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National Premier 2015: Royal Rumble

by Priyadarshan Banjan - 12/11/2015

Nine grandmasters, four International Masters and one FIDE Master in a round robin with a rating average of 2500 – India’s strongest tournament for the year 2015 is here. The National Premier Championship will witness its 53rd edition when the Thiruvarur District Chess Association hosts the grand event at the Kasi’s Inn in Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu. The 13-round bonanza begins on 14 November 2015. ChessBase India brings you a detailed preview, with pre-tournament comments from the gladiators.

2015’s strongest Indian tournament is here!

This November is turning into a visibly exciting month in India, with Kolkata and Thiruvarur hosting the National Women’s Premier and National Men’s Premier respectively, in a simultaneous period.  Over the years, the Premier Championship has gone tough a number of transformations and tinkering with the format, and even with its name. (Earlier, this tournament used to be known as the National-A).

The 53rd edition of the National Premier Championship will be held at Kasi’s Inn, Thiruvarur

A look at the lineup for this year’s Men’s Premier, with a rating average of 2500, will convince you that you will be participating in a chess fest -- a feast for your eyes and chess pleasure.


This tournament gains added importance as it provides qualification spots to the Indian team for official events such as the Olympiad, Asian Team and World Team events. The biggest prize up for grabs, apart from the prize money, is a direct qualification spot to the Chess World Cup.


ChessBase India previews the players, in the order of their seeding:

S.P. Sethuraman

The defending champion: GM S.P. Sethuraman (2651) [Photo: Rajesh Nattakom]

GM Sethuraman has had a decent run with ups-and-downs since he won the National Premier title in 2014 at Kottayam, Kerala. At the 2015 World Cup, he ended up eliminating his higher-rated compatriot GM Harikrishna in the second round but bowed out in the third round after losing to GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.


The defending champion is the top seed along with GM Vidit Gujrathi, and can be billed as the favourite to win the title. However, Sethu himself is objective while evaluating his chances: “I feel that every opponent is equally motivated and they have come a long way to qualify and play this event. Therefore, it’s really hard to be sure.” This reflects his attitude at the board, as he usually strives to focus on his own method of play.


“My aim in this tournament is to play quality chess,” is how he plans to defend his title.

 Vidit Gujrathi

GM Vidit Gujrathi (2651) [Photo: Amruta Mokal]

It would be safe to bet that GM Gujrathi’s time has come. He qualified to play this event as he was ranked amongst the Top-4 Indians in the July 2015 rating list. With his rating crossing the 2650 mark, you can conclude that the year 2015 has been good for him, barring a few accidents. The greatest show of his strength came at the World Rapid Championship held at Berlin in October 2015. He beat Guseinov, Volokitin, Grischuk, Morozevich, Almasi and Eljanov and drew with Nepomniachtchi, Leko, Wojtaszek, Vallejo and Aronian – some class players there.  He added 105 rating points to his rapid elo in a single tournament.


In this edition of the National Premier, Vidit is the top-seed along with Sethu, with both their ratings tied at 2651. If his form at Berlin is anything to go by, Vidit has all the chances to become the 2015 National Champion.

Deep Sengupta

GM Deep Sengupta (2589) [Photo: Sa Kannan]

GM Deep Sengupta has had a year with consistent results and is on a steady rise throughout. He has been competing in Open tournaments in Europe and India and has shown creditably solid results. Deep finished twelfth in National Challengers Championship, 2015, held at Nagpur, Maharashtra, surviving to hold on to a spot in this tournament narrowly.


Deep was the runner-up to Sethu in the previous edition at Kottayam, Kerala. “I am aiming for the title, of course. I believe everybody will be well prepared for this tournament as it is a round robin. To be honest, preparation usually can never be hundred percent complete, but I am hoping for the best,” Deep says.


Sengupta won the 26th PSPB Unit-Individual Rapid Tournament held in Mumbai earlier this month finishing ahead of Sethu, Vidit, Kunte, Neelotpal, Venkatesh -- all of whom play under the banner of the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board. It will be interesting to see how Deep manages to perform in this event.

Abhijit Kunte

GM Abhijit Kunte (2515)

GM Kunte comes to the tournament after qualifying from the Challengers Championship. He also had a reasonably good outing at the Asian Continental Championship, 2015. In the past one year of regular tournament play, GM Kunte has had a steady record, usually managing to swim to the top ten. However, at times, his results appear to be too solid. It remains to be seen if he is able to deliver a winning performance here – his opponents may stand a good chance if they make him play longer.


