Soumya’s superb show

Soumya Swaminathan with the trophy.-

With four points from as many rounds, Soumya Swaminathan was sitting pretty before Nisha Mohota defeated her in the fifth round. But the Pune girl bounced back in style to win her maiden National women’s Challengers’ title. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Soumya Swaminathan was sailing smoothly in the 40th National women’s Challengers’ chess championship in the central Kerala town of Thrissur till she ran into Nisha Mohota in the fifth round. She had four points from as many rounds and had got off to as good a start as one would have hoped for. But, Nisha, a seasoned campaigner from Kolkata, defeated her, spoiling the dream start.

Six rounds later though, the pretty smile was back on Soumya’s face. She bounced back in style to win her maiden Challengers’ title. And it was a commanding performance by the 24-year-old from Pune. A performance that underlined the fact once again that she is one of India’s strongest women players in chess.

In Thrissur, Soumya was seeded second, behind Padmini Rout, who had a disappointing outing, finishing sixth. With so many young players — their chess much stronger than their ratings — it was always going to be a tough tournament. “I knew that it was going to be a difficult event,” Soumya said shortly after beating G. K. Monisha in the final round. “With just eight players qualifying for the National premiers, you just could not afford to relax at any stage.”

Joining Soumya for the National premier championship were Swati Ghate, Bhakti Kulkarni, Nisha, Monisha, Padmini, Ivana Maria Furtado and P. Michelle Catherina.

Going into the final round, Soumya had a half-a-point lead over Monisha and Nisha, who was humbled by Bhakti. That meant Soumya triumphed by one full point, as she finished with nine points. Swati, who defeated J. Saranya, was the runner-up with eight points.

There were 90 participants, of all ages, in Thrissur. “It felt nice coming on top of a strong field,” said Soumya. “This was one tournament I had never won before and I am glad that I have been able to correct that anomaly. I am pretty happy with the way I have played here, though I would have been happier if I could convert my advantage into victories in a couple of games. I am impressed with the young players here, like Monisha, Ivana and Michelle.”

Soumya had herself made a mark as a young girl, finishing runner-up at the National Under-10 championship in 1998, not much after she was taught the game by her late mother, Rajeswari. “My mother used to play with my brother,” she said. “I fell in love with chess pretty soon.”

The love affair with chess has brought her many crowns, including the prestigious World junior championship, which she won in 2009, in Argentina. Earlier this year, she had helped India finish fifth in the World team championship in Kazakhstan. She has also been a Commonwealth champion. In 2010, she had won the National premier championship.

Soumya is hoping to play in more quality tournaments this year. “I hear there would be quite a few international tournaments in India, leading up to the World Championship match in Chennai in November,” she said. “I will be playing in those events.”

She said she will be in Chennai to cheer for Anand. “It is going to be an exciting match, and I am sure Anand will not disappoint us,” she added. “Yes, Magnus Carlsen is a very strong rival, but I believe Anand is experienced enough to win the match. He will be particularly motivated, because he will be playing in his hometown.”

Soumya feels the World title match is the best bet to promote chess in India in a big way. “This is the time to take chess to the masses. The chess players are going to follow the match anyway, but our administrators should also get the common man interested in chess.”

FINAL STANDINGS

1. Soumya Swaminathan 9 points; 2-3. Swati Ghate and Bhakti Kulkarni 8; 4-12. Nisha Mohota, G. K. Monisha, Padmini Rout, Ivana Maria Furtado, P. Michelle Catherina, Pratyusha Bodda, Kiran Monisha Mohanty, R. Bharathi and Arthie Ramaswamy 7.5; 13-19. U. Ashwini, J. Saranya, Rucha Pujara, Rutuja Bakshi, Hinduja Reddy, Swati Mohota and P. Bala Kannamma 7; 20-29. M. Mahalakshmi, G. Lasya, Siddhali Shetye, Vaishali, Nimmy A. George, Srija Seshadri, V. Varshini, Riya Savant, Supriya Joshi and I. Harivardhini 6.5.

SOUMYA FACTFILE

1999: Asian Under-10 championship, Ahmedabad, Bronze.

2000: Asian Under-12 championship, Teheran, Bronze.

2004: Asian junior championship, Udaipur, Bronze.

2006: Commonwealth championship, Mumbai, Silver (junior girls).

2008: Commonwealth championship, Nagpur, Silver (junior girls).

2009: World junior champion, Puerto Madrin (Argentina).

2009: Asian junior championship, Colombo, Bronze.

2010: National women’s premier champion, Bhubaneswar.

2012: Commonwealth champion, Chennai.

2013: Commonwealth championship, Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Silver.

2013: National women’s Challengers’ champion, Thrissur.