Former British Open champion and International Master R B Ramesh consolidated his slender half point lead after drawing his ninth round game with IM Rahul Shetty in the Hindustan Petroleum National 'B' chess championship in Nagpur on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corporation's Ramesh took his tally to eight points after the draw and is now a clear favourite to win the championship.
International Master Sriram Jha of LIC propelled himself to joint second place after a sluggish start by scoring easily over IM Deepan Chakravarthy. Both Jha and Shetty have 7.5 points apiece.
Top seeded GM Koneru Humpy overcame the setbacks of the previous two rounds to score a fine victory over Prathamesh Mokal and now occupies the third spot jointly with IM S Satyapragyan, IM N K Mishra, M R Venkatesh and surprise entrant Pankaj Joshi, who upset double GM norm holder DV Prasad in a Sicilian defence game with black pieces.
With only five rounds remaining, the players on the top 10-boards were more interested in securing one of the 12-available qualifying berths for the National 'A' championship and preferred to play it safe by agreeing to easy draws. Consequently, six boards out of top 10 ended in draws.
A big pack of 22 players including Deepan Chakravarthy, B S Shivanandan, Vikramjit Singh, K V Shantaram, Roktim Bandopadhyay, Rishipal Singh, C S Gokhale and V Hariharan were occupying the 4th spot with 6.5 points, keeping alive their hopes for qualification.
Rahul Shetty and R B Ramesh agreed to a draw in just 12 moves in a game of Caro Kann Defence. But it was an intense game on the second board which pitted former Asian Junior champion Deepan Chakravarthy and Sriram Jha.
Chakravarthy, who has a knack of playing uncharted openings, tried to steer Sriram to unknown territories by opting for Scotch Opening with colours reversed.
However, Deepan was not able to find a correct plan as a result of which he landed in a minus position at the opening stage itself. Jha created further weaknesses in the enemy camp by exposing the White King and worked his way excellently in the ensuing endgame with rooks and opposite colour Bishops.
Deepan resigned when he could not avert heavy material loss. Second seeded Jha is likely to be pitted against Ramesh in the next round, which could be labelled as the fight for championship.
Important Results of Round 9: Rahul Shetty  drew R.B.Ramesh ; Deepan Chakravarthy lost to [6.5] Sriram Jha [7.5]; N.K. Mishra  drew S. Satyapragyan ; Koneru Humpy  beat Prathamesh Mokal [6.5]; D. V. Prasad  lost to Pankaj Joshi ; B. S. Shivanandan [6.5] drew Singh S Vikramjit [6.5]; M. R. Venkatesh  beat V.R.Kamble ; K.V.Shantaram [6.5] drew Roktim Bandopadhyay [6.5]; Rishipal Singh [6.5] drew C.S.Gokhale [6.5]; V.Hariharan [6.5] drew Himanshu Sharma [6.5]; V.Koshy [6.5] drew Argayadip Das [6.5]; Debashish Chakroborty  lost to N. Sudhakar Babu [6.5]; G.B.Joshi  drew G.B. Prakash ; Manish Kumar [6.5] beat Hegde Ravi [5.5]; Suvrajit Saha [6.5] beat Anupama Gokhale [5.5]; C.Natarajan [5.5] lost to V. Saravanan [6.5]; Somak Palit [5.5] lost to Vishal Sareen [6.5]; T.S.Ravi [5.5] lost to P.D.S. Girinath [6.5]; K. Rathnakaran [5.5] lost to L Imocha [6.5]; Saptarshi Roy [6.5] beat C Praveen Kumar [5.5]; Atanu Lahiri beat [6.5] beat K. Nikhilesh Kumar [5.5]; J. Ramakrishna [6.5] beat Gurpreet Singh Maras [5.5]; Yogesh Gore [6.5] beat Muhindro Sharma A [5.5]; Amit Pal Singh  drew M. Srinivasa Rao .