Criticism spurs her to greater heights

RAKESH RAO

When Tania won her maiden women’s National crown in Chennai in December 2006, there were many, including some officials of the All India Chess Federation, who dismissed the achievement as a ‘fluke’. When she retained the title as the only unbeaten player in Pune, even her worst critics had to agree grudgingly, writes Rakesh Rao.

For more than a decade, Tania Sachdev remained the poor, rich girl of Indian chess. Her achievements were often dismissed and hard work overlooked. The attention given by the media was seen as “undeserving” by a majority of those who could not accept a Delhi girl doing well in a sport where players from the north were often among the also-rans.

If Tania were a golfer, like her brother, or a tennis player, none would have cared to dismiss her talent because of the way she carries herself. Since this happy-go-lucky girl does not conform to the ‘image’ of a serious chess player, as perceived in the nation’s chess circle, she has faced undue criticism for years.

But in the last 11 months, Tania has done enough to silence her detractors and attract more admirers than ever before.

Performing beyond expectations, Tania bagged two back-to-back National women’s titles and in between, the Asian women’s crown and a Grandmaster norm. What came as a “bonus” was the 20-game International Master norm that accompanied the Asian title. That meant Tania had met the technical requirement of being an International Master.

Winning the Asian title ahead of a strong brigade from China has made even the most stubborn cynics take note of this gritty campaigner. The attention moved from her presentable looks to laboured performances. It is not that Tania lacked achievements. She only lacked genuine appreciation. Now, for change, accolades are coming her way.

Grandmaster Abhijit Kunte, who saw Tania win her second successive National title in Pune recently, hailed her success. “The quality of her games has surely improved in the past year. Her play looks more sharp, solid and compact. Undoubtedly, she is among the best in the country at the moment,” said Kunte.

When Tania won her maiden women’s National crown in Chennai in December 2006, there were many, including some officials of the All India Chess Federation, who dismissed the achievement as a ‘fluke’. When she retained the title as the only unbeaten player in Pune, even her worst critics had to agree grudgingly.

How does Tania react to all the criticism?

“I am aware of the criticism that I’ve faced all these years. That has never made me angry but steeled my resolve to perform better,” reveals this English Literature graduate from the Delhi University.

“Unlike some of the girls from my peer group, I have continued with my academics and other interests. I socialise and spend time on what I like to do, like any girl of my age. What people overlook is the fact that for me to prepare and perform in chess, it takes double the effort than most others. I play chess because of the joy it brings. Even watching movies, or going out with friends, make me happy.

But I’ve never sacrificed my chess for friends or vice-versa. I know I am very fortunate, that my parents have supported me all along. They’ve taught me how to strike a balance between playing chess and leading a normal life. I guess I’ve managed both pretty well,” says Tania, whose well-rounded personality and honesty comes across strikingly, particularly when compared to some of the frontline players in the country.

A well-travelled, well-read lady like Tania is a good ambassador for Indian women’s chess. She is articulate, presentable and noticeably humble. Her photogenic looks have made her one of the favourites for the Capital’s newspaper supplements. Apart from potential and performances, what sets Tania apart is her demeanour. She qualifies to be the face of Indian women’s chess.

“One day, I want to become a television newsreader,” says Tania, admitting that she is fascinated by the job of a newscaster. “But I am in no hurry. At the moment, I am really enjoying the way I am playing. For now, news-reading can wait,” declares this 20-year-old, known to speak her mind.

A closer look at the making of Tania the champion reveals that she has been remarkably consistent. Today, Tania enjoys her best rating of 2413 and is placed 46th among the ladies.

Tania Sachdev and Koneru Humpy at the launch of an online Grandmaster chess championship in Bangalore.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Tania Sachdev and Koneru Humpy

For someone who has been playing competitive chess since 1992, Tania holds a unique record of being a top-10 finisher in each of her appearances in the World age-group championships. A bronze medallist in the World (under-12) girls’ category in 1998, she narrowly missed being in the medal-bracket quite a few times.

At the Asian level, Tania has won gold medals in the under-20 and under-14 sections.

Fortunate to get timely coaching and guidance from Delhi’s G. B. Joshi, Tania has worked with International Master Varugeese Koshy, Grandmasters Michael Krasenkow and Elizbar Ubilava from time to time. Since late 2006, IM Vishal Sareen has given Tania a lot of confidence by helping her understand the mental aspect of the game better.

Overall, Tania is a perfect example of how hardwork can help in getting commendable results in spite of limited talent.

No doubt, there are more talented girls playing chess in this country, but Tania has worked harder on her chess to make her results more visible. Aware that her hardwork is invisible to most in the country’s chess circle, an undeterred Tania is determined to let the results reflect her