Mary Ann remains the Queen

The triumphant Mary Ann Gomes.-S. PATRONOBISH

While Mary Ann Gomes — who was seeded second in the tournament — showed the right temperament and skill to tackle pressure, the top-seeded Tania Sachdev was undone by the adverse effect of expectations. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

Mary Ann Gomes infused a fresh strain of enthusiasm in women’s chess, reaching a milestone that has very few parallels in the history of the sport. The top player from Bengal won the National Premier Chess championship for women for the third time in a row to join Rohini Khadilkar and S. Vijayalakshmi (who won five times in a row), in the list of those to have recorded a hat-trick of titles.

The hat-trick cemented Mary Ann’s status as one of the new prospects in women’s chess, which has not seen much of new talent in recent times. The successful title defence, in the 40th edition of the championship, by the Bengal lass also saw drama and tension in keeping with a contest of the top order.

Mary Ann had been trailing Soumya Swaminathan of Petroleum — the sole leader with half a point lead in the ninth and tenth rounds — in the 11-round all-play-all format. The format this year was reverted to the older system of the round-robin league in which the top 12 players of the country, 10 of whom qualified from the National women’s challenger event, set up an absorbing contest.

Soumya, who had won the title in 2010 before Mary came to monopolise it, was poised to regain the crown, but she faltered at the last step, losing to the talented Padmini Rout of Odisha.

Soumya’s loss realigned the whole equation. Mary Ann drew her final round game, while Tania Sachdev of Air India made a winning finish as both caught up with Soumya to form a three-way tie with 7.5 points each. As Soumya struggled to control her tears after the loss, a smiling Mary Ann pocketed the crown for having the best tie-break score among the three. The 24-year-old was the only player in the tournament with an unbeaten record and that clinched the issue for her. Tania took the second spot while Soumya had to be content with the third position.

“I am getting used to winning such cliff-hangers. The situation was almost similar in the previous year’s championship where I became the winner in a four-way tie,” said Mary Ann after the win. “I have this rivalry going on with Soumya since the cadet stage. I remember winning the under-9 National title in 1998 in a similar situation where Soumya lost the last round and I became the winner,” she added while reminiscing on the long road travelled.

Tania Sachdev, the runnerup.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Mary Ann’s ascension to the top underlines her firm determination to excel against odds that she developed as a child after losing her mother to cancer. “The dreaded disease could never kill my mother’s spirit and she led a vigorous life surmounting the pain and sufferings. She has always remained my inspiration,” said Mary Ann as her father Charles Gomes stood beside her quietly admiring his daughter’s fortitude.

“I am grateful to my father, whose mentoring and wisdom has shown me the path to this stage,” Mary Ann added in the same breath.

The young champion said her next target will be the GM title. “I have broken into 2400 (rating points) this year and also confirmed the IM title. I will have to switch to the higher stage and play bigger tournaments to acquire the GM norms,” Mary said. She had previously won the Asian junior girls’ title three times in a row (2006-2008). “My game has become a lot better ever since I started training under coach Neeraj Mishra. I have become mentally strong and have also made improvement in a lot of technical areas,” Mary said, looking at the future.

While Mary Ann — who was seeded second in the tournament — showed the right temperament and skill to tackle pressure, the top-seeded Tania was undone by the adverse effect of expectations, losing a couple of rounds early in the tournament. Despite making a spectacular recovery by winning a few good rounds, Tania could not realise the dream of regaining the title that she had won successively in 2006 and 2007.

The final placings

1. Mary Ann Gomes (Ben) 7.5, 2. Tania Sachdev (AI) 7.5, 3. Soumya Swaminathan (PSPB) 7.5, 4. Padmini Rout (Odi) 7, 5. Swati Ghate (LIC) 6, 6. Nisha Mohota (PSPB) 5.5, 7. Ivana Maria Furtado (Goa) 5, 8. Bhakti Kulkarni (Goa) 4.5, 9. Kiran Manisha Mohanty (LIC) 4.5, 10. B. Pratyusha (AP) 4.5, 11. G. K. Monnisha (TN) 3.5, 12. Michelle Catherina (TN) 3.