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Dulan Edirisinghe in action | Edirisinghe with the trophy

Dulan Edirisinghe, produced a great second-half comeback to secure his maiden national title in his 10th attempt at the recently completed National Chess Championship organized by the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka.

The National ‘A’ as the championship is called the apex tournament following a series of qualifiers starting with the Majors and National ‘B’. The best 14 players eventually play each other over a grueling and unforgiving 13 rounds. Sri Lanka’s sole International Master Romesh Weerawardena was first runner-up while FIDE Master and former national champ G.C. Anuruddha came third.

Speaking to ‘The Nation’ Dulan pointed out that the tournament is a long hard slog that takes a great deal of toil on mind and body alike. He confessed that as a veteran of 9 previous appearances he often agonized over the fact that he never won the coveted title despite 4 podium finishes.

“I often prided myself on never finishing in the bottom half of the table,” he said in the manner of finding consolation in circumstances of repeated disappointments.

“I knew this tournament is more of a Marathon rather than a sprint. Yet when I lost my first round game with the former Champion and FIDE Master G C Anuruddha and drew the second round with a (possible) future Champion 12 year old Harshana Thilakarathne, I feared the worst particularly because I had to play the highest rated player in the tournament and the only Sri Lankan International Master Romesh Weerawardena with black pieces in the third round. Another loss and my tournament would be over before it started.”

In this critical game which ultimately proved decisive, Dulan sacrificed a pawn in the opening to get a lasting initiative. Romesh defended stubbornly however and an oversight on Dulan’s part (30. … Ne4?) had resulted in simplifications that diminished the initiative, he said. The game had boiled down to an end game where his prospects looked gloomy because I was still down a pawn.

White – Romesh Weerawardane: Black – Dulan Edirisinghe
National Chess Championship 2015
Round – 3
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 c5 3.c4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e5 5.Nb5 d5 6.cxd5 Bc5 7.e3 0–0 8.N5c3 e4 9.Be2 Re8 10.0–0 Nbd7 11.Nd2 Nb6 12.Qc2 Bd6 13.g3 Qe7 14.Rd1 Bf5 15.Nc4 Nxc4 16.Bxc4 Rac8 17.Bf1 Bg4 18.Be2 Qd7 19.Bxg4 Nxg4 20.h3 Nf6 21.Kg2 h5 22.Qe2 h4 23.g4 a6 24.Bd2 Qe7 25.Rh1 Nh7 26.f4 exf3+ 27.Qxf3 Ng5 28.Qf5 g6 29.Qd3 Qe5 30.Be1 Ne4? 31.Nxe4 Qxe4+ 32.Qxe4 Rxe4 33.Kf3 Rce8 34.Bf2 g5 35.Rad1 Bc5 36.Rd3 Bd6 37.Rc1 Kg7 38.b3 f5 39.gxf5 Kf6 40.Rc4 Kxf5 41.Rdd4 Rxd4 42.Rxd4 Rf8 43.Bg1 Bg3 44.e4+ Ke5+ 45.Ke2

White1With both players running short of time and under increased time pressure I found the idea of the pawn sacrifice 45. … g4! followed by creating a monster passed pawn on the h-file. While it is possible to save the resulting position with extremely precise play (that’s what my analyzing engine says anyway!) it is next to impossible to find such accurate moves when one is desperately short on time. I won few moves later.

45. … g4!; 46. hxg4 h3; 47. Rd1 Kxe4; 48. Be3 h2; 49. Rd4+ Ke5; 50. Rd1 Rf7; 51. g5 Ke4; 52. b4 Be5; 53. Rh1 Kxd5; 54. Kd3 Rf3; 55. Ke2 Ke4; 56. Bf2 Ra3; 57. Bc5 Rxa2+; 58. Kf1 Kf3 0–1
And yet, after 5 rounds Dulan only had 2.5 points. Then he had Ja run of seven straight wins that took him to the top of the table by the end of the penultimate round.

“Seven consecutive wins sound highly impressive but it was far from plain sailing,” Dulan confessed.

In the 9th round the defending champion Isuru Alahakoon unleashed a nasty surprise for Dulan, ironically in Dulan’s favourite French Defence. Dulan annotates this game thus:

White – Isuru Alahakoon: Black – Dulan Edirisinghe
National Chess Championship 2015
Round – 9
1. e4 e6; 2. d4 d5; 3. e5 c5; 4. c3 Nc6; 5. Nf3 Qb6; 6. Bd3 cxd4; 7. cxd4 Bd7; 8. 0–0 Nxd4
“This sub variation is called the Milner-Barry Gambit of the French Defence, Advanced variation. White sacrifices a pawn to get a dangerous attack. Usually I’d be reluctant to enter such a position with Isuru who is a gifted attacking player but this variation has been bread and butter for me for more than a decade. In the year 2003 I had some duels in this variation with Athula Russell who (in my opinion) is the best chess player Sri Lanka has ever produced and came out unscathed every time. So I was pretty confident when Isuru seemed eager to enter the Milner-Barry territory. The usual theoretical way to proceed is 9. Nxd4 Qxd4; 10. Nc3 a6; 11. Qe2 Ne7; 12. Kh1 Nc6; 13. f4 Nb4; with a very sharp position but that was something I was pretty happy to play because of my familiarity with the position. Then came a bolt from the blue.”

