'I want to improve my rating'

WHEN Nisha Mohota went to bed in room No. 5 at Hotel Taj Residency in Kozikode on the night of August 19, she was only an International Woman Master. Or so she believed.

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

Nisha Mohota is being felicitated by the AICF Secretary P. T. Ummer Koya (left) and the Kozhikode District Collector, T. O. Sooraj. — Pic. RAMESH KURUP-

WHEN Nisha Mohota went to bed in room No. 5 at Hotel Taj Residency in Kozikode on the night of August 19, she was only an International Woman Master. Or so she believed.

She woke up the next morning to learn that she had already become a Woman Grandmaster. She hadn't known that her life's most recurring dream had come true. (She had been awarded the title by FIDE at its presidential board meeting in Nigeria.)

She wasn't aware of that till her father broke the news to her in the morning. And what a busy morning and afternoon it turned out to be!

She drew her fourth round game with compatriot Koneru Chandra Hawsa in the Asian women's championship. Then she was felicitated at a function arranged by the All India Chess Federation (AICF) and the organising committee of the Asian meet. She was congratulated among others by the Kozhikode District Collector, T. O. Sooraj, who is showing a keen interest in chess now, much to the delight of the AICF Secretary P. T. Ummer Koya.

She also addressed a press conference. She then had to give a few one-on-one interviews to different television channels as well as some newspapers. The local media was celebrating the Asian championship, and Nisha was one more story.

She had promised to talk to The Sportstar later in the day, when she will have more time to spare. ("Any time, you just give me a ring."). At about 9.30 in the night Nisha began talking about her dreams, the frustrations and her ambitions.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: So how does it feel now, WGM Nisha Mohota?

Answer: I'm happy of course. And I feel very relieved too. I was feeling very nervous about my third norm. There were times when I was thinking that I might have to do it all over again. You know, becoming a WGM has been my dream right from my early days in chess. Yes, I know every chess player wants to be a Grandmaster some day, but I wanted to be India's first WGM.

Don't you feel you have taken a longer time than you should have for your title? You were just 14 when you became an IWM, and that was in 1995.

Yes, I do feel that I should have become a WGM long ago. But then, I haven't had that many opportunities to try for my norms, as I have been exceptionally unlucky at the National women's `A' championships. So I could not find a place in the Indian team as frequently as I would have wanted to.

That's true. You failed to make it to the Indian team during Olympiad years. Quite unlike your colleague at LIC, Pallavi Shah, who would qualify to the Indian team only in Olympiad years.

Both the National women's `A' and `B' championships have given me so many heartburns over the years. I don't know why I do badly in those tournaments. I was happy with the way I played this year's women's `A' in Mumbai, but I feel I could have won the title with a better finish. And women's `B' has often been a nightmare for me. I'm glad that I don't have to go back there, as I am now seeded directly for the women's `A'. My most disappointing women's `A' was in Mumbai in 1998. I started with a 4/4 score which included my first ever win with some top players. Then I needed to score 1.5 points from the last three rounds to finish inside the top four and thus qualify for the Olympiad. And I had already met all the players who were doing well in that tournament. My opponents in the last three rounds were Neha Singh, Purabi Singha and Safira Shanaz, all of whom were woefully out of form and were lying in the bottom half. Everyone thought that I would make it to the Indian team very easily. I also had no reason to think otherwise. After playing a draw I required just one point from two rounds and I lost both the games. The last one was with Safira, on June 14. It was the wedding anniversary of my parents, who had sacrificed so much for my career. I really felt very sad.

How do you look back at your more pleasant experiences at the 2001 Moscow World championship? You were the only Indian woman to get past the opening round.

