Middlegame is her forte

Published : Oct 06, 2001 00:00 IST


INDIA'S best bet in the upcoming World women's chess championship in Moscow will be the Indian Airlines star, S. Vijayalakshmi. Recently she finished second in the Asian women's chess championship. The 22-year-old from Chennai is a born fighter and her forte is the middlegame. She acknowledges that the competition from Koneru Humpy is up on her.

Having several records like India's first Woman Grandmaster and the country's first woman player to become an International Master on the men's side, Vijayalakshmi is aiming for the men's Grandmaster title.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview to The Sportstar:

* Being the top seed in the Asian women's championship, was it a pressure playing at home?

Answer: Definitely there was a lot of pressure playing in Chennai. I am playing here after a very long time, about five years or so. The pressure was more and along with that I had to prove myself.

* You started as the top seed but finished second. Were you concentrating mainly on qualifying for the world meet?

Obviously I played for the title. If I had played for qualification I could have drawn some more games like the one against Li Ruofan. Against her I was pressing too hard.

* Four Indians qualified while only three Chinese made it. Do you think that Indian women are dominating Asian chess?

The Asian men's championship and the women's titles have been won by the Chinese. Although there are four Indian qualifiers, by winning the title here they showed that they are still superior to us. I think we still have a long way to go to catch up with them.

* Then, do you think that the Chinese were tired coming from Greece?

Yes. I definitely think so. The Chinese players fared very badly. I was expecting tough competition from them. I had lost to Zhao Xue two years back in the Asian Team championship at Shenyang. I was expecting her to play well. Somehow, she and Gu Xiaobing were not in good form. Of course Meenakshi also played badly after the world junior championship. Maybe if they had some more time, they would have played better.

* Which was your best game and which were the games of concern?

The game against Wang Yu was definitely the best because it was very well played by both of us. It had a lot of technique. I was not really worried about the result. I was very happy with the way I played. And, I was worried when I was playing Anjela Khegay because I was not too sure of the position. In the game against Sergeeva Maria I was a pawn down but I was pretty confident in that position because I knew her king side was weak. But for these I was comfortable in all the other games.

* In the final round, did you feel disappointed that Swati lost to Li Ruofan thereby dashing your hopes of winning the title?

I could make out that Swati was not playing too confidently. Even before the game I was not intending to find out what was going to happen in that game. My position was deteriorating because I was trying too hard. I felt sorry that she (Swati) lost. I felt that she could have at least drawn the game.

* What do you feel about the new five-star culture for women players?

This is a good development and provides a good ambience. It is cool, you need not worry about anything else but the game when you are playing there. If this culture is maintained in all tournaments for women it will be better. I am sure this is a very good sign.

* Are you satisfied with the total prize money offered for the event ($8,000) or would you like to compare it to the men's event and feel there are still miles to go?

I don't know if it is miles (laughs)... I think it is planets to go (laughs). Because the difference between eight thousand dollars and 64,000 dollars is vast. I would rather not think about the men's prize money. It makes the whole thing sickening. Why the hell do I have to play in women's tournaments? But these things have been there for years together. It can't change in one day. I have stopped talking about the prize money. I think this is also happening in other sports.

* You are obviously our best bet out of the five in the World championship for women in Moscow. What can we expect from you this time?

Definitely a better performance than the one in Delhi last year. I have decided to start preparing seriously for this tournament. I really want to play some good chess this time and not worry about the knock-out system about which I was worried last year. I want to keep my cool and aim for the title.

* If the Asian women's tournament had been staged outside Chennai and India, do you think so many Indians would have qualified?

This is a hard question to answer. I have to say that there is a definite advantage for the Indians when the tournament is being staged in India. If it is held in China, it will depend on how they (the Chinese) play also. If they play as good as we do, I am sure they too will qualify. This happened in Colombo (Zone 3.1b Championship) also. Pallavi Shah played well and she qualified.

* Pallavi Shah won the zonal championship but finished last in the Indian National Women's 'A'. Nisha Mohota did not qualify from the National Women's 'B' to the National Women's 'A'. Then, she qualified for the World championship. Why there is so much fluctuation among our players?

I think this happens everywhere. Even for men sometimes. There can be many reasons why they come to form and go out of form. Women have more problems than men. Problems can be of any kind, health, physical, mental, etc. I guess this is why there is so much of a variance in the performance of women from one tournament to the other.

* Nowadays the visitors fare badly in India. Do you believe that our playing level is high and we are a bit under-rated Elo-wise?

Yes. I accept this. This is very much the case. Even when Meenakshi went to the world junior meet in Greece I was following the games. I was not sure how some players could be more than 2350. I think we are a bit under-rated due to lack of events in India. I am sure things will change very soon.

* What was new from Vijayalakshmi at this Asian women's championship?

After a long long time I was playing with my whole family around (laughs).

* Was that good or did it add to the pressure?

Actually it was good. It helped in times of need. I was playing out all my games and enjoying them.

* What went wrong with your sister Meenakshi here?

Because of playing in the world junior she was probably very tired. In the second half of the tournament she was missing even simple tactics like a one move combination. She is capable of a much better performance.

* What special preparations are you planning for the Moscow meet?

I will start soon. I have to sit and discuss with my dad. I have to prepare in every possible way: physically, mentally also. I don't believe in preparing for a particular opponent or something. I believe the attitude towards the tournament is more important. For example, in the Olympiad I was very sure that I was going to win a medal. I had so much of confidence there. I like to be more confident this time for the world championship. In Delhi last year I never had that confidence.

* Has the standard of the game among our women players improved? Why only now, after all these years, just two players managed to qualify for the men's National 'A'?

After Anand there was a gap of several years. Now, suddenly there are players who are called potential for the World chess championship. That is not the case among women. Barring Humpy and myself, the ratings of the other players are not that high. In the next two or three years there will be more and more players. There will be a professional approach. Now, some players are sponsored and some are not. You have to be more professional to play chess.

* What are you looking forward to achieve in the next few years?

I am not looking forward for the next few years (laughs). I am looking forward to November. I really want to give my best shot. I am sure after that my life will change a lot because after every world chess championship there is a lot of change. After last year's world championship also there was a big change in my life.

* What was the change? You became richer?

(Laughs) No, no. The two thousand dollars was my career best prize money there. I am not talking about the money aspect. Of course that is also an added incentive. That is the tournament where you have to prove yourself. I am eagerly waiting for this year's tournament and what is in store for me.

* What have you to say on your performance in Colombo?

I have learnt that I am not supposed to spring surprises. Secondly, I learnt that I must be more calm. Then, I should not play tournaments just before exams (laughs). I learnt these three things. I was not playing bad. I was just not scoring points.

* You have one more event left for 2001 and you are banking heavily on it. How was 2001 so far?

In 2000 I played in too many tournaments. In 2001 I have not played much. I had been successful in all these tournaments this year except in Colombo. Last year I had a bad start and a bad end, the middle part was good. This year it has been going steady. So, I expect it to end on a good note.

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