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Year in Review 2017: Abhijeet Gupta's Commonwealth hat-trick to Harika's podium finish in Iran, a look at key chess moments

In the last two decades, Indian chess has seen a meteoric rise. Gone are the days when Viswanathan Anand was the only chess player India could boast of. The number of Grandmasters (GMs) in the country has more than quadrupled since Anand won the world championship title at the turn of the millennium. Today, India has a stellar trove of 50 GMs out of whom seven are among the world’s top 100. Moreover, young talents like R Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin, D Gukesh, among others, have made it clear with their prowess that they are soon to become a force to be reckoned with.

This year too, Indian chess players proved their mettle, reaching new milestones, winning medals at various prestigious events across the globe. Below are some highlights of the achievements of the Indian chess contingent.

 Year in Review 2017: Abhijeet Guptas Commonwealth hat-trick to Harikas podium finish in Iran, a look at key chess moments

Indians except Anand in world’s top 100 (Clockwise) Krishnan Sasikiran, Pentala Harikrishna, Baskaran Adhiban, Parimarjan Negi, Vidit Santosh Gujrathi, Surya Shekhar Ganguly.

 

Abhijeet Gupta’s Commonwealth hat-trick

Lately, the Delhi-based GM Abhijeet Gupta is frequently dubbed as Mr Commonwealth. The reason is quite simple: he has won the event four times in five years. In fact, this year, he won it for the third consecutive time scoring an unbeaten 7.5/9.

But Gupta’s performance wasn’t the only feat for India at the event. In fact, the event was dominated by Indians all around. While another Delhiite, GM Vaibhav Suri, took the second place, Maharashtra's Tejas Bakre bagged the third prize.

Commonwealth chess champions WGM Swati Ghate (L) and GM Abhijeet Gupta with AICF secretary, Bharat Singh Chauhan.

Commonwealth chess champions WGM Swati Ghate (L) and GM Abhijeet Gupta with AICF secretary, Bharat Singh Chauhan.

In the Women’s category, GM Swati Ghate took the title prize while Bengal’s Mary Ann Gomes and Delhi’s Tania Sachdev clinched second and third spots respectively. Further, in all the age categories from under-8 to under-20, all three podium finishers were Indians.

 

GM Lalith Babu and WGM Padmini Rout won the National Championships

While India's chess players have proved to be tough contenders at the international-level, their competitive spirit is seen quite starkly even at the national-level events, where the stars play among themselves. In the open section of the National Premier Championships this year, it looked like the 18-year-old Chennai lad, GM Aravindh Chithambaram, will cruise to the title. Eight rounds into the tournament, Chithambaram had taken a full point lead over the rest of the field. But in the very next round, when Chithambaram was paired against Lalith Babu, the latter won and joined Chithambaram in the lead. The two led jointly until the final round where Chithambaram lost. Lalith Babu, on the other hand, managed to split the point in his final round game and thus won the event with a half point margin.

The women’s national was an equally tense affair. Going into the final round, four players — Bhakti Kulkarni, Meenakshi Subbaraman, Saumya Swaminathan and Padmini Rout — were in contention for the title. Meenakshi had the best chance, but she suffered a surprising loss to Shrishti Pandey. Kulkarni and Swaminathan both had good chances in their games but failed to convert. This gave Rout a clear shot at the title. A win was all she needed. The pressure made her fumble during the game. What was a clearly better position turned into a tough one to crack. But showing great determination, Rout managed to win and take home the title.

India got its 50th GM and Karnataka its first

On 6 September, 2017, the only player from the state of Karnataka to win the National B Championship (now called the National Challengers) became India’s 50th GM. To achieve the feat, he had to win both of his last two games at the Formento all-India FIDE-rated chess tournament, which he did. With these two wins, he was able to cross the rating threshold of 2500 and complete all the requirements for the Grand Master title. As for the norm requirement, Thejkumar had already one grandmaster norm more than the required three quite early in his career, the last one scored at the National Premier Championship in 2013.

