National Women's C'ship: Vijayalakshmi eyes another title

S. Vijayalakshmi, the country’s most seasoned woman Grandmaster, is looking to prove herself all over again when the 43rd edition of the women's national chess championship begins in New Delhi on Thursday.

S. Vijayalakshmi has won the women's national chess championship six times.   -  S. R. Raghunathan

When it comes to the women’s national chess championship, S. Vijayalakshmi can safely be said to have been there, done that. A six-time champion, the country’s most seasoned woman Grandmaster is looking to prove herself all over again when the 43rd edition of the premier event begins here on Thursday.

“I am not here to come second,” declares the veteran, who is back to make up for the time devoted to motherhood. She is clearly the country’s strongest lady player not to become a Grandmaster. She has the required GM norms but needs to raise her rating to 2500 from the present 2390.

Going by her stupendous showing in the Chennai Open in January and her victorious campaign in the national Challenger in June, this title could well be Vijayalakshmi’s. The fourth seed needs no reminding that the competition in this year’s race for the title is going to be tough.

The 12-player field is led by Eesha Karavade, who has returned to the national championship after five years. Rated 2425, Eesha has stayed away from the events in India in order to play stronger events abroad and add to her maiden GM norm.

“I am in good shape and looking forward to a good event. Obviously, everyone in the field wants to win the title. But I am ready to take it a round at a time and feel that I have the game to go all the way,” said Eesha.

For Eesha and Vijayalakshmi, the challengers include five other former champions – Padmini Rout, Mary Ann Gomes, Swati Ghate, Nisha Mohota and Soumya Swaminathan.

High rating

Moreover, the field’s average rating is 2281, something considered very high in a domestic women’s event. There are 11 players, as per their standings in the national challengers, with defending champion Padmini completing the line-up.

Padmini is looking for a hat-trick of titles, something that Mary has already achieved. For Swati and Nisha, among the more experienced players, the wait for a second title has stretched to a decade.

Soumya, also a former World junior girls’ champion, has missed the title narrowly in the past. Going by Soumya’s performance in the Chess Olympiad in Baku in September, her chances cannot be written off.

R. Vaishali has proved herself beyond doubt at the age-group levels with amazing consistency. M. Mahalakshmi, the surprise runner-up to Vijayalakshmi in the national challenger is capable of upstaging some of the bigger names.

Pratyusha Bodda has come up with several brilliant individual results. Kiran Manisha Mohanty, however, has struggled to live up to the expectations that her Oriya colleague Padmini met in keeping with the promise. P. Bala Kannamma, the lowest rated player in the fray, has everything to gain in such an elite field.

The players, with rating: 1. Eesha Karavade (2425), 2. Padmini Rout (2374), 3. Mary Ann Gomes (2306), 4. S. Vijayalakshmi (2390), 5. Soumya Swaminathan (2386), 6. R. Vaishali (2300), 7. Pratyusha Bodda (2289), 8. Nisha Mohota (2262), 9. Swati Ghate (2260), 10. M. Mahalakshmi (2185), 11. Kiran Manisha Mohanty (2117), 12. P. Bala Kannamma (2073).

First round pairings: Eesha-Mary; Pratuysha-Padmini; Vaishali-Bala; Kiran-Vijayalakshmi; Swati-Mahalakshmi; Soumya-Nisha.