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Revisiting the 2015 National Premier Championship (1)

by Priyadarshan Banjan - 07/01/2016
The 53rd edition of India’s National Premier Championship was held from 15 November 2015 to 28 November 2015 at Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu. The 13 round all-play-all with a rating average of 2501 was the strongest Indian tournament of the year, and the tournament was won by sixteen-year-old grandmaster Murali Karthikeyan. In this first part of our illustrated report with GM analysis, you will see how the tournament built up in the first half and how many of the players fared, with post-tournament comments, self-analysis and observations by the players themselves!

Revisiting the 2015 National Premier Championship (1)

Chess has metamorphosed into a young man’s game. If solidity is the key to winning tournaments, some players like Murali Karthikeyan believe otherwise. Of course, he feels terrible when he loses. Any grandmaster of sixteen would. He is overjoyed when he wins – he called up his parents, who then made a six-hour bus journey on the night before the tournament ended to witness their son’s moment of glory. All he needed was a draw to become India’s National Premier Champion.


Murali Karthikeyan qualified to play in the National Premier by picking up his spot at the National Challenger’s Championship held at Nagpur, India in August. His performance in the World Juniors was lackluster, to put it mildly. When the National Premier began, he was already staring at a humongous deficit, as his aggregate score after two rounds read 0/2. Understandably, Karthikeyan would just retreat to the silence of his hotel room after the rounds. The lad preferred to stay alone, rather than be with his parents, so he could focus better. His tournament situation painted a bleak mask on his face.

It was as if he were forced to box with Muhammad Ali with one hand tied behind his back, and GM M. Karthikeyan (2498) wasn’t happy

GM S.P. Sethuraman (2651)

The tournament was a fourteen player round robin, and there is much that could be written about the players themselves, their moments of joy and sorrow. Much could be said about Sethuraman’s memorable comeback in the second half of the tournament or Vidit Gujrathi’s methodical assault at the national title.

GM Vidit Gujrathi (2651)

Vidit was eager to stamp his mark in the history of India’s National Championships, and all throughout the tourney, he displayed in-depth preparation, which won him many a game. In the second round, he entered a variation that his opponent has been playing for more than a decade and managed to surprise him. A surprised player is half beaten.

Vidit-Rathnakaran (Analysis by FM Nihal Sarin)

[Event "ONGC 53rd National Premier Chess Champi"]
[Site "Hotel Kasi's Inn,Tiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.16"]
[Round "2.2"]
[White "Vidit, Santosh Gujrathi"]
[Black "Rathnakaran, K."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A31"]
[WhiteElo "2651"]
[BlackElo "2447"]
[Annotator "Nihal Sarin"]
[PlyCount "71"]
[EventDate "2015.11.15"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3. Nf3 {transposing to english opening.} cxd4 4. Nxd4 e5 5.
Nb5 d5 6. cxd5 Bc5 {The Vaganian Gambit.} 7. N5c3 (7. d6 Ne4 8. Nc7+ Qxc7) 7...
O-O 8. g3 Qb6 9. e3 Bg4 10. Be2 Bxe2 11. Qxe2 e4 {Black has some compensation.}
12. a3 Re8 13. Nd2 Qc7 14. g4 $1 {A great move, white is going to attack on the
kingside.} h6 $2 (14... Qe5 {was better.} 15. Nc4 Qg5 16. h4 Qxg4 17. Qxg4 Nxg4
) 15. h4 Qe5 16. Nc4 Qc7 17. g5 Nh7 18. gxh6 g6 19. b4 $18 Bf8 20. Bb2 Na6 21.
d6 Qd7 22. Rd1 {White simply has a fantastic position.} Rad8 23. Nd5 b5 24. Ne5
Qxd6 25. Ng4 $1 {the final tactic. Black could not control f6} Qxd5 26. Rxd5
Rxd5 27. Qc2 Re6 28. O-O Be7 29. Rd1 Nc7 30. Rxd5 Nxd5 31. Qc8+ Bf8 32. Bg7 Ne7
33. Qa8 Rc6 34. Bxf8 Rc8 35. Qxe4 Kxf8 36. Qd4 1-0

Thus, Vidit was off to a stellar start with two quick victories, but he was not alone…

… IM P. Karthikeyan (2441) started with two victories as well, as he first defeated…

… GM M.R. Venkatesh (2464) with a tactical shot on the middle of the board.

