Carving a niche for herself

NOT so long ago, Eesha Karavade gave the impression of being a little girl lost in the growing world of chess.

RAKESH RAO

NOT so long ago, Eesha Karavade gave the impression of being a little girl lost in the growing world of chess. With an appearance that made Eesha look much younger than her years, the older girls did not consider her a serious contender for honours in major competitions.

MAHESH HARILAL

But today, a quietly confident Eesha has reasons to stand tall. She has carved a niche for herself among the elite ladies through a series of noticeable performances. Today, this 17-year-old from Pune is the country's eighth Woman Grandmaster (WGM). What is incredible about Eesha's feat is that she did it in just seven years of making her first move on the chessboard.

By making her WGM title-norm in Dubai this April, Eesha became the first Indian girl to complete all three norms in the space of just eight months. In the process, she brought India its first bronze from the World junior girls championship, held in Kochi last year.

Noted Kazakh coach Evgeny Vladimirov, who has conducted a few coaching camps that had Eesha, came up with an interesting observation. "Eesha is reliable and plays practical chess. She has a profitable approach and her chess is balanced. She is looking for normal, sensible moves and more often than not, takes correct decisions. Her replies are most sensible and she does not let herself down over the board."

Eesha's journey in the cerebral game began from the day her dentist father, Sanjay, took her to a local chess tournament. She was 10 years `old' (as much as Grandmaster K. Sasikiran when chess caught his fancy) and it did not take her long to get deeply interested in moving the pieces.

It was here that Eesha's upbringing and ambience at home came in handy in nursing her untapped talent. Armed with logical thinking and backed by encouraging parents, Eesha was soon testing her skills in competitions. As it turned out, she finished runner-up in the National girls (under-12) championship at Ahmedabad in 1998. The following year, Eesha not only won the title but also returned to Ahmedabad to claim her first international medal by finishing runner-up in the Asian (under-12) championship.

The early coaching from veteran Mohan Phadke (coach of GM Abhijit Kunte) had begun to bear fruits for Eesha.

In the following years, Eesha added age-group medals from the Asian, Commonwealth and British championships. "The medals from the British and Commonwealth championship are good for your confidence but beyond that, I don't think much about them," says Eesha knowing well the lack of quality competition in the British championship and the format followed in "distributing" age-group medals in the Commonwealth championship.

A major turning point in Eesha's career came when she finished runner-up to D. Harika in the 2002 Women's National `B' championship at home. "That was after a very consistent performance and meant a lot to me," says Eesha. The qualification to the National `A' gave Eesha another chance to prove that she was good enough to be part of the big league.

Eesha's career took wings in 2003 when, in the space of seven months, she completed three norms required for the Woman International Master title. She started her norm-collection in the National `A' in Mumbai where she finished sixth. The next norm came in the Asian Team Championship in Jodhpur and the final one followed in the World junior championship in Azerbaijan.

MAHESH HARILAL

Eesha's steady rise in ratings kept her focussed and encouraging results continued. She began 2003 with a rating of 2192 and reached 2270 by next January. She was inactive for the first three months of 2004 due to her Class XI exams but made up for the lost time in a telling manner.

After playing in Czech Republic, Eesha returned home for the Pune International Open and made her maiden WGM norm in September. "I played very well. I drew with GM Shukhrat Safin, beat (now IM) Balasubramanium, and held other IMs like S. Kidambi and R. R. Laxman." This was bound to do wonders to Eesha's confidence and she looked ahead for more. These results were instrumental in Eesha crossing the mark of 2300 rating points in October.

Eesha worked hard with Andhra Pradesh's coach M. Srinivasa Rao and the results were for everyone to see in the World junior championship, where she finished brilliantly to win the bronze. As a result of some fine showing in the second half of 2004, Eesha's rating reached 2360 in January 2005.

In Dubai, Eesha produced her best ever rating performance of 2433 and made the WGM title in style. "My score of 4.5 from nine rounds was fine but I could have gained at least half a point more off my games from round five to seven," said Eesha on arrival.

The high point of Eesha's performance was the victory over Ukrainian GM Alexander Areshchenko (rated at 2595). Though Eesha lost the GMs Ashot Anastasian (2574), Solak Dragan (2582) and Maxim Sorokin (2599), the high average rating of her rivals kept alive her chances of a final norm. "I lost an equal position to Anastasian. I should have drawn this one," lamented Eesha.

In the last two rounds, Eesha defeated P. Doostkam of Iran and then drew with Syria's Adel Omearat to finish the job on hand. She also ensured 15 rating points.

Having gained the WGM title, Eesha is hoping for a sponsor to come her way. For two years, ending December 2004, IT giant Wipro had subsidised her chess expenditure before discontinuing the support to some of the other young chess players as well. Looking at Eesha's growth as a player in the last two years, there is no doubt that this is the time when she needs corporate support to scale a new high.