`It is good to win tournaments'

p. k. ajith kumar

SHE was wearing a black salwar for the prize distribution ceremony. It would not look good in the photographs, we felt. So we requested her: could she wear something else?

"I have one blue salwar and another one in brown," she said, "Would one of them be okay?"

We agreed upon the brown one, and she was back for the photo session in 10 minutes. That's Bhagyashree Thipsay for you. No airs, no hassles, ever ready to speak. She's been one player whom you could call up even late in the night for a quote.

She's been so all these years one has known her. She may no longer be a permanent fixture in the Indian team that she used to be. She may not be playing in as many tournaments as she used to be.

But Bhagyashree, 41, is still as passionate about chess as ever. And at Kozhikode, she showed she could still be one of the best in the country if she really puts her mind to it.

That mind was sharp and agile at the women's `B' championship, where she emerged the winner with an unbeaten record. She may have had to wait for the result of another game in the final round to ensure that she was indeed the champion.

That was because she had agreed to a quick draw in her final round game with Tania Sachdev, who needed half-a-point to qualify for the women's `A'. "Under normal circumstances I wouldn't have settled for a draw. I would've played," she said. "But since this tournament is all about qualification, I agreed for the draw."

The draw, as luck would have it, proved enough for her third National women's `B' crown in the end, as her closest rivals, M. R. Sangeetha and Koneru Chandra Hawsa, drew their game on the second board. If that encounter had produced a decisive result, Bhagyashree wouldn't have been the champion.

She said she was delighted that she won the title. "Of course qualifying is the first objective, but it's good to win tournaments. This, of course, is not a very strong event like the women's `A', but looking at the field you can say that there were some very good players here."

She regained the title she last won in Visakhapatanam two years ago. She couldn't defend her title last year in Pune, as she could not play there. She was going through a tough time then. Both she and her husband, Grandmaster (GM) Praveen Thipsay, had suffered severe health problems.

As a result of her opting out of the Pune women's `B', she missed a National women's `A' for the first time since she made her debut in 1979. She's won the women's `A' on five occasions.

When she did it for the first time, in 1985, she created history. She was the first woman outside the Khadilkar family to lift the senior National title. One of the three sisters, Vasanti, Jayashree or Rohini, had won the championship in its first 10 years. "It wasn't easy breaking the monopoly," she said. "I was made to feel uncomfortable when I made it to the Indian team for the Olympiad."

Bhagyashree, an assistant general manager at IDBI, Mumbai, has represented India in eight Olympiads. Her first one was in 1980 in Malta, and the last in Yerevan in 1996. She has made two Woman Grandmaster norms, and needs just one more to get the title. If she does that without taking too much time, the Thipsays could be the first GM couple in the country.

She was one of the older participants at Kozhikode, where the average age, as Evgeny Vladimirov, who was a regular visitor at the venue, pointed out, was probably less than 16. "Meeting the younger players is always a challenge," said Bhagyashree. "They are better prepared and more privileged. I wasn't familiar with some of the openings they played against me, so I had to take them out of the book at the earliest opportunity."

Even those well-prepared, well-equipped youngsters couldn't really stretch her. When in form, Bhagyashree is hard to beat and a delight to watch.

Very few women in India can match her in aggression over the board. She's a fiercely attacking player, but she's not rash.

All her aggression though is reserved only for chess.