A beautiful mind

Tania Sachdev... making rapid strides.-RAJEEV BHATT

The Delhi-based Woman Grandmaster, Tania Sachdev, was in great form in Chennai, as she finished unbeaten in the 11-round National women's `A' championship. She scored five wins, including the one against the top-seed and six-time champion S. Vijayalakshmi, writes P.K. Ajith Kumar.

Her face hasn't launched a thousand products yet. It perhaps could have, if she were playing a more glamorous sport. Not that Tania Sachdev, India's most glamorous chess player, is complaining.

More than the hair conditioners and the foundation creams, it is the variations in Sicilian Defence and the techniques in the end-game that she has always been more concerned about. On December 17, in Chennai, Tania's sweet smile looked even sweeter. Because India's prettiest chess player had just become India's 13th National women's `A' champion; the fact that there have been just 12 champions before her in the 33-year history of the country's premier domestic tourney for women would prove that it is not the easiest of titles to win.

The Delhi-based Woman Grandmaster was in great form in Chennai, as she finished unbeaten in the 11-round event. She scored five wins, including the one against the top-seed and six-time champion S. Vijayalakshmi. Tania has come of age, finally.

She is happy that she won a strong tournament featuring all of India's top female players excluding Koneru Humpy, who has stopped playing in the event anyway. "I am feeling on top of the world," she told Sportstar. "I would say this is my finest triumph. Yes, I rate this even ahead of the Asian junior championship I won in 2002 in Sri Lanka. I thought my games were pretty good in Chennai."

The 20-year-old BA (Literature) Honours student says she enjoyed the new format of the National women's `A' — Swiss league.

"It was exciting and there were very few quick draws. It really was a welcome change from the round robin system; there were just too many games, most of which would end in draws anyway. The Swiss league is so much more fun and pretty unpredictable."

A bit unpredictable Tania's chess was, too, until a year ago. Ever since she made headlines as an eight-year-old prodigy who picked up five medals at the British championship in 1994, she had often struggled to fulfil the obvious promise.

She had her moments under the sun, yes, by doing well in the National and Asian age-group championships, but somehow she couldn't display the consistency that separated the champions from the good players.

For the last year or so, though, she has been playing the best chess of her life. "Yes, I have rarely played better," she admits.

The victory in Chennai somewhat compensates for the disappointment at Istanbul in November, when she was in with a chance to win the World junior girls' title.

She hadn't recovered from that setback when one met her in Mumbai during the Commonwealth championship. "I had messed it up in the end," she had said. "You know, it was my last chance in an age-group tournament; I felt really sad."

In Mumbai, just about everyone wanted to pose for photographs with Nigel Short, the champion and former World No. 3 from England. But he himself wanted to take a picture with Tania.

"You look stunning, Tania," he even complimented her. "That's because I am wearing Indian clothes," was the modest reply from Tania, who indeed looked good in a black salwar kameez. Just as her future does on the black and white squares.