That said, GM Kunte, without a doubt, is the ‘dada’ among the Indian chessplayers. Besides Sethu, he is the only player in the starting list who has won the National title before – twice, in the years 1997 and 2000. If he truly gets going, he can decide the winner of this tournament himself.

Murali Karthikeyan

GM Murali Karthikeyan (2498) [Photo: Sa Kannan]

Karthikeyan has had sedate year after becoming a grandmaster. He finished first runner-up at the 2015 National Junior Championship and the 2015 National Challengers Championship. In the World Junior Championship that followed, he failed to impress.


However, a 14-player round robin with a rating average of 2500 is just a perfect playground for the Young Turk to display his mettle. He is destined to become a super-grandmaster in times to come, and one would only be glad if he restarts his ascent right away.


The trend says that youngsters are popping out of nowhere to win important tournaments. Will this be Karthikeyan’s month?

Swapnil Dhopade

GM Swapnil Dhopade (2497)

Swapnil is the hottest player right now in the Indian tournament circuit. Since August this year, Swapnil has won the National Challengers Championship, 4th Keshabananda Memorial and the Pune Maheshwaranand tournament. He has played tournaments continuously since the beginning of this year and is displaying his maximum powers. He completed his GM title by jumping just high enough at the Pune event to put the ball in the 2500-mark net.


It could be safe to bet that if Swapnil continues to play in the rich vein of form he is in, there would be no stopping him. “My aim is to give my best in every game. I don’t want to think about the placing before the tournament begins.”


All his opponents in this tournament have qualified from the National Challengers – all except Sethu and Vidit. “I think all the opponents are equally good. No one can be taken lightly, and two guys stand out: Vidit and Sethu.” Is he prepared for the challenge? “I feel I have worked well for this tournament. I have done well recently in the past events. Additionally, I have also completed my GM title. I think it will be an interesting and fighting tournament.”


Chess is a demanding sport, and it could be possible that playing continuously without respite may be too taxing on Swapnil’s body and mind. However, Swapnil confidently brushes aside such doubts: “I will fight in each game.”

Shyam Sundar M.

GM Shyam Sundar M. (2481) [Photo: Sa Kannan]

The year 2015 was full of hits and misses for GM Shyam Sundar M. Nevertheless, he notably won the strong Bhopal tournament in the middle of the year. His last tournament that took place in Malaysia was a dampener though.


However, it is unlikely that this will affect Shyam. “Personally, I don’t believe in the concept of form. I believe in having a proper state of mind. Therefore, I hope I will be in a fighting mood throughout the event to fight for the top honours,” Shyam Sundar says. The Tamil Nadu lad qualified to play this event by picking up a spot from the National Challengers, as did most others, and he understands how tough this tournament will be for him: “Players playing here have qualified after undergoing intense struggles in the National Challengers. I won’t take anyone lightly and give my best, irrespective of whom I’m playing with.”


“I trust my preparations…,” Shyam Sundar says, expressing eagerness for the tournament to begin.

Neelotpal Das

GM Neelotpal Das (2475)

After spending a couple of years in the doldrums, GM Neelotpal Das has had a good run this year, with a cumulative increase of fifty rating points. He comfortably picked up a spot at the National Premier with a par performance at the Challengers. That said, he has had his share of vicissitudes.


Neelotpal would only hope that he maintains this upward trend. While he is fighting hard to restore his rating, this is a golden opportunity for him, and he will want to make it count. 

M.R. Venkatesh

GM M.R. Venkatesh (2464)

GM Venkatesh has had a fairly quiet year, taking one step forward to take two steps back. He too had no troubles in booking his spot at the National Premier, as he had a sturdy result in the National Challengers.


Also among the relative seniors in the tournament, Venkatesh will look forward to cash in on his experience.

Arghyadip Das

IM Arghyadip Das (2456)

At the National Challengers Championship, IM Arghyadip Das suffered a shock loss in the very first round to a young kid rated in the 2000s and then he lost two more games to a 2300 and a 2200. However, like Captain Jack Sparrow holding on to his Black Pearl, Arghyadip salvaged his sinking ship and qualified to the National Premier.


