Sub-junior Nationals from today

KOZHIKODE MAY 22. There they were. The anxious mothers, the eager fathers, the hopeful uncles, and of course the kids who looked far more relaxed than their elders. It was a typical sight at a venue of a National chess championship for children.

The V.K. Krishna Menon Indoor Stadium and its premises on an exceptionally hot Thursday evening were further proof of the fast increasing popularity for the mind sport in India. Over 200 children have reported so far to compete in the National sub-junior chess championships, for boys and girls, which begin here on Friday. "There are more players than we expected,'' said K. Ratnakumar, the tournament's chief arbiter.

These days there are not just more number of players at National tournaments. There are more number of good players too. Said Akshayraj Kore, who is one of the contenders for the boys' crown and who's so proud of Pune's lineage in Indian chess ("Most of Maharashtra's players — Abhijit Kunte, Swati Ghate, Prathamesh Mokal and myself — are from my town''.:

G.N. Gopal, the best bet in the competition for the host Kerala, also agreed with Akshayraj. "It's not just the higher-rated players who are capable of winning the tournament,'' he said. "The lower-ranked boys could also do wonders.''

Abhijeet Gupta from Rajasthan has also attended that camp. And he starts as a strong favourite for the boys' crown. He's the defending National junior champion and has a rating of 2335, which is quite high for this level.

The girls' field does not look that strong though. Mary Ann Gomes, the bronze medalist from the 2002 Asian junior championship, looks the player to beat from among those who have confirmed their participation.

The competition will be keen in both the sections as the Indian teams for the various international tournaments, including the World and Asian championships, will be selected based on the performances here. There's a prize fund of Rs. 42,000 in the boys' event and Rs. 39,000 for the girls.

The tournament, which would conclude on May 29, was inaugurated by the Kerala Sports Council president C. Mohanachandran, who made a surprising opening gambit by speaking in Hindi. The Kozhikode District Collector T.O. Sooraj, the Kerala Olympic Association president M.M. Abdul Rahman and the All India Chess Federation president P.T. Ummer Koya also spoke. All of them in English.

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