Kalugampitiya new National Chess Champion



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The Champions: Rajeendra Kalugampitiya and Zainab Saumy with their respective trophies.


Rajeendra Kalugampitiya was his first national title with a determined run after a sluggish start which saw him lost the first two games of the 13-round tournament. He won five straight thereafter before slipping against eventual runner up and International Master Romesh Weerawardane. Despite a hiccup in the penultimate round where he went down to Akila Kavinda, Kalugampitiya held his nerve to score in the must-win last game against Lakshitha Randil to pip Weerawardena by half a point.


Kalugampitiya ended with 9.0 point (out of a maximum possible 13), followed by Weerawardena (8.5), Akila Kavinda (8.0) and Chamil Priyankara and Yasas Lamawansa (7.5 each). The fact that the first and fifth were separated by just 1.5 points indicates how competitive the tournament was. Last year’s champ, Dulan Edirisinghe had a forgettable tournament finishing 8th equal with just 5.5 points. Three times national champ Isuru Alahakoon and Chamika Perera (winner in 2011) were placed equal 6th (6.5 points).


The tournament, organized by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka was held at the Hockey Stadium Pavilion over the last two weekends. The first five will represent Sri Lanka at the Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan in September with ‘Kalu’ as the most experienced player likely to lead the team.


Kalugampitiya first qualified to play in the Nationals in 2005. This was his 7th ‘Nationals’ and it will be the third time that he represents Sri Lanka at a Chess Olympiad. He was a member of the Sri Lanka team that secured a category gold medal at the last Olympiad, held in Tromso, Norway in 2014. Only he has succeeded to retain his place in the team.


"The difference this time was discipline. I was focused. I totally devoted one and a half months to prepare for this tournament. I must mention the support I received at different times from my coaches; among them Grandmaster Grivas from Greece, Suresh Kumar and Grandmaster R.B. Ramesh from India, and Viman Bhagya Wijepura. During the tournament, in particular, Viman as well as Vidyartha youngster Kashyapa Kulasekera acted as by ‘Seconds. The Vidyartha chess family and member of the Fischer Chess Club always backed me through my highs and lows’," Kalugampitiya told the ‘Sunday Island’.


The early setbacks did not deter him, clearly. Kalugampitiya said that the toughest game was the last one, against Randil because he had to win that game.


"There was so much pressure. I decided that I should not let the pressure get to me. So I approached the game as I had throughout the tournament, focusing totally on the game and not the result. In fact this is what I would like to say to young players. Just do the hard work, the results will look after themselves."


With respect to the future, Kalugampitiya is determined to lead the national team to an even better performance at the Olympiad.


"In Tromso, we were placed 62nd although we were ranked much lower. I think we can better this performance. If we do that we would definitely end with a category gold like last time."


He did not speak of personal targets but said "I want to leave a mark in the history of chess in Sri Lanka."


Zainab Saumy wins maiden National title


Sixteen year old Zainab Saumy of Girls High School, Kandy, playing in her third Women’s Chess Nationals, denied two-time champ Dasuni Mendis a third title in a row, eventually winning the event one point ahead of Mendis.


Zainab is the current National Under 16 Champion and was a medal winner in the Blitz (9th) and Standard (7th) events at the Asian Youth Chess Championship 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Placed 11th in 2014 and 7th last year, she attributed her success to better preparation this time around: "I didn’t think too far ahead, instead focusing only on the game at hand."


For much of the tournament, held concurrently with the ‘Open’ event, it was a battle between Zainab and Dasuni, both playing consistently well whereas the rest of the field was so erratic that they virtually dropped out of contention quite early.


After 10 rounds (with 3 rounds remaining) Dasuni had 8.5 where as Zainab was half a point behind no 8.0. The individual encounter between the two (Round 2) ended in a draw. It was in the last three rounds that Zainab surged ahead courtesy some uncharacteristically weak play by Dasuni who drew with Women’s FIDE Master Manisha Gunaratne and lost to Uddeepana Athukorala and Ishini Wickramasinghe in the last two rounds.


Ishini who ended with 7.5 along with former National Champ and Women’s International Master Sachini Ranasinghe, and Niklesha Tharushi (7.0) qualified to represent Sri Lanka at the forthcoming Chess Olympiad in Baku. Tharushi in fact made it to the team after a tie-break over Pevinya Peiris, Women’s International Master Nelunika Methmani and Samasha Udupitiya, who also scored 7.0 points. It is likely that Sachini Ranasinghe, the most experienced player, will be selected as captain of the Sri Lankan team.


Zainab told the ‘Sunday Island’ that she is grateful to her coach, Rajeendra Kalugampitiya, as well as her parents and teachers who gave her all the encouragement she needed.


As for future plans, the 16 year old school girl confidently stated that she wants to reach the International Rating threshold of 2300.


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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