The Sunday Leader

Athula: Keeping One Move Ahead At Chess

Athula Russell

Chess is not a high profile sport like cricket, soccer or rugby which attracts more attention. It is hardly televised like other sports, but nevertheless it has a faithful following. Chess in Sri Lanka is quite popular, especially amongst the schools. However, being the national champion is no easy task.
Few people realise that the reigning national champion, Athula Russell is the son of Victor Ivan, one of the most respected figures in Sinhalese journalism. Being a keen follower of philosopher, historian, logician and mathematician Bertrand Russell, Ivan combined his name Athula with that of Russell to name his son.
Russell created a national record in chess when he equalled the feat of P.D.R. Pieris, by winning the national title in 2008. The defending champion, who had previously won the national title in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2009, recently retained his national title with 10.5 points on tie break, with G. C. Anuruddha at the Sri Lanka National Championship concluded at CETRAC, Pelawatta, Battaramulla.
Being a former student of Richmond College, Galle and a member of the NF3 Chess Club, Russell was delighted with his quick victory with black against P.M.A.B. Athukorala in the 13th round in the last tournament.
“I was very confident about winning the title. I was not worried about my opponents but concentrated on minimising my mistakes which enabled me to finish on top,” said Russell.
But winning national titles is not the champ’s only aim, as he wants to at least become a FIDE Master (FM) because the opportunities provided by the Sri Lanka Chess Federation are insufficient for a player to raise his level of competence. “We have very few chances to win at international tournaments because we have only about three to four tournaments throughout the year, which is not enough,” said Russell.
In Chess, International Grand Master (GM) is the highest ranking one can achieve followed by International Master (IM) and FIDE Master (FM). Sri Lanka does not have any players with any of those titles.
“To be a title player in Sri Lanka is very important. My aim is to become an International Master, but to achieve that I must participate regularly in international tournaments. By winning the national title I already have 2220 ranking points and if I reach the 2300 mark I can become a FIDE Master,” Russell said.
“Some time ago we were on par with India, but our neighbours have moved ahead because they conduct more tournaments and participate regularly at international meets. India has about 100-200 title players and they are ranked fourth in the world. Our international ranking is 120 out of 150 countries,” lamented Russell.
He blamed the Sri Lanka Chess Federation for not having a proper plan to conduct tournaments. “The nationals were not up to standard and the federation must consider this quite seriously. They should immediately work out a proper plan to promote the sport,” he said.
Russell is hoping to represent his country at the next Chess Olympiad in Germany and he sees Sri Lanka having a better chance of performing well in the individual event rather than the team event. “According to our ranking, we are far beneath the other countries in the team event, but considering our individual performances we have a very good chance of winning the individual title,” said Russell.
“There are different level boards to play on. If we play on the high-level board, it is going to be very tough for us. So I have requested the Federation to give us low-level boards to play, especially for the champion and the runners-up of the Nationals. Earlier I had to play on board one and it was very difficult to win,” he said.
“Chess completely changed by life,” admitted Russell. “Although I have no coach, I keep myself in touch with the sport by using reference books on chess and playing games with the computer. My father always backed me and our school became champions in 2001 when I was Captain.”
Joining Slimline of MAS Holdings at Pannala has given 25-year-old Russell a new lease of life to pursue his career in chess. “The company was happy to have a chess player in their ranks and they have given me all the encouragement to bring honour to the country. They have sponsored my trips abroad to participate in international tournaments on several occasions and this has provided a tremendous boost to my career,” Russell said.

Sri Lanka National
Championship — Results
Defending Champion, Athula Russell retained his national title on tie break after tying with G. C. Anuruddha at the Sri Lanka National Championship concluded at CETRAC in Pelawatta, Battaramulla. The Championship was organised by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka. Russell, champion in 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 held Anuruddha to a draw in  a tense struggle during the 12th round. As predicted, the tournament was tensely fought in the latter half, with no less than 6 decisive results in the last round and even the draws being hard fought. Russell achieved a quick victory with black against PMAB Athukorala in the 13th round in the last tournament.
Anuruddha beat Chandana Wijekoon, who lead in the early stages to keep some hopes alive but Russell’s win ended his hopes of a second National Title for another year. Romesh Weerawardane played splendidly at the end but it was a slow start at both weeks when he dropped points to the two National Age Group Champions. Still, after years of poor results at National cycles, he was pleased to have been able to make it this far and can be happy of his score against the top finishers. He won against Ruchira Dissanayake in round 13.
Vidura Koggala of the University of Moratuwa enjoyed great success in his first National Championship. Barring his win over Anuruddha, he struggled against the top players.
Chamika Perera, the National Under 16 Champion from Trinity College bagged fifth place by beating Sachith Peiris in the last round. The winner of this match between the National Under 18 and 16 Champions was going to make it to the Sri Lanka National Team and in the end, the younger boy prevailed. Sachith Peiris just failed to emulate his father and brother in going to the Olympiad, but there will be more opportunities in the future.

