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Remembering the Indian Morphy: Neelakantan Narayanan

by Sagar Shah - 03/08/2016

On 23rd of July 2016, Neelakantan Narayanan died at the age of 62 years. Trying to emulate the play of Paul Morphy, Neelakantan was one of the most fierce attackers from India in the 90s. In this article, you will find some sparkling combinations that he used to beat players like Daniel King, Csaba Horvat, and Antoaneta Stefanova. How happy Neelkantan would have been to know that his game against Daniel King was studied by the great Garry Kasparov himself! Pravin Thipsay also tells us about the personal side of Neelakantan and how he helped to develop the chess in the city of Mumbai. A wonderful human being who will be sorely missed by the chess community. A heartfelt eulogy. 

On 23rd of July 2016, Neelakantan Narayanan passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 62 years. There are some players who play chess to earn a livelihood out of the game but Neelakantan was amongst the group of few players who played chess for the love of the game. A thoroughly fearless and creative player, Neelakantan was famed for his attacking play in his heydey.

Neelakantan, doing what he does best. At the IIFL wealth tournament in Mumbai in January 2016. (photo by Priyadarshan Banjan)
Neelakantan's peak rating was 2295 in the year 1996. He worked in Central Bank of India until 2013. Post retirement you could see Neelu, as his friends liked to call him, playing in almost all of the rapid and classical tournaments held in Mumbai.
We contacted GM Pravin Thipsay who knew him very well and he told us some very important details about Neelakantan's life:

Neelakantan as a personality

Neelakantan was a very intelligent person. He was almost a chess maniac in a good sense. Neelu did nothing but read books, newspapers & play chess, never smoked, never had alcohol and had no vices. He led a good life but his participation in tournaments reduced during his peak period due to the sickness of his old parents. He had made the decision to not marry very early in life and he remained true to his vow.
Neelakantan was a very well read person. He had clear views in social matters, political & even matters related to chess politics, though he never took part in organisational activities. He never made any personal remarks or comments, though he had a very clear knowledge of the shortcomings in other persons. He learnt the Russian language for full three years, just to be able to read good chess material. In those days, the available material in the English language had a lot of deficiencies and we all found most of English chess books unacceptable. Learning the Russian language just so that he could read the Russian chess books shows his love for the game.

Neelakantan as a chess player

Neelakantan was a fierce attacker. Although he was a very strong player, one cannot really say that he was very successful. This is because his potential as a chess player was very high. The reason why he couldn't become a GM or an IM was because he wanted to play only for checkmate. He could not learn the modern techniques of defence because he did not find them interesting. He wanted to live in Paul Morphy's golden era.

Contribution towards the development of chess in Mumbai

Perhaps no Mumbai player would understand the significance of his great contribution to the growth of Mumbai chess.  Neelakantan joined the bank at an early age, but every day after his office job, he used to visit House of Soviet (Now Russian) Culture on Pedder road, bring the latest games messages received there through Telex. He would then bring them to the Zandu Pharmaceutical's Canteen, where we all spent most of our evenings analysing & playing chess for years. There used to be annotated material very often, which he translated for us during such 'self-training' sessions by us, a group of over 15 players! This initiative really gave good results, many Mumbai players went on to qualify to Indian teams on a regular basis. I believe that this type of leap would not have been possible without the material Neelakantan shared with us."


Pravin Thipsay's post about Neelakantan's death on Facebook
IM Sharad Tilak on Neelakantan:
"I am unable to get over the news. He was a real gentleman and a very fine player. Sadly he could not realise his full potential due to the problems with time trouble. He was a good friend and we spent a lot of time together in our younger days."
This Eulogy would definitely remain incomplete if we did not look at some of the most impressive achievements of Neelakantan's chess career - his sparkling attacking games!

Let us begin with a position that made its way to anthology of chess combinations published by Informator:

Raja Ravishekhar - N. Neelakantan, Kolkata 1992 (Analysis by Thipsay) 
Black to play. Take a good long think at this one. It is very beautiful. Some of the variations end with pretty checkmates!


[Event "I c Kolkata 54c/2"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1992.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Ravisekhar, Raja"]
[Black "Neelakantan, Narayanan"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Annotator "Thipsay,P"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "4rr1k/p1q3pp/2p2n2/2bp4/N7/7Q/PPP2PPP/R1B2RK1 b - - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "9"]
[EventDate "1992.??.??"]

