Aarthie is the new queen

A new queen emerged in the National women's chess. WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy of Wipro ended WGM S. Vijayalakshmi's (Indian Airlines) five-year hold on the crown via the tie-breaker after both players had nine points each.

RAGHUNANDAN GOKHALE

WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy with the trophy. Aarthie pipped defending champion S. Vijayalakshmi via the tie-breaker after both the players had scored nine points.-Pic. SHASHI ASHIWAL

A new queen emerged in the National women's chess. WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy of Wipro ended WGM S. Vijayalakshmi's (Indian Airlines) five-year hold on the crown via the tie-breaker after both players had nine points each. This is Aarthie's maiden National women's `A' title. The championship was held along with the men's National `A' tournament.

Viji — as the six times National women's champion is known — India's first Woman Grandmaster, however, did not let go of the title without a fight and scored at will to be in the race. But her loss to Aarthie in the very first round ruined her chances, as the results against the top half are taken into consideration in the tie-breaking Koya system.

Teenager Mary Ann Gomes from Kolkata pulled out of the championship owing to personal reasons and the players received a bye in addition to a rest day. However, the players were not used to the slow pace of the championship. They had qualified after playing 11 rounds in six days of the National women's `B' championship. Playing 12 games in 15 days was perhaps not to the liking of the parents/accompanying persons who had to pay for their stay.

Aarthie started off with a bang. She played a gem of an attack to defeat Viji in the Spanish Opening. It was a dream start, which even Aarthie would not have imagined. In other first round matches, IWM Swathi Ghate (LIC) was shocked by Y. Pratibha (TN), while IWM Nisha Mohota (LIC) scored over Wipro girl Eesha Karavade. Unfancied J. E. Kavitha (TN) played well to hold IWM S. Meenakshi (IA).

Vijayalakshmi came back strongly to overpower J. E. Kavitha in Nimzo-Indian Defence. Aarthie defeated Swati Mohota while Nisha Mohota had to settle for a draw against giant killer Pratibha in a Sicilian Najdorf Defence. Teenager Kruttika Nadig, playing her first National Women's `A', troubled Swathi Ghate before the seasoned campaigner came back strongly to turn the tables.

In a game between two young players, IWM Dronavalli Harika outwitted Eesha Karavade from the black side of Sicilian Pelican Defence. Asian junior girls' champion IWM Tania Sachdev defeated experienced R. Sai Meera (BSB) in a Closed Italian game.

Aarthie took a slender half-point lead over her nearest rivals but it proved to be temporary as she missed some good moves and Tania held on grimly for a draw. In other matches, Harika and Nisha Mohota scored easy wins to join Aarthie at the top. Viji slid further down when she agreed for a `sisterly' draw with S. Meenakshi.

The fourth round witnessed a change of guard as Nisha Mohota scored a lucky win over out-of-form Swathi Ghate while Harika and Aarthie were held to draws by Kruttika and Eesha respectively. On a day of draws, Pratibha scored the only other win over Sai Meera. Vijayalakshmi had a bye.

Taking advantage of Nisha Mohota's bye in the fifth round, Aarthie once again moved ahead by outplaying Pratibha in a Scandinevian Defence. Swathi, who was showing signs of a comeback, held Harika to a draw. Viji scored over Swati Mohota to signal her arrival.

Aarthie produced her best game in the sixth round when she defeated Kruttika Nadig in an accurately played endgame. "I like it better than my win over Viji," Aarthie said at the end of the tournament. Tania's unbeaten run came to an end when she allowed Viji to come back from a minus position in another closed Italian game. Eesha, after losing the first two rounds, had her eyes set on the coveted IWM norm. She improved her chances with a win over Meenakshi.

Swathi showed glimpses of her form when she withstood pressure from Aarthie's bishops and drew the game in a Spanish Opening. Nisha kept up the chase by overpowering Sai Meera. Vijayalakshmi's win over Eesha helped her narrow the gap between her and Aarthie. Everything depended on the Nisha-Aarthie encounter in the eighth round. Nisha was in an at<147,2,1>tacking mood as she faced a Nimzo-Indian Defence. Aarthie did not handle the opening well and soon started dropping pawns. Nisha finished the game with a pleasing combination to take the lead. Aarthie and Vijayalakshmi were half a point behind. While Nisha and Viji had five games left, Aarthie had only four. Viji's win over Pratibha was a long game but the WGM did not mind the hard work as long as she was getting the results.

