeyan is also an avid problem solver and had recently finished third in the International Solver’s competition. This resourcefulness is bound to be reflected in his play as he stands on the brink of his grandmaster title. The game below showcases his talent in a perfect manner.

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Hi"] [Date "2014.05.11"] [Round "4.3"] [White "Sunilduth Lyna, Narayanan"] [Black "Karthikeyan, Murali"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B43"] [WhiteElo "2402"] [BlackElo "2475"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "90"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Bd3 Nf6 7. O-O Nc6 8. Nxc6 dxc6 9. Kh1 h5 10. f4 e5 11. f5 h4 12. Qf3 b5 13. a4 b4 14. Nd1 Bb7 15. Bg5 O-O-O 16. a5 c5 17. Bxf6 gxf6 18. Ne3 {We join this game at this point when it is strategically quite complicated. White has good control over the central squares. But the black bishop on b7 is extremely strong. Karthikeyan made perfect use of this fact by loosening the long diagonal:} h3 $1 19. g3 Rd4 20. b3 (20. Nc4 {should have been preferred, when White is slightly better.} Bxe4 $2 21. Bxe4 Rxc4 22. c3 $1 $18) 20... Qc6 {A sacrifice looks imminent on the e4 square.} 21. Rfd1 $6 (21. Kg1 {Immediately evacuating the king would have been more prudent.}) 21... c4 $6 (21... Qxe4 $1 {Though Karthikeyan makes this on the next move, it would have been more accurate here.} 22. Bxe4 Bxe4 23. Qxe4 Rxe4 $15) 22. bxc4 $2 (22. Nxc4 {was obvious and should have been preferred.} Bc5 (22... Rxe4 $2 23. Bxe4 Qxe4 24. Nb6+ Kc7 25. Rd7+ Kb8 26. Rd8+ Kc7 27. Rc8+ Bxc8 28. Qxe4 $18) (22... Qxe4 23. Bxe4 Bxe4 24. Nb6+ Kc7 25. Qxe4 Rxe4 26. Rd7+ $18) 23. Re1 {Though Black has compensation, no real tricks are apparent and we have a fighting game ahead.}) 22... Qxe4 $1 {A very nice stroke!} 23. Bxe4 Bxe4 24. Qxe4 Rxe4 25. Nd5 Bc5 26. Nb6+ Bxb6 (26... Kc7 27. Rd7+ Kc6 28. Rxf7 Rf8 $17 {was the most accurate way to play}) 27. axb6 Rd4 $5 {Karthikeyan correctly senses that the king on h1 is the reason why Black will win this endgame.} (27... Rxc4 28. Rxa6 Kb7 29. Ra7+ Kxb6 $17) 28. Rxd4 exd4 29. Rxa6 Kb7 30. Ra7+ Kxb6 {In this endgame like the one we previously saw annotated on Chessbase between Ziaur Rahman and Ngyuen Ngoc Truongson ( http:// 13th-asian-continental-with-exciting-battles), the fact that the white king is locked on h1 contributes to his disaster.} 31. Rd7 (31. Rxf7 d3 $1 32. cxd3 b3 33. Rxf6+ Kc7 34. Rf7+ Kc8 35. Re7 b2 36. Re1 Kd7 37. Rb1 Ra8 {a very pretty line which I am sure Karthikeyan had caculated.}) 31... Re8 32. Kg1 Re2 33. Rxd4 Rxc2 34. Rd6+ Kc5 35. Rxf6 b3 36. Rxf7 b2 37. Rb7 Kc6 38. Rb5 Rc1+ 39. Kf2 b1=Q 40. Rxb1 Rxb1 41. g4 Rb3 42. g5 Kd7 43. c5 Rc3 44. g6 Ke7 45. c6 Kf6 {Exquisite endgame technique and also middlegame fireworks by Murali Karthikeyan, which just shows how talented this youngster is.} 0-1

The second spot is currently held by the 19-year-old youngster from Delhi GM Sahaj Grover, rated 2469. Unlike many GMs who don’t really care how they look, Sahaj goes to his games well dressed and smart, like a professional chess player! He has an extremely aggressive style and more than that loves to play chess in a romantic fashion. Many times he tries to go for variations which are beautiful rather than the strongest. This results in sometimes having an undesired outcome, but when the hammer hits the head of the nail, what we get is a Sahaj Grover brilliancy!