1... Bxf2+ $1 {The first move is quite obvious and not so difficult to find.
But it is the follow up that needs to be seen.} 2. Rxf2 (2. Kxf2 Ng4+ 3. Kg1
Rxf1+ 4. Kxf1 Qf7+ 5. Qf3 Nxh2+ $19) 2... Re1+ 3. Rf1 Qe5 $3 (3... Rxf1+ {
was also possible} 4. Kxf1 Qe5 $1 {But this move has to be played to cut the
king off from the e-file. The threat is Ng4 followed by Qe1.} 5. Be3 {Only
move to stay in the game.} Ng4+ 6. Kg1 Nxe3 $17 {Black is clearly better.}) 4.
Bh6 (4. Bd2 Qd4+ 5. Kh1 Rxa1 6. Rxa1 Ng4 $1 (6... Qxd2 $17) 7. Be3 Nxe3 8. c3
Nd1 $1 $19 {A very nice line. Rf1 mate cannot be prevented without giving up
the queen.}) (4. Be3 {is the best defence but giving back the piece is not
everyone's cup of tea.} Rxe3 $17) 4... Qd4+ 5. Be3 (5. Kh1 {And the next move
is reall beautiful} Ng4 $3 6. Raxe1 Rxf1+ 7. Rxf1 Nf2+ 8. Rxf2 Qd1+ $19 {
What a variation! Sacrificing all the pieces to checkmate the white king.})
5... Rxe3 {Ravisekhar had had enough!} 0-1
The year was 1992. The tournament was the Goodricke International in Kolkata! The man with the white pieces is none other than Vishy Anand. His opponent: the famous chess commentator and tutor GM Daniel King.
Daniel King played one of the most beautiful games in Najdorf to beat Anand and finished first. Here he is seen receiving the trophy from Mamata Banerjee.
After winning the Goodricke International in 1992, you can imagine the confidence with which Daniel sat at the board in the first round of the 1993 tournament. His opponent? Neelakantan Narayanan! Neelu opened the game with 1.e4. Of course, King did not shy away from the challenge and employed his beloved Najdorf! And Neelakantan did what even Vishy Anand was unable to do - dismantle the Najdorf opening!
[Event "Goodricke op 04th"]
[Site "Kolkata"]
[Date "1993.??.??"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Neelakantan, Narayanan"]
[Black "King, Daniel J"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B87"]
[WhiteElo "2250"]
[BlackElo "2500"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "63"]
[EventDate "1993.02.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceTitle "EXT 1998"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1997.11.17"]
{Fresh from his success in 1992, Daniel King was back at the Goodricke Open.
Little did he know that in the first round itself he was going to face a
really hard time!} 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 {
Dan plays his favourite Sicilian Najdorf.} 6. Bc4 {The Sozin Attack, a
favourite of Bobby Fischer.} e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. O-O Be7 9. Qf3 Qb6 10. Be3 Qb7 11.
Qg3 b4 12. Na4 Nbd7 (12... O-O 13. f3 $14) 13. f3 O-O 14. Rfd1 {Playing
positionally for a while! But we all know how this is going to end!} Kh8 {
A weird looking move but King was afraid of Bh6 coming in at a certain moment.}
15. Rac1 $1 {Threatening to open up the position with c3 and making in roads
into the black position.} Ne5 16. c3 Bd7 17. Nb6 (17. cxb4 $1 Qxb4 18. Nc2 Qb7
19. Nb6 $16) 17... Nh5 (17... Qxb6 18. Nf5 $1 Nh5 $1 19. Qxe5 $1 {I am sure
Neelakantan had all these lines running in his head.} Qxe3+ 20. Nxe3 dxe5 21.
Rxd7 Bc5 22. Re1 $11 {The position is around equal.}) 18. Qh3 Qxb6 19. Qxh5 Qb7
20. Bg5 Bxg5 21. Qxg5 bxc3 22. Rxc3 Rfc8 23. f4 Rxc3 24. bxc3 Ng6 25. f5 {
As always Neelakantan's pieces and pawns start rolling towards the black king.}
exf5 $2 {The pressure gets to Daniel and he blunders.} (25... Ne5 26. fxe6 fxe6
27. Bxe6 $14 {White is better but not yet winning.}) 26. Bd5 Qa7 27. Bxa8 Qxa8
28. exf5 f6 29. Qg3 Ne5 30. Ne6 Bxe6 31. fxe6 Qb8 32. Qf4 {A smooth win by
Neelakantan against one of the strongest grandmasters of the 90s.} 1-0

After Neelakantan's untimely demise we contacted Daniel King to tell us something more about that game.


"I was sorry to learn of his passing. My performance against him in the first round of the Goodricke tournament was absolutely miserable! But he took advantage of my mistakes very well. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that the win gave him great pleasure.


He might have been even prouder had he known that later in the year, when I was working on TV covering the Short-Kasparov match in London, Garry mentioned to me (with a crocodile smile) that he had seen the game. If you recall, the 6. Bc4 variation was thoroughly examined during this match..."

