Full of promise

M. VEDHAN

With talent, support and opportunities in abundance, a confident Padmini Rout is looking ahead to attain greater glory, writes Rakesh Rao.

Padmini Rout has made a habit of exceeding expectations. For the better part of the past decade, the girl from Bhubaneswar has been hitting headlines with the moves she makes over the chessboard.

A bronze-winning performance in the recent World junior girls' championship in Poland is just another example of how Padmini, 16, has made a habit of producing the unexpected.

Starting as the 11th strongest rated player in the fray, the curly-haired Padmini straightened out the spiral route and gate-crashed into the medal bracket. In the gruelling 13-round competition, Padmini scored eight wins, drew four and lost only to the eventual champion and top-seeded International Master Anna Muzychuk of Slovenia.

Though Padmini was not seeded to be among the medals, she made it through a late charge. She won two of the last three games before signing off with a draw in the final round to tally 10 points that earned her a medal.

“In the competition, I had chances to win at least a couple of more games but missed out. But overall, I am glad. I performed well enough to gain close to 50 rating points,” said the Class XI student of DAV Public School.

She is currently the ninth strongest female player in the country with an international rating of 3226. Padmini, the 2009 Asian junior girls' (under-19) champion, is the country's latest Woman Grandmaster. It is indeed a creditable achievement for someone hailing from Orissa, a State not known to produce great chess players.

In 2008, Padmini became the first Indian to concurrently hold the World and Asian titles for girls (under-14) in addition to the National (under-13) crown. Seldom has a girl swept all the titles at stake at the world, continental and national level in one age-group in a given year.

Ever since she started playing, rather late, at the age of nine, Padmini has covered a lot of ground. She has made the medal bracket in several National and Asian age-group competitions.

Wisely, Padmini does not find her Commonwealth age-group medals worthy of accolades. She needs no reminding that in the Commonwealth championship, medals winners are determined, not just by performance, but also the age and preference of the player — something unheard of in any other competitive sport, at any level.

Padmini Rout won the Orissa State's Ekalabya Award in 2008.-ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

Younger of two daughters of Dr. Ashok Kumar Rout and Sasmita Dhall, Padmini is most satisfied by the manner she played on her way to the gold medal in the 2008 World under-14 event at Vungtau, Vietnam.

“I think I played some very good games, consistently exploited the weaknesses of my opponents and ensured the gold with a round to spare.”

As a player, Padmini tries to play all positions over the board and relies on her “confidence” to deal with the challenges. “I love to play actively in open positions.” More than the age-group tournaments, Padmini likes to play in open tournaments because there is less pressure on her to win every time.

Over the years, Padmini has learnt to prepare for the competitions much on her own. She looks to specialised training only in the days leading to the World and Asian age-group championships. Thrice in as many years, she has trained with Ukrainian Grandmaster Georgy Timoshenko.

In the initial years, soon after Padmini's father introduced her to the game, she was not too keen to work hard. “I did not like the idea of playing the game. But once I started winning trophies and medals, I liked the feeling. It was only after that, I started working hard on improving my game,” was the candid admission from this talented girl.

Since then, Arati Bijoy Mohanty, Rajesh Kumar Sahu, S. R. Patnaik, International Masters Neeraj Kumar Mishra, Shekhar Sahu, S. Satyapragyan and GM R. B. Ramesh have taken turns to hone Padmini's skills.

“I also owe a lot to K. D. Pillay, who is more than 80 years old, for being such a positive influence. I am also indebted to Subash Satpathy for all the guidance,” says Padmini, clearly full of gratitude for those who have shared their knowledge of the game with her.

These days, Padmini is benefiting from a three-year sponsorship commitment from SCS Group and one-year scholarship from ONGC. “SCS has come to my aid at the right time and they fund my participation in various tournaments both at home and abroad,” says the youngster.

With a support structure firmly in place, Padmini is focussed on striving harder towards her goal of becoming an International Master. Padmini's primary aim is to inch towards the rating of 2400 that will make her eligible for the IM title once she achieves the stipulated number of norms for the purpose.

So far, Padmini's consistent showing at the international age-group level has made her a star of sorts in Orissa. She clearly has it in her to move to the next level. With talent, support and opportunities in abundance, a confident Padmini is looking ahead to attain greater glory.