K. Sasikiran looks the best bet to clinch yet another National title on his return to the fray after a decade.

Sasikiran’s title-prospects brightened up considerably after he packed off K. Ratnakaran in quick time and third seed B. Adhiban dashed joint-overnight leader M.R. Lalith Babu’s hopes in the longest battle of the 12th and penultimate round of the Jain 51st National chess championship here on Sunday. The victory took Sasikiran’s tally to 9.5 points and gave him the sole possession of the lead. Adhiban, with nine points, replaced Lalith in the second place.

Violent game

Sasikiran and Ratnakaran were involved in a violent game out of the opening lines of Benoni.

The players reeled off 14 moves of theory in the first five minutes. Thereafter, Ratnakaran followed a faulty plan and soon found himself at the receiving end of a series of exchanges.

The end came with one of Sasikiran’s kingside pawns reaching the seventh rank, with his queen and knight threatening the inevitable against a hapless king.

Adhiban, victorious over the top two seeds Parimarjan Negi and Sasikiran in rounds four and nine, gained a central pawn on the 35th move of this Nimzo Indian game.

Thereafter, Lalith was on the defensive. He seemed to have improved the chances of a draw after the exchange of rooks left the players with a minor piece each.

But Adhiban kept pressing hard for victory. A desperate Lalith even gave up his lone knight for an advanced pawn, but could not prevent Adhiban from continuing correctly for a well-deserved victory in 69 moves.

In the final round, Sasikiran faces an off-form P. Shyamnikhil while Adhiban will be up against fourth-placed Thej Kumar. In the unlikely event of a two-way tie for the title, Adhiban will take the title owing to his last week’s victory over Sasikiran.

The results (12th round): K. Sasikiran (9.5) bt K. Ratnakaran (3.5); B. Adhiban (9) bt M.R. Lalith Babu (8.5); Deepan Chakkravarthy (6.5) drew with Thej Kumar (8); Ashwin Jayaram (6) drew with P. Shyamnikhil (5); Akshat Khamparia (3.5) drew with Vishnu Prasanna (5.5); G. A. Stany (5.5) bt Parimarjan Negi (5); Debashis Das (5.5) bt G. Akash (3).

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