Final Standings

1.    M.K.Athula Russel  NF3 Chess Club    10.5 points
G. C. Anuruddha    10. 5 points
3.    Romesh Weerawardane – Paul Morphy CC     10 points
4.    Vidura Koggala -  University of Moratuwa     8 points
5.    Chamika Perera -  Trinity College    7 points
6.    Sachith Peiris  – Dharmapala Vidyalaya    6 points
Chandana Wijekoon – Dark Horse Chess Academy    6 points
Ruchira Dissanayake – Royal College        6 points
P. M. A. B. Athukorala -  Paul Morphy CC    6 points
10.   Udith Jayasundara – Nalanda College    5 points
11.   T. D. R. Peiris – Dioces Chess Club                           4.5 points
Rasika Bandara – University of Peradeniya    4.5 points
Osheen de Silva – Devananda College    4.5 points
14.   Kavessha Amarasena  – Royal College    2.5 points


15 Year-Old Dinushki Wins Women’s National C’ship

Dinushki Premantha, a 15 year old student of Girl’s High School, Kandy won the Sri Lanka Women’s National Championship 2010 which concluded at the CETRAC in Pelawatta, Battaramulla. The championship was organised by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka and was held over 13 rounds. Dinushki, who was runners-up last year was unbeaten throughout the event and was first by a comfortable 1.5 points. Two draws against early leader Mayumi Muhandiram and Ayodhya Liyanagedara in the last two rounds was enough to clinch her maiden national title.
Pramodya Senanayake, WFM was also unbeaten and clinched first place on tie break after finishing on 9 points. Pramodya is a student of Museaus College and was the Champion in 2007. She beat Iridu Basnayake in round 13 to leap frog the latter in to runners-up place. Iridu Basnayake from Kandy Girl’s High School had a poor last day and the losses she suffered on that day cost her the second place. She still managed to finish on 9 points.
14 year old Mayumi Muhandiram of Maliyadeva Girl’s College, was placed joint second and fourth on tie break. After leading at the end of the first half, she lost out on first place during two games in succession at the start of the second half. In the last round she beat Uthpala Hettikarannagoda with the black pieces.
After a surge in the last half, defending champion Sachini Ranasinghe of Musaeus College managed to finish 5th. Her win with black over Samasha Uduptiyas allowed her to go past WFM Supeshala Thilakawardena in the 13th round when the latter was held to a draw by Tiumi Yashora. Sachini scored 5.5 points out of 6 in the last 6 rounds.

1.    Dinushi Premanath  -  Kandy Girls High School     10.5 points
2.    WFM Pramodya Senanayake  – Museaus College      9 points
Iridu Basnayaka -  Kandy Girls High School    9 points
Mayumi Muhanidram – Kurunegala Maliyadeva Girls College     9 points
5.    Sachini Ranasinghe    Museaus College    8 points
6.    WFM Supeshal Thilakawardena – Musaeus College    7.5 points
7.    Ayodhya Liyanagedara   University of Moratuwa    7 points
8.    Samasha Udupitiya  – Kurunegala Maliyadeva Girls College      6 points
9.    Tiumi Yashora – Vishaka Vidyalaya    5 points
10.   Navodya Selvarathnam    Kandy Girls High School     4.5 points
Chaturi Hettige    4.5 points
12.   Uthpala Hettikarannagoda – Rathnawali BV Borella    4 points
Shalini Jayawardena – S. Joseph’s BV , Kegalle,    4 points
14.   Samanthi Wettasinghe – SriLankan Airlines    3 points

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