It was my first ever tournament in Moscow. Earlier in 1999, when I went for the World junior championship in Armenia, I had to go via Moscow. While returning from Armenia we did not get flight tickets and so we had to stay for a day in Moscow. I love all the countries from the former USSR. Chess enjoys enormous popularity there, like cricket does in India. The best thing is that if the spectators are watching a game and if they are the supporters of a player who wins, they clap! (though other players may get disturbed). It really feels great when people applaud after being impressed by your game. After I won my tie-break game in the first round against Tatiana Stepovaia-Diachenko of Russia, all the Indian players and managers who were watching my game started clapping. I really felt so great... so happy! All the other Indian players had lost and it was up to me to keep the Indian flag flying. After every move, I used to look at the Indian flag, which was there next to my scoresheet. It gave me a lot of confidence. I wanted to do something for my country. I said to myself that I was coming from a great country, which had produced such a star player as Anand. How could all of us lose in the first round? I must say that I owe a lot for my performance in the World championship to my colleague at LIC, IM Atanu Lahiri, one of the best players of Kolkata, and our coach in Moscow, Alexander Lyssenko. And, of course, I am also indebted to a gentleman called Kumar Ramachandran.

It must have been exciting to sit in the same hall with most of the big names in world chess.

It certainly was. It was really great to be there in the midst of all the great players. I could not believe I was playing in the same hall as Anand, Shirov, Topalov...

You qualified for the Moscow championship from the Asian championship in Chennai, where you were threatening to run away with the title before China's Li Ruofan, the eventual champion, stopped you. You won the bronze nevertheless.

You know, before the Asian championship, I thought that year, 2001, was going to be the worst year of my life. Nothing was going right for me. I did not prepare much for the Asian meet. Actually, I had prepared well for the National Women's `A', which was held in June in Delhi. After qualifying from the National `B' in February that year, I really worked hard for three months. I wanted to be the National champion. I had spent some eight to nine hours on an average for three months continuously. But I finished a disappointing sixth. I was really heart-broken after that. Then I had a dismal performance in National Women's `B' in Visakhapatnam. So, I hardly prepared for the Asian tourney. I was fed up. When I started from Kolkata for Chennai, I told everyone at home and at my office that I was going there just to enjoy chess and enjoy my stay. I didn't go there with any expectations. I was not aiming at success there. Earlier, during the Asian men's event in Calcutta, I was a spectator and was really impressed by the games of the eventual champion Xu Jun. He was a spectator's delight as he played every game for a win. I think he is a great fighter. So my aim in the Asian championship was to play games that would be entertaining to the spectators. I may not have played the best moves in all the positions but I tried to play the most interesting ones. It really helped to play without pressure there. I was happy with my performance. It was a much-needed break for me and I think that I deserved it! It was of course my best performance ever. I had always thought that the players who get to stand on the victory podium in the international event were so great. So, it was nice to find myself there! It was my first medal in an international meet.

Besides the 2001 Asian meet, which performances rank highly in your own list?

The 1995 Asian zonal would be second in that list. I was so young then and I got an opportunity to play only because the number of entries was odd. I had finished fifth in the women's `A' that year. And I will always cherish that tournament because I got my IWM title directly there. And I held the record for being India's youngest IWM till 1999. Then comes the National women's `A' this year, though it was disappointing not to have won it. Then the 1999 World junior championship, where I really played well, though I could finish only ninth in the end.

Now that you've got your WGM title, what is your next goal?

I want to improve my rating, and I would also to want to get a men's IM title. I hope to play in more men's tournaments.

Which areas of your game do you think you have to improve?

I feel I need to work on all the three aspects — the opening, the middle-game and the ending. I know I have to work really hard to move on to a higher level.

Who are your favourite players? Anand, Shirov and Sasikiran. Sasi is amazing, isn't he?

Absolutely. It's incredible the way he has been playing over the last two or three years. At this rate I won't be surprised even if he becomes the World champion!

Who are the young Indian players you are impressed with?

(Dronavalli) Harika. I think she is going to be a wonderful player.

How do you relax?

I like to listen to music. I love listening to the old Hindi film songs by Lata (Mangeshkar).