IM Arghyadip Das hasn’t had a particularly good year, however, he fights best with his back to the wall. In such a scenario, it will be very interesting to see how he performs in this tournament.

K. Rathnakaran

IM ̶M̶i̶k̶h̶a̶i̶l̶ ̶T̶a̶l̶ K. Rathnakaran (2447) [Photo: Sa Kannan]

If we hold a contest to find the Indian version of Mikhail Tal, IM K. Rathnakaran would win it with two sacrifices to spare. He has had a productive year, consistently improving his rating.


It will go without saying that there will be entertainment galore on the chessboard, with Rathnakaran playing.

P. Karthikeyan

IM P. Karthikeyan (2441) [Photo: Sa Kannan]

IM P. Karthikeyan was the surprise of the previous National Premier, finishing second runner-up despite being among the lower seeds. A GM-elect, his aggressive brand of chess has helped him rake up many a points in the past.


Yet another reason for the chess fans to be excited. Can he do an encore?

Shyaamnikhil P.

IM Shyamnikhil P. [Photo: Sa Kannan]

IM Shyamnikhil had a forgettable start to the year 2015. However, he has shown signs of recovery in his last tournament in Malaysia. Shyamnikhil has been a prolific player in the Indian chess circuit. He could cause a few surprises in this tournament, if he manages to plays at his optimal form.

Praneeth Surya

FM Praneeth Surya (2413)

You can gauge the strength of this tournament from the fact that the last seed of this event is FM Praneeth Surya, rated 2413. He qualified to this Premier event by finishing runner-up at the National Challengers. Remarkably, in the year 2015 alone, almost systematically, Praneeth has increased 200 rating points.


If you are wondering, how he managed to do that, you may want to understand how this young lad looks at the challenges that lay before him: “My aim is to come in top three. Of course, it is a very difficult task for me. Nevertheless, I feel that we should always have an aim, and only then, we can get good results. This is my policy in chess as well as in studies.” Interestingly, Praneeth is an unknown package for most of the seasoned veterans in this tournament -- a handful of them have never played him! This gives him an added flavour, which could make this tournament spicy.


Praneeth feels that preparing for such tournaments is a never-ending exercise and he is excited at the opportunity of playing his career’s first round-robin tournament. With nothing to lose, the spectators will be excited to see the young Hyderabadi plunderer in action.

Tournament regulations in brief

Time Control and Schedule:

The time control is 90 minutes each for the first 40 moves and 30 minutes each for the remaining game, with an addition of 30 seconds per move from move number one. To avoid confusion, the organizers have made it clear that the clocks will be set in such a way that 30 minutes of the second time control will be added only after one of the players oversteps the first time control.


The zero tolerance rule will be in force in the tournament. Furthermore, the chief arbiter Prof. Anantharaman has reported that the play will be fashioned with one round per day with a rest day on 21 November 2015 and games beginning at 2.00 PM in India.

Draw Agreement:

Interestingly, players cannot agree for draws in less than 25 moves, without the consent of the arbiter. Even in case of a three fold repetition, the players concerned will have to address the arbiter and claim the draw from him.


Of course, Indian ace Vishy Anand and Pentala Harikrishna would not bother to play this tournament, with both being already among the world’s top players, and if they would wish to, can play in any of the official team event based on their elite rating. Among the players rated above 2600, grandmasters B. Adhiban, Parimarjan Negi, Krishnan Sasikiran, Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Abhijeet Gupta will miss the tournament.


Only Vidit has made it to the Premier based on his India rank in the July 2015 rating list. This meant that twelve players qualified from the National Challengers Championship, 2015.

Prize Structure:

An impressive prize fund should be motivating the players to play at their best

Thiruvarur Chess Festival

Along with the mouth wateringly strong Premier tournament, an Open FIDE rating tournament (16 November to 20 November) and a Below-1800 FIDE rating tournament (21 November to 24 November) have been scheduled.
To kickoff the proceedings of the festival, GM B. Adhiban gave a simultaneous exhibition to upcoming chess talents in Thiruvarur.
Adhiban didn't get it easy, with the simul lasting more than 5 hours
Watch the games of the Men's Premier Live.


ChessBase India will be present at the tournament to provide our dear readers with round-by-round coverage and more. 

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