P. Karthikeyan-Venkatesh (Analysis by FM Nihal Sarin)

[Event "ONGC 53rd National Premier Chess Champi"]
[Site "Hotel Kasi's Inn,Tiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.15"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "Karthikeyan, P."]
[Black "Venkatesh, M.R."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A11"]
[WhiteElo "2441"]
[BlackElo "2464"]
[Annotator "Nihal Sarin"]
[PlyCount "99"]
[EventDate "2015.11.15"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
1. Nf3 d5 2. c4 c6 3. e3 {an interesting choice.White delays d4 to prevent the
main lines.} Nf6 4. Nc3 e6 5. b3 {White will try to keep his king in the
centre or castle queenside, and play Rg1 followed by g4} Bd6 6. Bb2 Nbd7 7. Qc2
a6 $1 (7... e5 8. cxd5 cxd5 9. Nb5 Bb8 10. Rc1 O-O 11. Ba3 Re8 12. Nd6 Bxd6 13.
Bxd6 {white has a good position.}) 8. Be2 b5 (8... e5 $5) 9. g4 $1 {white
shows his intentions of attacking on the kingside.} h6 10. Rg1 {intending h4.}
g5 $2 {black makes his first mistake.Instead he could have played....} (10...
e5) 11. cxd5 cxd5 12. Nxd5 $3 {White does not miss his opportunity.} exd5 13.
Qc6 Qc7 $1 {Black tries to trap the white queen on the corner of the board.}
14. Qxa8 O-O 15. Rc1 Nc5 16. b4 $6 {Better was...} (16. Bxf6 Nd3+ 17. Bxd3
Qxc1+ 18. Ke2 Qxg1 19. Qxd5 Bxg4 20. Qxd6 Qh1 21. Qg3 $18) 16... Bd7 17. Qxa6
$1 {Exploiting the fact that the knight on f6 is hanging.} Nxa6 18. Rxc7 Nxc7
19. Bxf6 Ra8 20. h4 Bxb4 21. hxg5 Ne8 {Black tries to eliminate the bishop} 22.
Bd4 hxg5 23. Ne5 Bc8 24. Nc6 Bf8 25. Bxb5 Rxa2 26. Rh1 Bg7 (26... f6 $5) 27.
Ne7+ Kf8 28. Bxg7+ Nxg7 29. Ng6+ $1 fxg6 30. Rh8+ Ke7 31. Rxc8 d4 $2 {better
was....} (31... Ne6 {with good chances of draw.}) 32. Rc7+ Kf6 33. Rf7+ $1 {
This ending is won for white.} Kxf7 34. Bc4+ Kf6 35. Bxa2 Ke5 (35... dxe3 36.
fxe3 $1 $18) 36. Ke2 Ne8 37. Bf7 Nf6 38. f3 Nd7 39. Bxg6 Nc5 40. Bf5 Nb3 41.
Bc2 Nc5 42. Kf2 dxe3+ 43. dxe3 Ne6 44. Kg3 Nc7 45. f4+ Kf6 46. Bb3 Nb5 47. e4
Nd4 48. e5+ Ke7 49. Bc4 Nc6 50. Kf3 {A nice game in which both of them played
well with many nice tactics!} 1-0

In the second round, P. Karthikeyan took down his namesake GM M. Karthikeyan, who had lost the first game as well and now, was left marooned on an island of 0/2, along with GM Abhijit Kunte and GM Venkatesh, whom he was playing in the third round.

In this battle of the zero pointers, M. Karthikeyan was able to score his first victory of the tournament. He was on the scoreboard, finally.

GM Neelotpal Das (2475)

Then, in the fourth round against GM Neelotpal Das, he played a game that was simple by its nature, yet elegant in its execution.

