Sunday, Nov 09, 2003
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By P. K. Ajith Kumar
Heavy rain, which lashed the city on Saturday evening, is unlikely to dampen the enthusiasm of the 18 players who will battle it out over 17 rounds in an all-play-all format.
For, at stake are berths in the Indian team for the Olympiad, to be held in Spain in October next year (the top four qualify).
One Grandmaster, three Woman Grandmasters (WGMs) and eight International Woman Masters (IWMs). India's premier domestic tourney for women has come of age.
It's come a long way from what was once a strictly family affair of the three talented Khadilkar sisters Jayashree, Vasanti and Rohini, as one of them won the title for the first 10 years of the championship.
Bhagyashree Thipsay (nee Sathe) was the brave young woman who broke the Khadilkar monopoly in 1985. She went on to win the title five times.
She's here, eagerly looking forward to her comeback at the championship (she'd missed the last edition).
``This is undoubtedly the toughest National `A' ever,'' said the 42-year-old, who won this year's National women's `B', which was held here in June.
"You can't even compare it with my first one, way back in 1979, when there was only one titled player, Jayashree, whereas here we have as many as 12.''
Only one of those 12 has a male GM title, Koneru Humpy, the top seed and the reigning Asian women's champion. She had won the Asian crown here in August with a round to spare.
She followed it up with a sensational victory in the Saharanpur GM tournament, but had a forgettable outing in the Delhi tourney after that. She couldn't do that well either in the World youth championship in Greece, where she played in the boys' under-16 event.
Humpy admitted it was a strong field. ``When I played here in 1999, there wasn't even a single WGM, whereas now we have four,'' she pointed out. S. Vijayalakshmi became India's first WGM in 2000. She remains the most successful player in the tournament's history, having won the title six times.
Her sister, S. Meenakshi, is delighted that she has an opportunity to go for her final WGM norm. She has reasons to believe that luck is currently on her side.
Not just because she won the Asian zonal championship in Dhaka last week. She's playing in this tournament only because the All India Chess Federation has expanded the field from 14 to 18 (as the four WGMs are seeded directly).
Swati Ghate is another beneficiary of the new format. She'd failed to qualify from the National women's `B' (Meenakshi hadn't played in it). Swati too needs just one norm to complete her title.
Bhagyashree and the prodigious Dronavalli Harika too are looking forward to completing their WGM titles. There are also the IWM norms to be won for some of the younger players, like Humpy's sister Koneru Chandra Hawsa, Saheli Nath and C.V. Rajalakshmi, all of whom are making their debut in the women's `A'.
The tournament features the finest talent in Indian women's chess, including Nisha Mohota, the country's latest WGM.
The AICF secretary and FIDE vice president, P.T. Ummer Koya, is happy that the first tournament to be held at the Chess India Complex, which will also house the National Chess Academy from early next year, is such a good one.
``This tournament is one of a series of big tournaments we are planning to conduct at Kozhikode; it's indeed a renaissance of chess in the city. I'm glad that the sponsors are finally coming forward to assist us.''
Mr. Koya added that foreign GMs, Evgeny Vladimirov and Ruslan Sherbakov would be available for the players to analyse their games. The Kozhikode District Collector, T.O. Sooraj, inaugurated the championship by making a move against defending champion Aarthie Ramaswamy.
The tourney concludes on November 20.
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