Ten months after becoming the youngest National women’s chess champion, Divya Deshmukh now holds the distinction of being the youngest to retain the premier title.
Less than a month after turning 17, this diminutive Nagpur-girl stood tall again by emerging as a worthy champion following the conquest of the 2016 Asian champion Bhakti Kulkarni in 49 moves for a winning tally of 9.5 points from 11 rounds at Kolhapur.
Nearest challenger Mary Ann Gomes (9) finished with a 66-move win at the expense of Rucha Pujari to take the second spot.
Top seed Vantika Agarwal (8.5) ended up third by proving stronger to veteran Nisha Mohota in 58 moves.
Divya received Rs. six lakh, Mary collected Rs. five lakh and Vantika gained Rs. four lakh, besides the trophies, for their podium-finish.
All the interest on the final day centred around the top two boards. Bhakti injected some excitement in her game against Divya by trading her bishop for two pawns in the later stages. Divya managed to thwart Bhakti’s plans and her extra piece made the decisive difference.
Mary, half-a-point behind Divya after the penultimate round, did what was expected from her. She overpowered Rucha Pujari and stayed out of reach of 20-year-old Vantika who inflicted a rare defeat on 42-year-old Nisha.
11th round: Divya Deshmukh (Mah) bt Bhakti Kulkarni (Goa), Mary Ann Gomes (Pet) bt Rucha Pujari (Mah); Nisha Mohota (Pet) lost to Vantika Agrawal (Del); Sakshi Chitlange (Mah) bt A. G. Nimmy (7); Vishwa Shah (Mah) lost to Isha Sharma (Kar); Arpita Mukherjee (Ben) drew with V. Varshini (TN); Soumya Swaminathan (Pet) bt Mrittika Mallick (Ben); Dakshita Kumawat (Raj) lost to Srija Seshadri (TN); Femil Chelladurai (TN) lost to Vrushali Deodhar (Mah).
Top-10 standings (with points and prize-money): 1. Divya (9.5 points, Rs. 6 lakh), 2. Mary (9, Rs. 5 lakh), 3. Vantika Agrawal (8.5, Rs. 4 lakh), 4. Sakshi (8, Rs. 3 lakh), 5. Isha (8, Rs. 2.50 lakh), 6. Bhakti (7.5, Rs. 2.50 lakh), 7-8. Soumya, Srija (7.5 each, Rs. 2 lakh each), 9-10. Arpita and Varshini (7.5 each, Rs. 1.50 lakh each).