The leading positions remained unaffected as all three fancied players scored facile wins in the ninth round. Nisha's victory from the black side over Kavitha mattered the most, as she had been uncomfortable with the black pieces. Vijayalakshmi's patience and perseverance paid off when Kruttika made mistakes in time trouble and went down. It was a day to remember for Eesha Karavade as she got her maiden IWM norm when she drew with Tania Sachdev in the ninth round.

With just four more rounds to go, it appeared that Nisha would run away with the title. However, she could score just 1-1/2 points in the remaining four games. Viji's arch-rival Swathi Ghate struck when least expected. It was a Spanish Opening again. Swathi trained her pieces on the black king right from the word go. Viji relied unwisely on her queenside play and her queen and bishop battery for defence. However Swathi swarmed the black king with her army and checkmated Viji to pull off one of the most important wins of her career. Meenakshi held Nisha to a draw.

The 11th round was important for all the players as Nisha faced Vijayalakshmi and Aarthie had a bye. In an exhibition of determination and fighting spirit, Viji came back from a minus position to win the game against Nisha in a London system. Now, with just two more rounds to go, the championship was wide open with three leaders on 7.5 points.

The penultimate round produced the biggest surprise as tail-ender Swati Mohota played aggressively to hold little sister Nisha to a draw. This draw finished Nisha's chances for good. Twelve-year-old IWM Harika staked her claim for a seat in the Indian side when she drew with Vijayalakshmi in a grudge match played over 80 moves. Aarthie had little difficulty in defeating Kavitha and she took the lead once again.

Meenakshi messed up her chances and was fighting for sixth place. She came to the last round well prepared as she was playing not only for her place but was also aware of the fact that her performance would reflect on her sister's chances for the title. She opened with her pet Capablanca system against Aarthie's Nimzo-Indian Defence. By the time the game reached a crucial stage, Viji had defeated Sai Meera and Tania had drawn with Nisha Mohota. All eyes were glued to the Meenakshi-Aarthie game.

A win for Meenakshi would have changed the final composition of the placings dramatically. Meenakshi would have helped her sister retain her crown while she would have replaced Tania Sachdev in the sixth place. Aarthie's position was slowly going downhill against Meenakshi's determined attack. With the seconds ticking away on the clock, the players had to hurry with their moves.

With a win in sight, Meenakshi fumbled. She lost her queen and with that her winning chances. She kept on fighting and drew the game. Vijayalakshmi had lost her hold on the crown and citymate Aarthie became the new National women's champion.

Aarthie exhibited the qualities of a true fighter when fighting the odds. Her escape against Meenakshi was the result of her never-say-die attitude. She put up the best possible defence under such circumstances and it was Meenakshi who cracked under pressure. Aarthie's game is showing signs of maturity, as she is ready to play endgames instead of going for risky middlegames. Aarthie, the Wipro sponsored former World Under-18 girls' champion, who got engaged to her coach IM R. B. Ramesh on February 6, 2003, richly deserved her first place.

Aarthie thus ended Vijayalakshmi's monopoly over the National crown. Viji was not in her usual form and had trouble finding her rhythm even against the newcomers. But the Indian Airlines officer kept coming back from the brink of despair and nearly made it. Her losses from the black side of Spanish Defence cost her dearly.

Nisha Mohota is a player with a very high rating and has one WGM norm to her credit. Her poor finish robbed her of her maiden title but she played some good games. Particularly impressive was her demolition of Aarthie. A sound opening from black would have catapulted her to the first place.

Harika was the find of the championship. The tall 12-year-old from Andhra took her maiden entry into the Indian side and she has the potential to serve Indian chess for a long time. Her game against Eesha was particularly impressive as she managed to work herself out of trouble in a calm manner. Swathi Ghate and Meenakshi have been part of the Indian team for quite some time now and have very good exposure in the International circuits. However one bad tournament forced them to play the National women's `B' again. Swathi played indifferently but in her win over Viji she was in her attacking best. Tania Sachdev was bogged down by too many draws. However her sixth place earned her a chance to represent India in International tournaments.

Chief Arbiter R. C. Chatterjee and his team conducted the championship smoothly. The Venus Chess Academy and its President R. M. Dongre earned all-round praise for the facilities provided to the participants.

The final placings: 1. Aarthie Ramaswamy 9 (4/1); 2. S. Vijayalakshmi 9 (4/0); 3. Nisha Mohota 8.5 (4.5); 4. Dronavalli Harika 8.5 (4); 5. Swathi Ghate 8; 6. Tania Sachdev 6.5; 7. S. Meenakshi 6 (3); 8. Eesha Karavade 6 (2); 9. Y. Pratibha 4.5; 10. Kruttika Nadig 4; 11. Sai Meera 3.5; 12. Swati Mohota 2.5; 13. J. E. Kavitha 2.