World Junior Chess Championship: India's Harsha Bharathakoti top of the leaderboard with perfect score
It is, in fact, the Telangana based IM Harsha Bharathakoti, who has managed to score an unblemished 4.0/4 and reach the top of the leaderboard alongside Alireza Firouzja, Parham Maghsoodloo and the 12-year-old Uzbek sensation, IM Javokhir Sindarov.
The Turkish town of Gebze, a district about 65 km south east of the country’s capital, Istanbul, is playing host to the World Junior Chess Championship this year. The tournament began on 5 September and will go on until 16 September. The event has attracted a total of 263 entrants this year – 165 in the Open and 98 in Girls’ – from 62 different federations. This year’s event would have broken the record for the maximum participating federations – of 65 federations – had players from a few countries not backed out at the last moment.
The Open section is quite strong with 25 Grandmasters (GM), 40 International Masters (IM) and 55 FIDE Masters. In the girls’ section there are two IMs and four Women Grandmasters (WGM). Parham Maghsoodloo (2649) leads the pack in the open section while in the girls it is Stavroula Tsolakidou (2393). Top Indian in the fray is the Thanjavur born GM Murali Karthikeyan. Some other strong Indians include last year’s bronze medalist, GM Aravindh Chithambaram, GM SL Narayanan, GM Abhimanyu Puranik and the country’s latest Grandmaster, Karthik Venkataraman.
After the first four rounds, Indians have done considerably well in the open group. However, none of the Indian Grandmasters is in the four way tie at the top of the leaderboard. It is, in fact, the Telangana based IM Harsha Bharathakoti, who has managed to score an unblemished 4.0/4 and reach the top of the leaderboard alongside Alireza Firouzja, Parham Maghsoodloo and the 12-year-old Uzbek sensation, IM Javokhir Sindarov.
Having won rather easily in his first two games against lower rated opposition, Harsha went on to win both of his games on Friday, the day of the double rounds, against Grandmaster opponents. In round three, Harsha had the white pieces against Israeli GM Alan Pichot. The two discussed the Saemisch variation of the King’s Indian Defence. Out of the opening, it looked like Harsha’s queen was bottled up in the corner of the board but with a few precise moves, Harsha showed that black’s position wasn’t any less precarious. As the positional complications grew, Pichot blundered on his 27th turn and allowed Harsha to win a full piece. After Harsha played the refuting moves, Pichot’s resignation followed immediately.
In the second round of the day, Harsha defeated compatriot SL Narayanan with the black pieces to move up to the top spot on the leaderboard. The Austrian attack of the Pirc Defence had drifted this game into an extremely sharp position in the middle game. Both sides had castled on opposite wings. Narayanan gave up an exchange early in the game to open up the king rook file. Harsha responded aptly here by seeking counterplay against the black king. On his 25th turn, Narayanan made an unfortunate blunder that gained Harsha a minor piece and a continued attack. Once the position liquidated, Narayanan was a full rook down and decided to throw in the towel.
Until the fourth round, Aravindh Chithambaram was also on a perfect score of 3.0/3. In round four, he was pitted against the Uzbek Prodigy Javokir Sindarov. With the black pieces, Aravindh chose the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian Defence and gave up a pawn quite early in the game. While Aravindh did have compensation for the sacrificed pawn, a fumble on the 20th move left him in an inferior position and also lost him another pawn. As play progressed, Sindarov began advancing his extra pawns down the board. Aravindh panicked in the situation and made an unfortunate blunder on his 30th turn to give away a full rook. It did not take long for Sindarov to force resignation after this.
In the women’s group, WCM Isha Sharma scored a big upset in the inaugural round. Playing against WGM Aydan Hojjatova, the sixth seed of the tournament, Isha displayed wonderful resourcefulness defending an inferior position. In a French Defence, Isha, who had the black pieces, grabbed a pawn on her 18th turn that gave her opponent a strong initiative on the kingside. Moreover, Hojjatova had also shattered black’s king shelter. The position really looked precarious for black when Isha came up with a rather ingenious plan of walking her king to the centre.
As play progressed Hojjatova was unable to generate enough firepower against the black king while Isha had converted her kingside weaknesses into strengths and was beginning to generate a strong initiative. Soon, her initiative grew untenable and the tables turned in Isha’s favour. The game concluded on the 57th turn when the 17-year-old from Bangalore forcefully liquidated into a clearly winning king and pawn endgame.
Isha wasn’t able to continue this form and is on a meager 1.5/4 after four rounds. M Mahalakshmi is the best scoring Indian with a score of 3.0/4 and is sharing the third place on the leaderboard. Ivana Furtado, Varshini V and Meenal Gupta are half a point behind Mahalakshmi at 2.5/4.
In the Open group, IM Harsha Bharathakoti will be playing against the top seed of the tournament, GM Parham Maghsoodloo in the fourth round. If he is able to carry on with the form he has shown so far, Harsha could be a big contender for the tournament title.
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