Murali-Neelotpal (Analysis by IM Srinath Narayanan)

[Event "53rd National Premier ch-IND"]
[Site "Tiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.18"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Karthikeyan, Murali"]
[Black "Neelotpal, Das"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C68"]
[WhiteElo "2498"]
[BlackElo "2475"]
[Annotator "Srinath Narayanan"]
[PlyCount "67"]
[EventDate "2015.??.??"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Bxc6 dxc6 5. O-O Qe7 {played after a 19
minute think. It's curious, what was going on, in Neelotpal's mind. I would be
a little amazed if Neelotpal was caught by surprise here considering that
Karthikeyan has played that line more than once in the recent past.} 6. d4 f6
$6 {I already can't find this move played anywhere.} 7. dxe5 fxe5 8. Qd3 Nf6 9.
Nbd2 Bg4 10. Nc4 Nd7 11. Qc3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 Qe6 13. Qc3 Bc5 (13... Bd6 14. Be3
O-O) 14. Be3 Bxe3 15. Nxe3 O-O-O {White just has a pleasant edge here, but
it's not as big as it appears. Black's pawn structure is of course inferior to
White's, but with the queen's on board and the opposite side castling, it's
not the only factor in operation.} 16. a4 Nf6 17. f3 Rd4 18. b4 (18. Nf5 Rd7
19. b4 b6 {transposes to the game}) 18... b6 19. Nf5 (19. b5 {is coolly met
with} cxb5 20. axb5 a5) 19... Rd7 20. Ne3 Rd4 21. Qe1 Kb7 22. Nd1 g5 23. a5 {
with pawns on b6,a6 and the opposition pawns on a4,b4 it's usually quite
common to counter a5 with b5 and b5 with a5.} g4 $2 {It seems to me that it
was important not to allow pathway to a6. After this move, Black was reduced
down to a minute and hell breaks loose in all sectors of Black's position.} (
23... b5 $142 $5 24. Nf2 Qc4 25. Nd3 (25. Qe3) 25... Nd7 26. Rf2 h5 {holds the
balance}) (23... Rhd8 {Doesn't manage to prevent pressure on a6} 24. axb6 cxb6
25. Ne3 Rd2 26. Qc1 $16) 24. axb6 cxb6 25. c3 Rd7 26. fxg4 Nxg4 27. Qe2 Ra8 $2
{the decisive mistake according to the computer. However with just a minute
remaining, it's not easy to play a move like b5 without calculation,
permanently endangering c5.} (27... b5 $142 28. h3 Nf6 29. c4 {with the idea
of freeing the a2 square} (29. Nf2 Rhd8) (29. Nb2 Rhd8 30. Qe3 Qe7) 29... Ra8
30. Nc3 $40 {looks very unappealing to a human player}) 28. Nb2 Nf6 29. Na4 Rg7
$4 {Black loses the game in a straightforward way now.} (29... Rd6 {just
defending against the double attack. Black's position is unenviable, but
there's nothing straightforward yet.}) 30. Qf2 Nd7 31. Qxb6+ Kc8 32. Qe3 Kb7
33. Rad1 Rag8 34. Rxd7+ 1-0



"Before the event my goal was to play fighting and interesting games and I think I did okay in that part. But performance is an entirely different thing than the quality of games. I collapsed at the end after the 11th round and didn't get a chance to recover. In a few games, I had huge advantages (like against Deep Sengupta, Rathnakaran, Abhijeet Kunte) which I couldn't convert into wins." 


When  asked about what he learnt from this tournament, Neelotpal insightfully added: "One should be able to control emotions in the game of chess since psychology plays a decisive role in crucial moments. I was totally engrossed only in the game and probably neglected other important factors like the psychological aspects, time pressure, etc."

Meanwhile, M. Karthikeyan scored another victory, this time over GM Deep Sengupta (2589)

After punching three straight victories, he settled for a draw with GM M. Shyamsundar (2481) and…

…FM Praneeth Surya (2413), the last seed, who has gained more than 200 points in a space of five tournaments in 2015.

Although Vidit wiped him out in the first round, Praneeth played some excellent chess throughout the tournament. What he lacked in opening preparation and experience, he made up with excellent calculations and by maintaining a calm head under time-pressure. He downed a number of grandmasters, but the biggest catch was undoubtedly the defending champion, who out rated him by 234 points.


"I am very happy with my performance. I feel I played good chess throughout the tournament. In the last two rounds, due to health problems, I couldn't perform at my best and lost both the crucial games. Only that is a bit saddening. Still, I feel I performed well against the better players. Before the event, I said I wanted to come in top three, but I also mentioned, to bring the best out of me, I keep such targets. In the end, I finished seventh which is nice."