Stefanova became the Women's World Champion in 2004. She visited Kolkata in 1998 to play in the Goodricke Open. She was pretty strong with a rating of 2470. In the third round, she faced Neelakantan, who handed her a 19-move defeat!
[Event "Goodricke op 09th"]
[Site "Kolkata"]
[Date "1998.02.08"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Stefanova, Antoaneta"]
[Black "Neelakantan, Narayanan"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D02"]
[WhiteElo "2480"]
[BlackElo "2240"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "38"]
[EventDate "1998.02.06"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceTitle "CBM 062 Extra"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1998.03.09"]
1. d4 d5 2. Nf3 c5 3. dxc5 e6 4. e4 Bxc5 5. exd5 exd5 6. Bb5+ Nc6 7. O-O Nf6 8.
Nd4 O-O $1 {Pawn? Well we all know Neelakantan is not going to save them!} 9.
Bxc6 $6 (9. Nb3 {was relatively best but Black is better after} Bg4 10. Qd3 Bd6
$17) 9... bxc6 10. Nxc6 Qd6 $1 11. Nd4 Ng4 {Launching his pieces towards an
attack.} 12. g3 Ne5 $1 {The bishop threatens to come to g4 and it is very
difficult to stop it.} 13. Be3 Bh3 (13... Bg4 $1 14. f3 Nxf3+ 15. Rxf3 Rfe8 $1
16. Bf2 Qb6 $1 17. b3 Bxf3 $19) 14. Nc3 (14. Re1 Bg4 $19) 14... Bxf1 15. Nf5
Qf6 16. Bxc5 Qxf5 17. Bxf8 (17. Qxf1 Rfc8 $19) 17... Bh3 $1 {You could bank on
Neelakantan to find the right attacking ideas.} 18. f4 (18. Bc5 Nf3+ 19. Kh1 d4
$1 20. Nb5 Bg4 $19) 18... Bg4 19. Nxd5 Qe4 {What a nice game of attacking
chess! The to be Women's World Champion was blown off the board.} 0-1

Csaba (left) and Josefz Horvath are grandmaster siblings. At one point they were the strongest siblings in the world. In 1998 when both of them were grandmasters and at the peak of their chess career, they played in Kolkata. Csaba faced Neelakantan one round before Stefanova, but the result was the same!
[Event "Goodricke op 09th"]
[Site "Kolkata"]
[Date "1998.02.07"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Neelakantan, Narayanan"]
[Black "Horvath, Csaba"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B06"]
[WhiteElo "2240"]
[BlackElo "2535"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "53"]
[EventDate "1998.02.06"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "11"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceTitle "CBM 062 Extra"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "1998.03.09"]
1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. Be3 a6 5. Qd2 b5 6. f3 Nd7 7. Nh3 Bb7 8. Be2 c5
9. d5 {White develops his pieces in a sedate manner. Quite unusual for
Neelakantan but the fireworks are about to begin.} Ngf6 10. Bh6 O-O 11. O-O
Bxh6 12. Qxh6 e6 13. dxe6 fxe6 14. Rad1 Qe7 15. Ng5 {Slowly but surely all
White pieces are taking attacking positions.} Rae8 16. f4 b4 17. Bc4 $5 {
Maybe objectively not the best but if a 2535 grandmaster is confused, then
this has to be practically very interesting move.} bxc3 18. Bxe6+ Kh8 19. e5 {
Things are getting very complicated!} dxe5 $6 (19... cxb2 $1 {was the only way
to maintain an advantage for Black.} 20. exf6 Nxf6 21. Rfe1 c4 {The attack is
beaten off and Black wins.}) 20. Bxd7 $1 Rd8 (20... Nxd7 21. Nxh7 $1 {This
might be the move that Horvath had missed.} Qxh7 22. Qxh7+ Kxh7 23. Rxd7+ Kh6
24. Rxb7 $11 {and White is fine.}) 21. fxe5 Nxd7 $2 (21... Ng8 $1 22. Rxf8 Rxf8
23. Qxh7+ Qxh7 24. Nxh7 Kxh7 25. bxc3 {With three pawns for a piece but Black
should be better.}) 22. Rxf8+ Nxf8 (22... Rxf8 23. Rxd7 $1 $18) 23. Nf7+ $1
Qxf7 24. Rxd8 Kg8 25. e6 $1 Qe7 26. Qxf8+ Qxf8 27. e7 {What a picturesque
final position! And it is not from a study!} 1-0

What a picturesque final position. It's games like this and...

....and this, that make a chess player truly immortal.

Neelakantan is no more but his beautiful attacks and finales will live on! All these scalps were achieved by just playing in the Goodricke Open in Kolkata. One can only imagine what he would have achieved had he got more opportunities.

He played the openings like Morphy - always for the initiative.
He played the middlegames like Tal - never caring for material.
And his love for chess was like Korchnoi - with him until his final breath.

On a personal note - by Sagar Shah

On 29th of December 2011, I was playing the sixth round of the Don Bosco rating tournament in Matunga. My opponent was Amardeep Bartakke. I was black and thanks to my opponent's inaccuracy I got excellent attacking chances. The moment I started my attack, Neelakantan was there standing right next to me. He stood right until the very end, analysing all the possibilities and checking the moves that I was playing. After the game, he told me: "That was an excellent attack!" To be praised for your attacking chess is maybe one of the best compliments I have received in my chess career.


In January 2016 when I set up the first ChessBase India shop in the IIFL tournament he came to me and bought my Learn from the Classics DVD. We discussed the contents of the DVD and he told me that he would give me his opinion about my work. I never got the chance to ask him whether he liked the DVD or not. I can only hope that he did.

Neelakantan Narayanan 3rd August 1953 - 23rd July 2016 (picture by Amruta Mokal)

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