Khan confident of retaining national Chess title, but challengers undaunted

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Reigning National Open Chess Champion Candidate Master (CM) Taffin Khan is confident of winning the 2024 NEW GPC INC. Open Chess Championship, which begins this weekend at the National Racquet Centre.

“I think I have a really good chance to win the championship based on the pairings,” Khan summarised as he prepares to meet his nine opponents.

The top nine challengers, including four juniors, emerged recently from the rigorous qualifiers’ tournament to enter the championship.

They are FIDE Master (FM) Anthony Drayton, Justino Da Silva, Roberto Neto, Candidate Master (CM) Ronuel Greenidge, Junior Champion Keron Sandiford, Sachin Pitamber, Loris Nathoo, Kyle Couchman and Ethan Lee.

They provided their insights to the Guyana Chess Federation on their predictions and plans for the major event on the local chess calendar.

FIDE Master Anthony Drayton

The top qualifier FM Anthony Drayton asserted that he hopes to play well and see the results from that. Acknowledging that the National Championship is the most prestigious tournament of the year, the 2024 Chess Olympiad in Budapest, Hungary, is also in his sights.

“I’m now focused on improving my gameplay rather than the results. Results will show based on good quality chess,” Drayton commented.

Second place qualifier Justino Da Silva also wants to secure a chance to participate in the Olympiad but is giving his best shot for the championship.

“I’m in it to win it,” he declared.

“It’s no mercy over the board,” he warned.

Third place qualifier, Roberto Neto was cautious in his approach.

“Although I am typically seen as the underdog, I recognise the emerging talent of young players like Ethan Lee, Keron Sandiford, Sachin Pitamber and Kyle Couchman. It is essential to stay sharp, as a single mistake could lead to a swift checkmate from these skilled opponent,” he asserted.

Number four qualifier Ronuel Greenidge feels the National Chess Championship is usually tough where the best players do well. But he is comfortable with his preparation.

“It’s usually general so no matter what is presented to me I would be able to confront appropriately; In the past, I usually placed on the podium. I’m pleased with my performance and therefore I’m enjoying the entire process,” he explained positively.

Greenidge was away from competitive chess since 2021.

Number five qualifier and reigning Junior Champion Keron Sandiford believes in his ability to do well.

“I’ve been having a good year and I see no reason why I wouldn’t be able to take this form to the Nationals,” he remarked. Sandiford was also upbeat on his preparations. “I have an idea of what openings I’ll be playing as well as the different variations my opponents can possibly go into,” he offered.

Number six qualifier, junior player Sachin Pitamber, one of the youngest participants in the championship, is aiming to win a titled player to improve his rating (playing strength). The current double-titled Under-14 and Under-16 champion outlined his preparation for the event.

“I expect most of my opponents who play as black to go into either a French Defense, symmetrical King’s pawn, or Sicilian Defense. My opponents as white generally switch between e4, d4, and c4 or Taffin usually plays Nf3,” he said.

From left: Justino Da Silva, Roberto Neto, Ronuel Greenidge, Keron Sandiford, Sachin Pitamber, Loris Nathoo, Kyle Couchman and Ethan Lee

Number seven qualifier, veteran player Loris Nathoo, was in high praise for the line-up of young, diverse and talented contenders but threw down the gauntlet; he was steadfast in his desire to win the title this time, despite his challenging work commitments.

He also expects stern resistance from his seasoned counterparts.

“My intention is to better my performance from last year when I was the first runner-up; that means I will be taking home the crown this time. My plan is to play solidly and enjoy the journey. It’s going to be a fantastic experience, I’m looking forward to the excitement of each game,” he summed up.

First-time Open Championship participant, eight place qualifier and junior player Kyle Couchman, said he is working on his strengths and weaknesses, analysing his practice games to identify his mistakes and missed opportunities, and learn from them.

The teenager also plays stronger players when possible to identify areas for improvement.

“My mentality is to stay positive and aim high, but to remember to enjoy the experience,” he added.

Couchman is also setting his sights on a top spot at the end of the tournament. “

Being realistic, I would like to place in the top five because this is my first National Open Championship and I will be up against a lot of skilled and experienced players,” he concluded.

Number nine qualifier, junior player Ethan Lee, is expecting a rigorous competition and is reinforcing what he already knows, and avoiding past mistakes.

“This National Championship will definitely be a tough tournament, with the highest level of opposition I’ve ever faced in a round-robin. With the right combination of luck, nerves and skill, finishing within the 5-7th range would be ideal. However, I tend to not concern myself with podiums, players and points but to only focus on playing against the pieces opposing me at a given time,” Lee emphasised.

The NEW GPC INC. sponsored 2024 Championship consists of nine rounds with classical chess time controls and will be played at the National Racquet Centre, Woolford Avenue, Georgetown.

Defending Champion Taffin Khan will face his nine opponents who will also confront each other in a single round-robin format. The 2023 Championship headed into a fast-paced playoff between Khan and Nathoo after they both emerged with even scores. Khan prevailed at the end and won the title.

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