Praneeth-Sethuraman (Analysis by FM Praneeth Surya)

[Event "IND-ch 53rd"]
[Site "Thiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.19"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Praneeth, Surya K"]
[Black "Sethuraman, SP."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B40"]
[WhiteElo "2413"]
[BlackElo "2651"]
[Annotator "Praneeth Surya"]
[PlyCount "93"]
[EventDate "2015.11.15"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[EventCategory "11"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
1. e4 c5 {Sethuraman obviously has a wide repertoire & before the round I
expected a Modern but he surprised me with Sicilian.} 2. Nf3 e6 3. g3 {So over
the board I also decided to counter surprise him!} Nc6 4. Bg2 Nf6 5. Qe2 e5 $5
{An interesting move brought into lime light by Caruana!} 6. O-O Be7 7. c3 O-O
8. d3 Re8 9. Na3 Bf8 $6 (9... h6 $142 {Black must stop Bg5 before playing Bf8})
10. Bg5 $1 {After the exchange, White will have very strong control over the
light squares in the centre which makes d5 break difficult for Black. The
bishop on f8 also remains passive.} h6 11. Bxf6 Qxf6 12. Nc4 d6 13. Ne3 $14 {
I was pretty happy with my position. I normally play such structures with
Black and it was the first time playing with White, that too I had to handle
against 2600!} Ne7 {with this move the queen cannot retreat and is misplaced} (
13... Be6 $5) 14. Nd2 {Threatening to play f4} g5 $6 {A huge positional
mistake though it was the idea behind Black's previous move. This shows
clearly that things went very bad for Black.} 15. Kh1 {I had a very good
position that simply I didn't know what to play, there were many options and I
just wanted to play a kind of waiting but useful move} (15. Bf3 $5 {I was also
thinking to play Bf3 but later decided to wait}) 15... Bg7 16. c4 $1 {With the
idea Nb1-c3, I wanted to exchange Black's knight and bring Good Knight vs Bad
Bishop scenario. If he doesn't exchange then I leave a disturbing knight on d5!
} Bd7 17. Nb1 Nc6 (17... Qg6 {I was expecting him to play Qg6 to create some
counterplay with f5 or sometimes with h5} 18. Bf3 {for which I planned to
reply with Bf3 and White is better but still would have been a good choice for
Black}) (17... b5 {basing on his previous move, I thought maybe he was
planning to create some counterplay on the queenside but instead he played Nc6
quickly}) 18. Nc3 Nd4 19. Qd1 Rad8 20. Ne2 $1 {I liked this move very much
during the game, just nutralizing his activity as he cannot exchange} Nc6 21.
Rb1 $1 {Protecting b2 before f4, killing counterplay for my opponent} Qg6 22.
f4 {My pieces are well arranged and I felt the time has come} exf4 {We should
always be careful as after the break Black's bishops get in to the game
especially the dark square bishop which has no counterpart} 23. gxf4 Qh5 $2 {
A very good idea but has a sort of tactical refutation} ({After the game we
thought Black should play gxf4} 23... gxf4 24. Nxf4 {Still White is clearly
better}) 24. Bf3 $1 {A cute line and also a forcing one to keep the advantage
for White. Without this Black might be even slightly better.} Qh4 25. Ng2 $1
Qh3 26. Ng1 $1 (26. f5 $4 {with the idea to trap Black's queen fails to} Be5 $1
{and White can resign}) 26... Qe6 27. f5 $16 {Black is stuck again} Qe7 28. Ne3
{Regrouping pieces back} Nd4 $2 29. f6 $1 $18 {And now White has a decisive
advantage, after the game Sethuraman admitted to have missed it} Bxf6 30. Nd5
Qe5 31. Bh5 Bg7 (31... Re6 32. Nf3 $1 Nxf3 33. Qxf3 Kg7 34. Rf2 $1 {Black is
completely lost}) 32. Bxf7+ Kh8 33. Bxe8 Qxe8 (33... Rxe8 34. Nf3 $18) 34. Nf6
$1 Bxf6 35. Rxf6 {White is clearly winning and I wanted to just make sure not
to play a blunder in time trouble} Bc6 {Black is still not without any threats
as my pieces are clearly misplaced, for ex} 36. Rf2 {I wanted to coordinate
pieces} (36. Rxh6+ $4 Kg7 {White pieces are badly misplaced especially the b1
rook} 37. Rh3 Bxe4+ $1 38. dxe4 Qxe4+ 39. Nf3 Nxf3 {White cannot recapture
with a queen} 40. Rxf3 (40. Qxf3 Qxb1+) 40... Rf8 $17) 36... Kg7 37. Qg4 Rd7
38. Rbf1 Re7 39. Nf3 Ne6 40. Nh4 {The rest is simple but still I had to
workout some lines during the game} Kh7 41. Nf5 h5 42. Qg3 h4 43. Qg4 Rd7 44.
Ne3 Rg7 45. Rf6 Nf4 46. Nf5 Rg6 47. Rxf4 1-0

Position after 47.Rxf4! Praneeth: When I told the result to my parents, they just couldn't believe it!

