Face to face with Kasparov!

Nutakki Priyanka, like so many kids obsessed with chess in India, wants to become a Grandmaster and dreams of emulating Koneru Humpy. J. R. Shridharan profiles the under-10 champion.

Nutakki Priyanka was ecstatic when she won the world under-10 girls’ title with one round to spare. But her joy reached a peak when she received the coveted gold medal from none other than the legendary former world chess champion Garry Kasparov at Maribor (Slovenia) recently.

Priyanka (1576) did not know much about the phenomenal player from Baku but when she heard about his exploits from her coach V. R. Bobba, she was awe-struck. “It was an honour to receive the medal from Kasparov uncle,” said an elated Priyanka.

“Garry felt happy for the youngsters and explained how he could not win the world under-16 title in his two attempts and how he could make his mark only in the world under-20 event. It was a moment to cherish for the youngsters,” said Bobba, who accompanied the world champ. The tournament witnessed budding Indians finish with eight medals, including three gold, two silver and three bronze.

Seeded No. 33, Priyanka did not carry the pressure of being the tournament favourite and began her title quest in a resounding manner from the third round. “After two easy rounds against unrated players, Priyanka’s win against Anatova Gabriela (1683) of Bulgaria helped her get into the groove,” said Bobba.

Priyanka, who deployed openings such as Sicilian, Kid, London System and Benco, began to draw the attention of the critics by taming players rated above her. “In the entire event I was never in an inferior position,” said a beaming Priyanka.

Her eighth-round victory over favourite Zhu Jiner of China in 45 moves catapulted her to the top position. “It is heartening to see a youngster score victories against three Russians, three Americans and tame a Chinese on way to her title triumph. Interestingly, all of them were rated better than the Vijayawada girl,” said Grandmaster M. R. Lalith Babu.

Lalith felt that it was always a noteworthy achievement to enhance one’s rating in an official tournament than in a rated tournament.

“Priyanka could achieve this feat in the Asian edition in Sri Lanka and also at the World Championship.”

Bobba, who trained GM Pendyala Harikrishna in his formative years, felt that sensible dieting by his ward also played a vital role in improving her appetite to win the title. “Priyanka is a foodie. But a full belly is not good while playing a tournament. So she controlled herself and was content with finger chips, cornflakes and fruits.”

The efforts by Priyanka’s coach to rope in a senior coach, Vijayasaradhy, from Hyderabad proved fruitful as the 65-year-old veteran spent 45 days honing her skills. Priyanka, on a daily basis, spent a good amount of time playing with Teja Suresh and Potluri Supreetha, FIDE-rated players from her academy — the Mustabada Sports and Educational Aca-demy in Vijayawada.

Priyanka’s triumph helped her score 61 Elo points, thus making her eligible for the Woman Fide Master title. She also qualified for the Asian (Iran) and World (Dubai) under-12 championships next year.

Fitness plays as important a role in chess as a sharp intellect. And Priyanka keeps fit by playing badminton and table tennis.

Priyanka, like so many kids obsessed with chess in India, wants to become a Grandmaster and dreams of emulating Koneru Humpy.