9.Nbd2 !?

“Just as the knight move was played a horrible realization dawned upon me that I walked right into my opponent’s home preparation. Later my opponent told me that he recently defeated an International Master in just 17 moves with this move. It seemed that white gets great compensation for the sacrificed pawn because he can put significant pressure on both flanks using the menacing looking Bishop on d3 and the majestic pawn on e5. More importantly, I was out of my comfort zone.”
“I gathered myself and tried to evaluate various responses. After using more than 30 minutes out of the allocated 90, I found a move I’m proud of.”

9. … f5 !

White 2“The exclamation mark is purely for practical reasons. Objectively there may be better moves but this puts white to the sword straight away. Ignore the pawn and the Bishop on d3 is no longer sniping at king side targets. You take the pawn with an en-passant capture then it solves all black’s piece development problems while the key e5 pawn is no more. Now it was my opponent’s turn to use up 30 minutes of his time. I did enough to repel the plan he came up with and won the game in 58 moves.”

10. exf6 Nxf6 11. Nxd4 Qxd4 12. Nc4 Qh4 13. Ne5 Bd6 14.f4 0–0 15.Rf3 Bxe5 16.fxe5 Ng4 17.Rh3 Qf2+ 18.Kh1 g6 19.Bd2 Qd4 20.Be1 Nxe5 21.Bc3 Qf4 22.Be2 Rf5 23.Qe1 Raf8 24.Rd1 Ng4 25.Bf3 Qe3 26.Qxe3 Nxe3 27.Re1 d4 28.Bxd4 Nc2 29.Rd1 Nxd4 30.Rxd4 Bc6 and Black has a winning advantage.
“After the game I checked my database and I found 203 games that featured 9.Nbd2 . Overall winning percentage for white is 54%. Curiously none of the black players have ever played 9. f5. So my move was actually a pretty decent theoretical novelty.”
After 10 rounds the points table couldn’t have been tighter. Chamil Priyankara of Sri Lankan Navy had same number of points (7.5) as Dulan followed by Romesh and Anuruddha who were both just half a point behind. Therefore the top of the table encounter in round 11 was nerve wracking, he said

White – Chamil Priyankara: Black – Dulan Edirisinghe
National Chess Championship 2015
Round – 11
Dulan considers Chamil to be one of the hardest workers in the National chess circuit and certainly one of the most gifted in terms of attacking play.

“I’m usually a very conservative player with a strategic focus to my game. But considering the tournament situation I made a concerted effort to complicate the game by voluntarily weakening my pawn structure. The critical position came after white’s 20th move.”

1. e4 e6; 2. d4 d5; 3. Nc3 Nf6; 4. Bg5 dxe4; 5. Nxe4 Be7; 6. Bxf6 gxf6; 7. Nf3 f5; 8. Nc3 a6; 9. Ne5 Bf6; 10. f4 Nc6; 11. Nxc6 bxc6; 12. Qf3 Qd6; 13. 0–0–0 Rb8; 14. Bc4 Bxd4; 15. Rhe1 c5; 16. Bb3 Bb7; 17. Qg3 Qe7; 18. Ne2 Bf6; 19. Ba4+ Kf8; 20. Rd7
Position after 20.Rd7
White3“At first glance it seems that Black is doomed but I had seen deeply into the position. Mass complications broke out on the chess board with pieces flying left, right and centre.”
20. … Bxb2+! 21.Kb1 Qf6 22.Qb3 Kg7 23.Ng3 Kg6
“I managed to repel the initial onslaught and was starting to feel tad comfortable. But I had obviously underestimated Chamil’s attacking flare and he came back with second wave of dashing sacrifices.”

24. Nh5 Kxh5; 25. Rxf7

White4“It’d be unwise to accept this second sacrifice in view of 20. … Qxf7 21.Rxe6 with threats of Qh3+ and Rh6+ to follow. In this remarkable position I found the correct move 25. … Bd5! After which it seemed like it was a position from a kid’s game. But simplification is unavoidable now and all that material white sacrificed earlier proved telling in the end.”

Bd5! 26.Qh3+ Qh4 27.Bb3 Qxh3 28.gxh3 Bd4 29.Kc1 c4 30.Ba4 c5 31.Bd7 Kg6 32.Re7 Kf6 33.Bxe6 Kxe7 34.Bxd5+ Kd6 35.Bxc4 Rhe8 36.Rd1 Kc6 37.c3 0–1

Dulan drew his final game and secured the title that had eluded him for so long. Weerawardena finished half a point behind in second place while FIDE Master G C Anuruddha and highly impressive Chamil Priyankara finished further half a point adrift with the former edging his way to third place via a tie break.
The newly crowned National Chess Champ had some encouraging things to say about emerging players.

“The real significance of this tournament for Sri Lankan chess may yet be the emergence of some highly rated youngsters on the National Arena. Sixteen year old Dineth Naotunna of D.S. Senanayake College finished 5th while other debutants Minul Doluweera, Rochitha Subasinghe, Sasith Nipun Piyumantha, Harshana Thilakarathne and Anjana Herath performed impressively to give some serious headaches to experienced players, a fact that bodes well for the future of Sri Lankan Chess.