Aravindh Chithambaram’s bronze at the World Junior Championship

At the World Junior Championship this year, all eyes were on the 12-year-old Indian prodigy, R Praggnanandhaa. After all, if the wunderkind had managed to win the title, he would have become the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game. But amid all talks about Praggna, another Chennai lad, who has once been a prodigy himself, made his way to the top. By the time the final round had come to a close, Chithambaram had caught the tournament leader, Aryan Tari, at 8.5/11 but a lower tie-break placed him third on the leaderboard behind Tari and the Armenian GM Manuel Petrosyan.

Aravindh Chithambaram Photo: Amruta Mokal

Aravindh Chithambaram Photo: Amruta Mokal

The road to the top was not an easy one for Chithambaram. In the very first round of the event, the 18-year-old had suffered a shocking loss to the Serbian FM Pavle Dimic who was rated more than 200 points below him. But Chithambaram leapt forward undeterred. He did not lose a single game after this and conceded only three draws on the way.

Nihal Sarin and R Praggnanandhaa reached Elo 2500

2500 is a magical number of sorts when it comes to chess ratings. After all, every chess player who desires to become a GM must, at least once in their career, touch the 2500-rating mark. Some have even spent their lifetimes trying to reach this milestone. But for Nihal Sarin and R Praggnanandhaa, this was just another grain of sand they had to pass in their quest for the world championship. As of today, Praggnanandhaa is merely 12 years old while Sarin is 13.

Nihal Sarin (L) and Praggnanddhaa

Nihal Sarin (L) and Praggnanddhaa

R Praggnanandhaa has been in the news ever since he became the world’s youngest International Master at the age of 10 years, 10 months and 19 days in May last year. It was now to be seen if he could break Sergey Karjakin’s record of 12 years and 7 months to become the world’s youngest Grand Master. Hopes rose to the brim when Praggna crossed the 2500 rating threshold in August. To top it all, he even scored a GM norm with a round to spare at the recently concluded World Junior Championship. Had he won the event, he would have become a GM then and there since the title is conferred to the title winner if he/she isn’t a GM yet. But he fell short by half-a-point and finished fourth. Nevertheless, he still has three months to score his remaining two norms. And whether or not he breaks the record, the kid has a bright career ahead of him for sure.

Nihal Sarin, the 13-year-old from Thissur, is another exceptional chess talent. He has been the world U-10 champion and has been in top form this year. At the Isle of Man Open in late September, Sarin proved his mettle against strong GMs like Emil Sutovsky and Varuzhan Akobian, holding them both to draws. At the Runavik Open last month, Sarin breached the 2500-rating mark finishing sixth in the final standings with an unbeaten score of 6.5/9.

Anand’s second place finish at the Isle of Man Open

The Isle of Man Open, held in September, was one of the biggest open chess tournaments of this year. The field included some of the biggest players, such as Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, among others. In fact, as many as 13 GMs in the fray were rated above 2700.

Anand at the Isle of Man Open. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova

Anand at the Isle of Man Open. Chess.com/Maria Emelianova

Despite such stiff competition, Anand scored an undefeated 7.0/9 and finished second, ahead of Nakamura, Kramnik, Adams and Caruana. The only player with a better score was the reigning world champion, GM Magnus Carlsen.

Dronavalli Harika clinched bronze at the World Women’s Chess Championship

A lot of controversy surrounded the Women’s World Chess Championship this year. The epicenter of it all was the venue for the event — Iran. Iran had made it mandatory for all the participants to wear a ‘hijab’ during the event and was subjected to a huge backlash from players around the world. Harika Dronavalli, however, chose not to get involved in all of this and just play chess.

She not only accepted the 'hijab' but also put in several laborious months into preparation for the event. As the event kicked off, Harika outclassed her opponents to reach the semi-finals. On her way, she ousted some of the best players in the world, such as Dinara Saduakassova, Sopiko Guramishvili and Nana Dzagnidze.

Harika at the World Women’s Chess Championship. Twitter

Harika at the World Women’s Chess Championship. Twitter

In the semi-finals, however, she wasn’t able to hold her nerve. Playing against the eventual winner Tan Zhongyi, Harika lost the first game badly, bounced back in the second and forced a tie-breaker. But at a crucial moment, Harika faltered and lost. Last-minute debacle notwithstanding, Harika’s performance was a commendable one.

