Former British champion R B Ramesh of the Indian Oil Corporation comfortably edged out top-seeded Grand Master Koneru Humpy on a better tie-break to win the 41st National 'B' Chess Championship at Nagpur on Friday.
Both Ramesh and Humpy finished with an identical score of 10.5 points out of a possible 13, but Ramesh was declared the winner by virtue of having the better progressive score.
With this win, Ramesh is back to the National 'A' with a creditable performance. He had missed out a berth in the Indian team last year.
In the last-round game, Ramesh defeated Saptarshi Roy of West Bengal while Humpy capitalised on a blunder to force matters against International Master S Satyapragyan of Indian Airlines.
This was Ramesh's maiden National 'B' title.
Asked whether he made any specific preparation for the strongest open Indian event, which is a very tough call for many top players, Ramesh said he had made no specific preparation for the event as he was busy with the preparations for his marriage to Women's Grand Master Aarthie Ramaswamy and in building a house. He, however, said he was mentally prepared to finish the event on a strong note.
The other title contender before the start of the final game, Sriram Jha of the Life Insurance Corporation of India, offered a draw to his teammate Vishal Sareen as soon as Ramesh got into a winning position leaving him with no title chance on account of his inferior tie-break.
Jha had to be content with third place while Sareen made it to his fifth National 'A' finishing eighth.
There were just two premeditated draws on the top boards. M R Venkatesh of the Petroleum Sports Control Board qualified along with M Srinivasa Rao of Andhra Pradesh after settling for a truce while Suvrajit Saha followed suit with his Railways teammate Roktim Bandhopadhyay.
All these players qualified, though Bandhopadhyay had a little luck and an excellent tie-break backing him.
IM Prathamesh Mokal of Maharashtra was lucky to qualify for the 'A' in spite of drawing with Arghyadip Das of West Bengal after a gruelling encounter as other results worked in his favour.
Das qualified for the first time sealing the last berth and was lucky to edge out other players with nine points on a better tie-break.
The main factor that worked in Das's favour was that this year the qualifying seats were increased to 13 as Humpy was playing in this event even though she was directly seeded for the National 'A' by virtue of being a Grand Master.
Vikramjit Singh of Manipur, a former National under-14 champion, became the first player from the Northeast to make it to the premier event after veteran A B Meitei.
Veteran V Hariharan of Indian Bank was the surprise packet of this 'B' tournament as he defeated Vikramaditya Kamble of Union Bank to secure ninth place. A dejected Vikramaditya had no clue to the precise play of Hariharan.
On the top board Humpy was pitted against S Satyapragyan of Indian Airlines with the advantage of playing white. She opted for her pet queen pawn opening to which Satyapragyan replied with the Nimzo Indian defence.
The development was on even keel till the early middle game stage, but slowly Humpy started emerging better with more space and centrally placed pieces.
Satyapragyan was forced to sacrifice an exchange to look for a counter offensive and after a further exchange of pieces he managed to make deep inroads into the enemy camp.
He won back the exchange and emerged better on a material count on his way towards a shock upset win when suddenly Lady Luck smiled on Humpy as Satyapragyan blundered his knight and extra pawns. The rest was easy for Humpy to score a full point.
On the other hand, the young and talented Saptarshi Roy was found wanting against Ramesh, who scored easily in just 37 moves from the black side with a queen's gambit.
History repeated itself for Roy, who had also missed qualification to the last National 'A' by a whisker, as he had finished 13th and only 12 players were to qualify. This year, placed 14th, he missed the bus again.
The tournament has got the reputation of turning the ratings and standings of strong players topsy-turvy.
Those who missed out were double GM norm holders G B Prakash and D V Prasad and experienced International Masters V Koshy, Rahul Shetty, who crashed to three successive defeats in the last rounds, N Sudhakar Babu, twice National champion P Konguvel, P Mitrakanth, Shekhar Sahu, Ravi Hegde and Neeraj Kumar Mishra.
Qualifiers: 1. R B Ramesh 2. Koneru Humpy 3. Sriram Jha 4. M R Venkatesh 5. Suvrajit Saha 6. M Srinivasa Rao 7. Singh S Vikramjit 8. V Hariharan 9. Vishal Sareen 10. S Satyapragyan 11. Prathamesh Mokal 12. Roktim Bandopadhyay 13. Arghyadip Das