Triple Grandmaster-norm holder M.S. Thejkumar’s eight-move draw with Grandmaster Deepan Chakravarthy was enough to give him an unsurpassable tally of 10.5 points from 13 rounds. But it was the superior tie-break score that earned this hardworking International Master (IM) from Karnataka his maiden National Challenger chess title after Ashwin Jayaram matched the winning tally here on Tuesday.

Ashwin, seeded 12, managed to beat fellow IM from Tamil Nadu M. Karthikeyan in 49 moves and tied for the tied top spot. The third spot also went to another IM, Indore’s Akshat Khamparia who headed a pack of seven players at 9.5 points.

A series of decisive battles – eight over the first 11 boards – filled up most of the nine qualifying berths for the National championship schedule at Jalgaon, Maharashtra in December. Significantly, the top four seeds – Deep Sengupta, B. Adhiban, M.R. Lalith Babu and S.P. Sethuraman – failed to make the top-9 bracket.

Thejkumar, the soft-spoken Railwayman seeded 20, stayed on track to seal a well-deserved title with a short draw that helped the qualifying prospects of Deepan, too. After four hours of fierce battles on most leading boards, Deepan found himself among the qualifiers at 9.5 points.

It was also the day when the desperate approach of most GMs did not produce the desired results. S.P. Sethuraman, Abhijit Kunte and Neelotpal Das lost and fell out of the qualifying race.

It was another Railwayman K. Ratnakaran’s never-say-die approach that overpowered Sethuraman. He sacrificed a rook for a minor piece, then gave up a knight and finally won after sensationally making around 15 accurate moves in less than two minutes.

Since the country’s top-four ranked players, including Viswanathan Anand, and the defending champion are seeded for the National championship, any no-shows from among the direct qualifiers will be made up from this competition.

As a result of Anand’s absence, a foregone conclusion, 10th place finisher Adhiban is sure to be part of the field in the National championship. Should second ranked P. Hari Krishna also stay away, then 11th-placed Lalith Babu will join the fray.

The results:

13th round:

M. S. Thejkumar (10.5) drew with Deepan Chakkravarthy (9.5); Ashwin Jayaram (10.5) bt M. Karthikeyan (9); Debasis Das (9.5) drew with Deep Sengupta (9); Akshat Khamparia (9.5) drew with B. Adhiban (9); K.

Ratnakaran (9.5) bt S. P. Sethuraman (8.5); Vishnu Prasanna (9.5) bt Neelotpal Das (8.5); P. Shyamnikhil (9.5) bt Abhijit Kunte (8.5); G. A. Stany (9.5) bt Swapnil Dhopade (8.5); Swayams Mishra (9) bt Shardul

Gagare (8.5); B. T. Murali Krishnan (8) lost to M. R. Lalith Babu (9); R. R. Laxman (9) bt Gurpreet Singh Maras (8).

Top-12 standings: 1-2. Thejkumar, Ashwin (10.5 each), 3-9. Akshat, Debashis, Vishnu, Shyamnikhil, Stany, Deepan and Ratnakaran (9.5 each); 10-12. Adhiban, Lalith and Laxman.

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