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Tough challenge for Indian boys

By Rakesh Rao

BIKANER, DEC. 21. If there is one chess event that offers the winner more than what he or she truly deserves, it is the Asian junior chess championship. Irrespective of the quality of the field, the winner of the boys' section not only gets the title of an International Master but also a Grandmaster norm. Its equivalent award goes to the girls' champion, as well. In other words, this is the only event in the continent that offers a nine-game GM norm even in the absence of a GM!

No wonder, hopeful Indians form more than half the field in each section of the event that begins at the Hotel Basant Vihar Palace on Wednesday. In fact, this time the presence of home players adds up to an embarrassingly high percentage. Out of 29 entries from 11 nations in the boys' section, the host's contribution is 15. In the girls', it is not surprising to find that 16 out of 25 players are Indians.

At the same time, it must be remembered that the majority of Indians are coughing up Rs. 15,000 each to play as "Donor" entrantsThat has resulted in the Indians happily calling the shots. However, unlike in the last edition, an Indian medal sweep looks less probable. The presence of Uzbek Anton Filipov as the top seed in the boys' section and two more non-Indians in the top-10 list makes the task of the Indian brigade that much more difficult.

Likely challengers

Among the girls, Vietnam's Hoang Thi Bao Tram, Malaysia's Siti Zulaikha and Turkmenistan's Bahar Hallaeva are capable of breaking the Indian domination and making the medal bracket.

Fillipov, the Asian under-18 champion and an International Master with a rating of 2475, will have to beat back a very strong Indian challenge in order to justify his billing in the 11-round competition. M. R. Venkatesh, seeded two, along with Abhijeet Gupta and Akshayraj Kore are the other players who have rating of 2400 and above.

Former champion Deepan Chakkravartty and last year's silver medallist S. Poobesh Anand became IMs from this event and would like to add a GM-norm before they run out of time. Since Venkatesh, Abhijeet and Deepan are here straight after playing two back-to-back events — the 13-round World junior championship and the 18-round National `A' — they can be excused for being a bit jaded

Among the overseas challengers, Kazakhstan's Rustam Khusnutdinov and Vietnam's Nguyen Van Huy along with Bangladesh's Mehri Hasan can make things a little difficult for the host.

Harika leads the field

In the girls' section, recently-crowned World under-14 winner Dronavalli Harika heads the field, followed by the Asian under-18 champion N. Vinuthna. Defending champion Y. Prathiba and Mary Ann Gomes along with National junior champion Kruttika Nadig give the home challenge a formidable look.

Hoang Thi Bao Tram, like many of the Vietnamese players in the past, looks good enough to pull off a surprise or two. Siti Zulaikha, who recently made the required norms for a Woman IM title in the World junior championship, should be expected carry forward her form.

Leading players (Indians unless stated):

Boys: Anton Fillipov (Uzb, 2475); M. R. Venkatesh (2450), Abhijeet Gupta (2412), Akshayraj Kore (2400), Deepan Chakravartty (2396), S. Poobesh Anand (2367), S. Arun Prasad (2367), Arghyadip Das (2353), Rustam Khusnutdinov (Kaz, 2325) and Nguyen Van Huy (Vie, 2325).

Girls: D. Harika (2391), N. Vinuthna (2229), Hoang thi Bao Tram (Vie, 2217), Y. Prathiba (2203), Mary Ann Gomes (2195), Kruttika Nadig (2182), Siti Zulaikha (Mal, 2162), Bahar Hallaeva (Tkm, 2153), Soumya Swaminathan (2137), P. Priya (2131).

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