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘B"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Him"] [Date "2014.05.09"] [Round "1.11"] [White "Dhananjay"] [Black "Grover, Sahaj"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A86"] [WhiteElo "1905"] [BlackElo "2469"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "64"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] 1. d4 f5 2. c4 Nf6 3. g3 g6 4. Bg2 Bg7 5. b3 d6 6. Bb2 c6 7. e3 a5 8. Ne2 Qc7 9. d5 O-O 10. O-O e5 11. dxe6 Bxe6 12. Qc2 Na6 13. a3 Nc5 14. Nd2 a4 15. b4 Nb3 16. Nxb3 axb3 17. Qc1 Qf7 18. c5 Bc4 19. Re1 dxc5 20. bxc5 Ne4 21. Bxg7 Kxg7 22. Bxe4 fxe4 23. Qb2+ Kg8 24. Nd4 Ra5 25. Rac1 Rxc5 26. Red1 {Black is completely winning. He is a pawn up and has a very strong pawn on b3. But Sahaj doesn't like to end the game without some fireworks.} Rh5 $6 {How should White defend now?} (26... h5 $5) (26... b6 {Just defending the rook would have been the safest.}) 27. Rc3 $2 (27. Nxc6 $1 {This nice little trick was missed by the opponent and Sahaj both.} bxc6 (27... b5 {is the best move, but Black has lost a majority of his advantage.}) 28. Rxc4 Qxc4 29. Rd7 $1 {There is simply no way to avoid a draw now.} Rf7 30. Rd8+ Rf8 31. Rd7 $11) 27... Bd5 28. Nxb3 Qe6 29. Nc5 $2 {Now we witness a nice little finish!} (29. Rd2 Qh3 30. f4 exf3 31. Rf2 $19 {was winning for Black, but there is knockout punch.}) 29... Qh3 30. f4 exf3 31. Qf2 {Presumably White though everything was under control, but it turns out Black has a wonderful queen sacrifice.} Qxh2+ $1 32. Qxh2 f2+ {A nice end with the themes of deflection, discovered attack and mating patterns rolled into one!} 0-1

IM V.A.V. Rajesh (2382) is in third place and has a very original style of play. He hardly depends on the opening theory and the fact that he is already an IM speaks volumes about his playing strength. IM P. Shyam Nikil (2422), who in 2012 July had an Elo of 2502, is currently on the fourth spot with 7.0/9, and is inching back towards his career high Elo with a 15 point gain.

S.P. Sethuraman (2582) is an extremely strong GM from India. His talent is comparable to the likes of young Indian super talents Adhiban and Vidit. In this tournament he is lagging behind a little with 6.5/9, but his nice attacking game against IM Anurag Mhamal is worthy of closer inspection.

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Hi"] [Date "2014.05.11"] [Round "4.1"] [White "Anurag, Mhamal"] [Black "Sethuraman, S.P."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E11"] [WhiteElo "2420"] [BlackElo "2582"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "58"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Be7 6. Bg2 O-O 7. O-O Nbd7 8. Qc2 c6 9. Bf4 b6 10. Nc3 Ba6 11. Nd2 Nh5 12. Rfd1 b5 13. cxb5 cxb5 14. a3 Rc8 15. Bf3 Nxf4 16. gxf4 Bd6 17. e3 Qh4 18. Bg2 Qh5 19. Kh1 Nf6 20. Bf3 Qh4 21. Nb3 {Black has a nice position. But how should he continue? Sethuraman finds a brilliant plan in the spirit of Fischer's idea in the hedgehog in order to expose White's kingside.} Kh8 $3 {[%cal Gf8g8,Gg7g5] The idea becomes clear now. Black intends to play ...Rg8 followed by ...g5.} 22. Rg1 Rg8 $1 23. Rg2 g5 24. Rag1 gxf4 $17 25. Rxg8+ Rxg8 26. Rxg8+ Kxg8 27. e4 {And now comes a sparkling finish.} Ng4 $1 28. Bxg4 {The only move to defend the mate on h2.} f3 $1 29. h3 h5 $1 {Sometimes good players have all the time in the world to deliver the coup de grâce.} ({White resigned but the finish could have been something like this.} 29... h5 30. Bxf3 Qxh3+ 31. Kg1 Bh2+ 32. Kh1 Bf4+ 33. Kg1 b4 $1 {controlling the f1 square.} 34. Be2 Qh2+ 35. Kf1 Qh1# {Such a wonderful plan with Kh8 and Rg8 and also the follow-up with Ng4 can be found by really a strong player.}) 0-1

GM Debashish Das thinking whether his trap will work or not! It did!!

