Feeling young among youngsters

WGM S. Vijayalakshmi during the National women’s team chess championship in Hyderabad.-PICS. V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

“The fact that we see so many Woman Grandmasters from India is perhaps a reminder that women’s chess is growing, and this is a good sign as many youngsters are developing a passion for the sport,” says S. Vijayalakshmi, India’s first WGM. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Subbaraman Vijayalakshmi loves Hyderabad for the simple reason that, it was here in July 2000 that she became India’s first Woman Grandmaster. Nearly 13 years later, when she played a significant role in guiding Air India to victory in the National women’s team championship (February 17-26), it was a gentle reminder that this suave WGM from Chennai relishes playing in the city.

“Yes, I always enjoyed playing in this city. And I vividly remember the golden phase that followed my WGM title in 2000 when I also won the IM title,” recalled Vijayalakshmi.

According to the 33-year-old chess player, the demise of her father in 2007 was a huge setback and it put some sort of a break in the progress of her career. “My dad was a major influence on me. I was always in touch with him, from wherever I was playing, for he was a very good chess coach,” she recalled.

“I am trying to get back into the groove, working really hard,” Vijayalakshmi said with a gentle smile even as her son Aryan kept tugging at the trophy that his proud mother had won a few moments ago for her team Air India.

Vijayalakshmi is aware of the huge challenges that lie ahead. “Time is a crucial factor now. I know it is going to be very difficult, but I am confident of making a mark as the days go by. Fortunately, this is a sport where age is no barrier. It all depends on how well you prepare and in how many events you compete,” said the six-time winner of the National women’s championships.

“My husband (Grandmaster Sriram Jha) played a big role in helping me achieve three men’s GM norms, an accomplishment achieved by only a few women in the world,” Vijayalakshmi said.

“With each passing day, I feel more and more young in chess. There is so much to learn and enjoy, and probably that could be the reason why I am still able to compete with the youngsters.

“When I look back at my achievements, I feel really blessed. Nevertheless, I am definitely not going to rest on my laurels; instead I am looking ahead to a future filled with chess,” she said.

Referring to the trends in the game, especially in the women’s section, she is of the view that it has changed a lot. “The biggest plus is the technology you have now. This is helping all those who are seriously into the sport and have a goal to achieve,” said Vijayalakshmi, a pioneer in a way in setting new benchmarks for the younger generation to emulate.

“The fact that we see so many WGMs from India is perhaps a reminder that women’s chess is growing, and this is a good sign as many youngsters are developing a passion for the sport,” she added.

Vijayalakshmi appears to be in the mood to give the younger players a run for their money. She showed hints of her stature when she fought back from very difficult positions in the team championship in Hyderabad, much to the delight of the purists.

“I am a big fan of Gary Kasparov. And I always believe my biggest strength is that I never give up easily,” said the champion player, whose sister Meenakshi is also a WGM.

An avid reader of the Bhagavad Gita, Vijayalakshmi has an interesting approach when it comes to battles on the chessboard. “Once I settle down, I don’t think about my opponent or her rating. Nothing bothers me, as I am focused only on how best I can come up with the right moves,” she said.