Reigning champion and fourth seed O T Anilkumar of Kerala secured 6.5 points and maintained his lead after completion of seven rounds in the 15th CUSAT International Rating Open chess tournament in Kochi on Monday.
Soumya Ranjan Mishra of Orissa was close behind with six points after defeating Muthu Prakash.
Twelve players, including top seed and four-time champion M B Muraleedharan and former champion U C Mohanan, both from Kerala, are in third position with 5.5 points each.
On the board one, Anilkumar was forced to a draw by P Sreekumar while third seed Ram S Krishnan was held to a draw by Maharashtra's Konakanchi Ninad.
In an all-Tamil Nadu match on board four, Vinodh kumar was held to a draw by T R Sahmuganathan.
Second seed P D S Girinath of Andhra Pradesh received a jolt when he lost to Sukhpal Singh Kalsi.
Results (7th round): O T Anilkumar (6.5) drew with P Sreekumar 5.5; Ram S Krishnan (5.5) drew with Konakanchi Ninad (5.5); Nikhilesh Kumar (5.5) drew with K R Madhusoodanan
(5.5); T R Shanmuganathan (5.5) drew with M Vinothkumar (5.5); R Muthu Prakash (5) lost to Soumya Ranjan Mishra (6); M B Muraleedharan (5.5) bt Binju Oommen (4.5); Sukhpal Singh Kalsi (5.5) bt P D S Girinath (4.5); P V V Sheshu (4.5) lost to Alex Thomas (5.5), R Ganesh Bhat (5) drew with K Haridas (5); Joy Lazar (5.5) bt Sivasankar (4.5); Kumar Dip Chakraborthy (5) drew with U S Satheesan (5); U C Mohanan (5.5) bt M David (4.5).