National women’s chess: Four titles in a row for Padmini

On a dramatic final day, all her rivals draw.

Runner-up Bhakti Kulkarni (left), champion Padmini Rout (centre) and third-place winner Mary Ann Gomes at the National women's premier chess championship at Surat.   -  P. K. Ajith Kumar

Dressed in stunning sarees, they made the prettiest sight you could have imagined at a chess venue.

In what proved to be a smart move by the organisers of the Iwasa 44th National premier women’s chess championship, they gifted each of the 12 participants a saree and requested them to wear it for the closing ceremony. Padmini Rout wasn’t all that enthusiastic. Yet, on this chilly Wednesday night at the Surat Tennis Club, she looked radiant in her deep purple saree. More so when she smiled.

And she had a good reason to flash that disarming smile of hers: she had won her fourth title in a row. But she had won it in most dramatic of fashions.

Tuesday report: Exciting finale on the cards

The day had dawned with the possibilities of Cyclone Ockhi hitting this coastal city and with four players within striking distance of the ultimate crown in Indian women’s chess. Padmini, Bhakti, S. Meenakshi and Soumya Swaminathan all were on 6.5 points.

Padmini had won her final round game against Sakshi Chitlange, but her title depended on the results of other boards. They all drew, helping her move ahead of the crowd by half-a-point.

‘Relieved’

She finished with 7.5 points, while Bhakti, Mary and Soumya scored seven each and finished in that order. When Bhakti was held by Samriddhaa Ghosh, Padmini was relieved. Had the fourth seed won, she would have been the champion, for she had a better tie-breaker score. “I feel more relieved than happy,” said Padmini. “After playing so well and leading comfortably in the first half, I had some bad games in the second. And I needed some luck to win this title.”

But she deserved that luck and the prize money of Rs. 1,75,000. She had needed to beat Sakshi, which she did in 59 moves after opting to open with Reti. In a rook-and-minor-piece ending, she was about to go three pawns up when Black resigned.

Padmini also received unexpected help from the bottom-placed Srishti Pandey, who pulled off her second shock win in as many days. Her victim in the final round was veteran WGM S. Meenakshi, who could have been a most unlikely champion had she won.

In a King’s Indian game, Srishti won a pawn on the 21st move on her way to a superior rook-and-minor piece ending. Black gave up after 41 moves.

The standings
  • 1. Padmini Rout 7.5; 2-4. Bhakti Kulkarni, Mary Ann Gomes and Soumya Swaminathan 7; 5. S. Meenakshi 6.5; 6-7. P.V. Nandhidhaa and Swati Ghate 6; 8-9. Sakshi Chitlange and P. Bala Kannamma 4.5; 10-11. Samriddhaa Ghosh and Kiran Manisha Mohanty 3.5; 12. Srishti Pandey 3.

The results (11th round)
  • Padmini beat Sakshi; Samriddhaa drew with Bhakti; Soumya drew with Kannamma; Meenakshi lost to Srishti; Nandhidhaa lost to Mary; Swati drew with Kiran.