[Event "52nd National Challengers (National ‘"] [Site "Indoor Stadium,Dharamshala,Hi"] [Date "2014.05.10"] [Round "3.6"] [White "Harsha, Bharathakoti"] [Black "Debashis, Das"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "E04"] [WhiteElo "2279"] [BlackElo "2501"] [Annotator "Sagar Shah"] [PlyCount "56"] [EventDate "2014.05.09"] [EventRounds "13"] [EventCountry "IND"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. g3 dxc4 5. Bg2 Bd7 6. Ne5 Bc6 7. Nxc6 Nxc6 8. Qa4 Qd7 9. Qxc4 Nd5 10. O-O O-O-O 11. Rd1 h5 12. Nc3 h4 13. a3 Kb8 14. Qd3 hxg3 15. hxg3 f5 16. e4 fxe4 17. Qxe4 Be7 18. Nxd5 exd5 19. Qd3 Rdf8 20. b4 Bd6 21. Re1 Qg4 22. Bb2 Qh5 23. Re3 g5 24. Rae1 g4 25. Bc3 a6 26. R1e2 {Black has the better position and that goes without saying that he would win even if this trap would not have been setup. Yet it is a very nice one.} Ka7 $1 {The e2 square must now to be freed for the white king to escape but white did not notice this and promptly went onto the attack with} 27. b5 $2 Qh2+ $1 28. Kf1 Qh1+ $1 {and its all over, White resigned!} ({A possible finish could have been } 28... Qh1+ 29. Bxh1 Rxh1+ 30. Kg2 Rfh8 {and there is absolutely no way to stop the mate! Without 26...Ka7 White would have had Re8+ refuting the combination.}) 0-1

Some pictures from the Himachal Chess facebook page

Standings after eleven rounds

In the meantime eleven rounds have been played and the rankings are as follows:

Rk. SNo Ti. Name Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3 
1 1 GM Vidit Santosh Gujrathi 2606 8.5 75.0 68.5 61.00
2 11 GM Grover Sahaj 2469 8.5 73.5 67.5 58.75
3 4 GM Sengupta Deep 2536 8.5 73.0 66.5 60.50
4 18 IM Shyam Nikil P. 2422 8.5 72.0 66.0 58.25
5 6 GM Deepan Chakkravarthy J. 2513 8.5 71.0 65.5 58.25
6 23 IM Rajesh V A V 2382 8.0 72.5 66.5 53.75
7 16 IM Swayams Mishra 2442 8.0 70.5 65.5 52.25
8 9 GM Kunte Abhijit 2484 8.0 70.5 64.5 54.00
9 24 IM Karthikeyan P. 2380 8.0 69.5 63.5 53.00
10 33 CM Prince Bajaj 2318 8.0 69.0 63.5 53.00
11 48   Lokesh P. 2253 8.0 67.5 62.0 49.50
12 35 IM Girinath P.D.S. 2312 8.0 66.0 61.0 49.00
13 29 IM Himanshu Sharma 2350 7.5 77.0 70.5 54.25
14 15 GM Laxman R.R. 2450 7.5 74.0 68.0 52.50
15 2 GM Sethuraman S.P. 2582 7.5 72.5 66.5 50.50
16 38   Kumaran B 2294 7.5 71.5 66.0 49.50
17 3 GM Lalith Babu M.R. 2571 7.5 71.5 65.0 51.75
18 12 GM Vishnu Prasanna. V 2467 7.5 70.5 65.0 50.00
19 7 GM Debashis Das 2501 7.5 70.0 64.0 50.75
20 71   Abhishek A 2123 7.5 67.0 62.5 46.25
21 26 IM Sharma Dinesh K. 2372 7.5 66.5 60.5 47.00
22 28 IM Nitin S. 2357 7.5 65.0 60.0 45.75
23 21   Sunilduth Lyna Narayanan 2402 7.5 64.5 59.5 44.75
24 57   Rohan Ahuja 2185 7.5 63.5 59.0 43.75
25 37 IM Murali Krishnan B.T. 2299 7.5 63.5 58.5 43.00
26 25 IM Das Sayantan 2373 7.5 59.5 54.5 43.50


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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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