IM K. Rathnakaran (2447) is famous in Indian chess circles for his fiery aggression over the board

Sethuraman-Rathnakaran (Analysis by FM Nihal Sarin)

[Event "ONGC 53rd National Premier Chess Champi"]
[Site "Hotel Kasi's Inn,Tiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.20"]
[Round "6.4"]
[White "Sethuraman, S.P."]
[Black "Rathnakaran, K."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "A31"]
[WhiteElo "2651"]
[BlackElo "2447"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "2r1rbk1/1p3ppp/p4n2/N2P1q2/1P2N3/P3PnP1/4QPKP/B2R1R2 b - - 0 22"]
[PlyCount "5"]
[EventDate "2015.11.15"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
22... Nh4+ 23. gxh4 Rxe4 24. Bxf6 $4 (24. f3 Rxh4 25. Bxf6 Qxf6 26. Nxb7 $14)
24... Rc2 $3 0-1

24.Bxf6?? Rc2!! Sethuraman looked up to the heavens, ‘Eli! Why have you forsaken me?’

Rathnakaran was black against GM Murali Karthikeyan in the eighth round, and the latter smashed him out of the park…

…but good ol’ Rathnakaran wasn’t to be dissuaded from doing what he does best in the
very next game, against Praneeth Surya.

Praneeth-Rathnakaran (Analysis by FM Nihal Sarin)

[Event "ONGC 53rd National Premier Chess Champi"]
[Site "Hotel Kasi's Inn,Tiruvarur"]
[Date "2015.11.27"]
[Round "12.7"]
[White "K., Praneeth Surya"]
[Black "Rathnakaran, K."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2413"]
[BlackElo "2447"]
[Annotator "Nihal Sarin"]
[PlyCount "66"]
[EventDate "2015.11.15"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nc6 {An interesting idea. Black immediately develops
his knight, blocking his c pawn but attempts to challenge the centre by
playing f6.} 4. e5 f6 5. Bb5 Bd7 6. Nf3 Qe7 {Black is planning to transfer the
Queen to f7.} 7. O-O Qf7 8. Re1 Nge7 9. Bf4 O-O-O 10. Rb1 f5 11. Qd3 (11. h4 $5
h6 12. Qd2 $11) 11... h6 12. Na4 g5 {Black gains space by pushing his g pawn.}
13. Bc1 g4 14. Nd2 {Very passive.} (14. Nh4 {was better.}) 14... Nb4 15. Bxd7+
Rxd7 {Black's French Bishop is eliminated.} 16. Qb3 (16. Qb5 $5 {Leads to
interesting complications.}) 16... Nec6 17. c3 Nd3 18. Rd1 f4 19. Qc2 Nxc1 20.
Rdxc1 f3 21. g3 $2 (21. gxf3 $1 gxf3 (21... h5 $1) 22. Kh1) 21... h5 {White is
very cramped. Black lauches a very powerful attack by playing only simple and
logical moves.} 22. Nf1 h4 23. b4 Qh5 24. Nb2 Bh6 25. Rd1 Rf7 $19 {Crushing
white!} 26. Nd3 Ne7 27. Qa4 hxg3 28. fxg3 Be3+ $1 29. Nf2 Nf5 30. h4 Nxg3 31.
Nxe3 Qxh4 32. Nexg4 Ne4 33. Kf1 Qh1+ $1 0-1

33…Qh1+! Talk about finishing in style

"In the first few games everything went wrong; so in the second half, I changed my target to finish in the top ten instead and managed well," Rathnakaran says. "Nevertheless, I learnt the importance of high-level preparation, and I will work on this."

His swashbuckling style of play has won him a legion of admirers across the nation.

Anand is a sporting and cultural icon in this part of India

Hotel Kasi’s Inn, Thiruvarur, Tamil Nadu in India was the host of the tournament


Special thanks to FM Nihal Sarin for analyzing the games in this report.

The second part will follow soon.

All photos by Priyadarshan Banjan