January 6, 2015

Dream Team of VTU (Part I)

In this article P Prachura who was the captain of the Viswesvaraya Technological University shares his story of a team that was not the strongest on paper but with great qualities of team spirit and camaraderie, they not only won the South Zone tournament, finished third in National University in 2013 but also won a silver at the World Universities 2014! Truly, an intriguing and enthralling journey!

And that is how we won the South Zone championships! 
Oops I jumped to the end! Let's take it from the start!

Not many chess players get to be part of any chess team because chess is basically an individual game and there are hardly any tournaments which have involves a team event.

I was indeed fortunate to be part of a team, a team which performed beyond people’s expectations! The team I am talking about is Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) Chess Team. 

Great words from the founder of the Visvesvaraya University

I would love to share my experience of an amazing year I had being a part of this team. Our team consisted of players from all over Karnataka:

Prachura P.P (Captain) – Bangalore
Gahan M.G – Mangalore
Viani D Cunha – Mangalore
Yashas D – Shimoga
Shreeshan S – Shimoga
Amith A - Bangalore

Team VTU

Every year university tournaments are conducted to decide as to which team gets the tagline of being the best university team of India . The process of selections goes on as follows:

India is divided into five zones namely North, West, East, Central, and South zone.
Our University lies in the south zone. So first we had to participate in the zonal inter university tournaments, and get a top 4 finish to qualify for the Nationals. Our immediate goal was to qualify for the nationals, but who knew what the future had in store for us! None of us could ever imagine our journey travelling the distance it went!

As it happens every year, South Zone dates were announced and to our dismay it was going to be conducted in SRM University, Chennai. Wondering why I used the word “dismay”? Well for the past 15 to 20 years SRM University have been the indisputable kings of University chess tournaments. Over the years many top players of India have been part of their team notably GM Deep Sengupta, GM Sethuraman, GM Vishnu Prasanna and GM Shyam Sundar. With the depth of their team and the kind of players they had in their armour, it would be easy for anyone to guess why their team was on the top each and every time for so many years! It was a huge challenge to compete against SRM in their own backyard.

The venue of the South Zone tournament

The day finally arrived when we had to leave to Chennai for the tournament, and we were all very excited as our friends from all over South India were converging at this prestigious event. The journey was comfortable and we had time to get to know our teammates better. Our train had barely reached the outskirts of Chennai, and people started sweating already! We knew we had reached Chennai!

On the first day of the tournament, most of the teams are very anxious to know the team composition of their competitors, and it was no surprise that players gathered around the notice board when the team list along with the composition was put up.

SRM University were seeded first (Team comprising of IM Ramnath Bhuvanesh, IM Prassanna Rao, Abhilash Reddy, Arvind S, and Vishaal Iyer ). Anna University were seeded second (Team comprising of Manigandhan , Uma Bharathi , Bavan Kumar, Pradeep and Uma Maheshwaran), and we (i.e., VTU Team) were seeded third. We then knew who our main rivals were!

The top two boards of SRM had Ramnath and Prasanna who are two of the most talented International Masters in India

When we evaluated both our rival teams we knew that we had a great chance of winning the title because SRM (usually a star studded team with GM’s) had fielded a not so great team with a 1900 rated player being the weak link in their side. We had to capitalize on that and for the next couple of days that was the only thing going on in our mind!

The tournament began as scheduled and the arrangements in the tournament hall were fantastic. The top seeds sailed past the lower seeds as the rounds progressed.

VTU playing against RGHUS

Finally in the 5th round we were paired to play against SRM University and we knew that the result of this round would definitely play a big part in deciding who would become the eventual champions!  As usual the crescendo of team discussions became evident from both the teams as the match time drew nearer. Time was up, and both the team captains submitted their respective board order. The pairing according to the submitted board order was:

  1. Yashas D – IM Ramnath Bhuvanesh
  2. Viani D Cunha – IM Prassanna Rao
  3. Prachura P.P -  Abhilash Reddy
  4. Gahan M.G – Vishaal Iyer
First one hour had gone by, and none of the board result could have been predicted since all of them had equal positions. As the clocked ticked down, tension began to mount and I was the first person to crack! In an equal opposite colour bishop middle game, I unnecessarily gave away a pawn in hope to create an attack but it backfired miserably and my King was in trouble soon, resulting in a loss. Before I could come in terms of how I had frittered away an equal position, I realised Gahan also had finished his game which ended in a draw. 

With my loss, the team was already trailing 1.5-0.5

Both our games were a telling blow for us because we hadn’t capitalized on scoring points with the weaker players of their team (which was our plan). The senior players in our team had already let the team down. Both of us were very disappointed.

Just when we had lost hopes, IM Ramnath Bhuvanesh, who is usually very cool and calm under time pressure situations, blundered and lost! Score was now 1.5 each and we began to believe again! The decisive game between IM Prassanna and Viani was very unclear, and with each move, we had conflicting opinions on who would come on top. In the end Viani played well and managed to get a material advantage but Prasanna used all his experience and knowledge to hold on for a draw. The end result was a 2-2 draw!

Yashas was surely the hero in our match with SRM

We had mixed emotions after this round. We could have won it if 3rd and 4th board had given us more points, but on the other hand we could have easily lost as well. We took the draw and now it was clear that the title would be decided by game points itself. But nobody could predict what followed next!!

The decisive round of the tournament was the 7th round as it completely turned the tables and shocked many players. SRM were paired against RGUHS team from Karnataka (team comprising of Nihal Manjunath , Suraj M (both rated around 2050) , Srishti Shetty, and an unrated player), and we were paired against Anna university . Anna University had a very strong and similar team when compared to us as their players were almost of equal strength. The shock of the tournament hit us when IM Prassanna Rao uncharacteristically blundered and lost the game against Nihal within 2 hours. Soon after that game, Suraj came up with a fine victory over Abhilash Reddy, and Srishti managed to draw against Vishaal Iyer. SRM had wilted under pressure and their manager was furious! It was a perfect result for us as we managed to blank Anna university 4-0. Tremendous result for us and we rejoiced.

Once the star players of SRM took their foot off the pedal, we zoomed ahead

After this round it was evident that the task ahead was simple and we held our nerves to become the champions after the 9th and final round. History had been made!!
SRM university had been dethroned, and for the first time in history, VTU had managed to win the South Zone Inter University championship. YES WE HAD WON!

Me (on the right) with Gahan and the beautiful trophy!

Next stop was the National Championship in Rahuri, Maharashtra.

More about that will follow in part II of the article.

About the Author:
Prachura P. Padakannaya has recently completed his Civil Engineering from Dayananda Sagar College of Engineering, Bangalore, affiliated to Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Belgaum, Karnataka. He has been playing chess since he was four and half years, and is one of the leading players from the state of Karnataka. He has several state championships to his credit, and has represented India on a couple of occasions.

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