M. S. Thej Kumar gives the impression of being a recluse. Though quietly focussed and fiercely competitive, if this triple Grandmaster-norm holder is still an underachiever it can be attributed only to his inconsistency.
On Saturday, the 11th round of the Jain 51st National chess championship saw Thej’s resilience being rewarded against an exasperated K. Sasikiran.
In an engaging battle involving two 32-year-olds, the South-Western Railway player gallantly fought from seemingly lost position and came up with a late trick to force a rare and memorable ‘stalemate’.
The painful draw for Sasikiran also evaporated his overnight half-point lead as M. R. Lalith Babu rejoined him at the top with 8.5 points following a resounding triumph over Deepan Chakkravarthy.
B. Adhiban held the third spot at eight points after a frustrating draw, from a better position, against Debashis Das.
But clearly, the game of the day was played on the top board.
Sasikiran, eying a victory for the better part of this 52-move thriller, had no qualms about “feeling stupid” after overlooking Thej’s queen-offer with a close check on what turned out to his final move.
Thej was obviously pleased with the escape and the manner in which it came about. “I had seen the possibility of a stalemate. I was only hoping Sasikiran to take one of the kingside pawns. He did,” said a smiling Thej. And what followed was a four-move sequence of checks ending with the ‘forced’ queen-offer.
In this game, where both players faced the paucity of time to complete 40 moves in the stipulated 90 minutes plus 30-second increment per move, Sasikiran held a two-pawn advantage from the 31st move and added another pawn on the 48th turn.
“It was just the position I did not want to get into. The possibility of a stalemate did cross my mind but I completely overlooked Thej’s last move. Brilliant,” admitted Sasikiran shaking his head in disbelief and disappointment.
Thej, who made 13 moves in less than three minutes to thwart Sasikiran escape losing the game on time, stayed in the fourth spot.
Earlier in the evening, Lalith roared back from Friday’s defeat at the hands of Sasikiran. After briefly losing his way against Deepan, Lalith regained control with a lethal kingside offensive to walk away as an impressive winner.
The day’s other winners came from the lower score-groups. Top seed Parimarjan Negi recorded his second victory at the expense of reigning champion G. Akash in 34 moves. P. Shyamnikhil finally won a game by outplaying Akshat Khamparia.
11th round: Thej Kumar (7.5) drew with K. Sasikiran (8.5); B. Adhiban (8) drew with Debashis Das (5); Lalith Babu (8.5) bt Deepan Chakkravarthy (6); K. Ratnakaran (3.5) drew with Ashwin Jayaram (5.5); P. Shyamnikhil (4.5) bt Akshat Khamparia (3); Vishnu Prasanna (5) drew with G. A. Stany (4.5); Parimarjan Negi (5) bt G. Akash (2.5).
12th round pairings: Sasikiran-Ratnakaran; Adhiban-Lalith; Deepan-Thej; Ashwin-Shyamnikhil; Debashis-Akash; Stany-Negi; Akshat-Vishnu.