A close finish in the offing
By Rakesh Rao
NAGPUR, FEB. 2. It is down to the home-stretch now with the two front-runners, K. Sasikiran and P. Hari Krishna, giving it everything they have. This two-man race in the BPCL National `A' chess championship looked set for a close finish after the duo scored comprehensive victories over seasoned rivals in the 17th round here on Saturday.
Sasikiran tamed N. Sudhakar Babu in the first of the three decisive matches before Hari prevailed over D.V. Prasad. With two rounds to go, Sasikiran enjoys a better tie-break score than Hari. This may well become the deciding factor should there be a tie for the top place on Monday.
Surya Sekhar Ganguly moved within striking distance of the third-placed Dibyendu Barua after outwitting S. Vijayalakshmi. At the same time, Swati held Barua to help Ganguly's cause.
With Ganguly almost sure of a place in the `elite- six', the battle for the last two berths of the National squad is truly on. Abhijit Kunte (10 points), V. Saravanan (9.5), Sriram Jha (9), Chandrashekhar Gokhale, Pravin Thipsay and R.B. Ramesh (8.5 each) are in contention.
Sasikiran seized the early initiative while playing from the white side of the Nimzo-Indian game against Babu. On the 18th move, a desperate Babu made a knight-sacrifice for a central pawn but did not gain any further compensation. After further simplification of the position, Babu gave up on the 27th move.
A little later, Hari accounted for Prasad in 40 moves in a king-and-pawn ending. The battle, in Sicilian Defence, was fought on an even keel until the exchange of bishops and rooks forced the match into a clearly winning endgame for Hari.
Barua survived a few anxious moments against Swati before their Sicilian game was eventually drawn in 43 moves. At one stage, Barua did look like coming back into the match but Swati saw the right continuation to share the honours.
Meanwhile, Kunte stayed on course for a top-six finish following an 18-move draw with Thipsay. Jha too took it easy against Vishal Sareen and drew in 15 moves.
Ramesh let go of a promising position in the middle- game against Saravanan and signed the peace-treaty in 69 moves, just as B.T. Muralikrishnan did against Gokhale in 57. Muralikrishnan's fourth draw not only snapped his depressing streak of six straight defeats but also affected Gokhale's chances of making the Indian team.
The results (17th round): P. Magesh Chandran (8) drew with Varugeese Koshy (6.5); K. Sasikiran (13) bt N. Sudhakar Babu (8); S. Vijayalakshmi (7) lost to Surya Sekhar Ganguly (11.5); Dibyendu Barua (12) drew with Swati Ghate (6); Chandrashekhar Gokhale (8.5) drew with B.T. Muralikrishnan (3); D.V. Prasad (7.5) lost to P. Hari Krishna (13); R.B. Ramesh (8.5) drew with V. Saravanan (9.5); Vishal Sareen (8) drew with Sriram Jha (9); Pravin Thipsay (8.5) drew with Abhijit Kunte (10); P. Konguvel (6.5) drew with Neeraj Kumar Mishra (5).
18th round pairings: Koshy-Mishra; Kunte-Konguvel; Jha-Thipsay; Saravanan-Sareen; Hari-Ramesh; Muralikrishnan-Prasad; Swati-Gokhale; Ganguly-Barua; Babu- Vijayalakshmi and Magesh-Sasikiran.
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