Anand becomes the brand ambassador for Poker Sports League

Chess players in India, unlike cricketers, are rarely seen endorsing brands as they don’t quite enjoy the popularity that brands might desire. However, earlier this month, Viswanathan Anand was roped to be the brand ambassador for the Poker Sports League. In the opinion of Pranav Bagai, the co-founder of PSL, Anand is the right fit for being the brand ambassador of the PSL since the former five-time world champion is the biggest name in mind sports in the country.

Baskaran Adhiban’s astounding run at Tata Steel Chess

Last year, Adhiban played extraordinarily well in the Challengers section of Tata Steel Chess Tournament and made his way into the Masters segment this year. The event, which was previously called Corus Chess Tournament, has been one of the most prestigious events in chess for several years. The Masters’ section pits 14 of the best players in the world against each other in a round-robin format.

For Adhiban, who was a debutant at the event, just playing here against the likes of players like Magnus Carlsen, Welsey So, Levon Aronian etc. was a huge opportunity. But when play kicked off, Adhiban proved to be more than a mere debutant at the event. Deploying off beat openings like the King’s Gambit and Vienna Opening, the Chennai lad not only managed to beat strong GMs like Wojtaszek, Rapport, Andreikin etc., but also came extremely close to winning against the very elites of the chess world like Magnus Carlsen. With this herculean effort, Adhiban managed to finish third in the Masters’ section ahead of world class players like Levon Aronian, Sergey Karjakin, Wei Yi and so forth.

GM Adhiban Baskaran. Lennart Ootes

GM Adhiban Baskaran. Lennart Ootes

For Adhiban, who was a debutant at the event, just playing here against the likes of players like Magnus Carlsen, Welsey So, Levon Aronian etc. was a huge opportunity. But when play kicked off, Adhiban proved to be more than a mere debutant at the event. Deploying off beat openings like the King’s Gambit and Vienna Opening, the Chennai lad not only managed to beat strong GMs like Wojtaszek, Rapport, Andreikin etc., but also came extremely close to winning against the very elites of the chess world like Magnus Carlsen. With this herculean effort, Adhiban managed to finish third in the Masters’ section ahead of world class players like Levon Aronian, Sergey Karjakin, Wei Yi and so forth.

Vidit Gujrathi crossed 2700

After winning the bronze medal at the Asian Championship this year, Vidit Gujrathi not only booked a spot for himself at the Chess World Cup but also came extremely close to breaching the coveted 2700 rating mark. His rating after the Asian Juniors was 2692. He was only 8 points away from his goal. He began his next tournament with a bang. At the World Team Championship in June, Vidit scored a win against Radoslaw Wojtaszek in the very first round and then drew Ding Liren in round two. Both of his opponents were rated much higher. His rating catapulted to 2698.7. One win was all he needed to break into 2700. But in the later rounds, he slowed down and missed his chance.

Vidit Gujrathi. Facebook

Vidit Gujrathi. Facebook

Gujrathi, however, has always been a fighter. He has suffered several setbacks in the past and knows to overcome them. In his next tournament, which was the Spanish Higher League in Linares, he finished with 4.5/7. In the last round, he beat GM Alexander Areschenko and finally broke into the Elo 2700 club. Only three Indians — Anand, Sasikiran and Harikrishna — have been able to make it to this level so far.

Now that he has achieved what he had been dreaming of since the last couple of years, Vidit is taking huge strides towards his next goal — of winning the world championship title. Barely a month after breaking into 2700, Vidit played at the Isle of Man Open and matched his wits against the very best in the world. In round seven, he was pitted against Magnus Carlsen. In this game too, Vidit was able to maintain his form and hold the world champion to a draw. As for his overall tournament result, he finished joint fourth (eight on tie-break).

Today, Vidit’s rating has risen to 2715. He is currently ranked 34th in the world and 3rd in India. Given that he is only 23, it won’t be wrong to assume that he might just be the one after Anand to take the chess world by storm.

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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2017 15:24:59 IST