Nisha Mohota wins Indian National Challengers

by Sagar Shah
9/26/2014 – Chess in India is booming. And in the Women's National Challengers tournament, in which the eight best qualified for the Premier, where the Indian National Champion is crowned, India's top women players fought for victory and qualification. The race was close and two players finished with 9.5/11. Sagar Shah sends an illustrated report.

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Nisha Mohota wins Indian Women National Challengers 2014

The Indian National Women Challengers was held from 7th to 15th September 2014 in Goa, on the West Coast of India. It was a qualification tournament for the National Premier which will be held in October this year. Eight players from the tournament were to be selected. With the exception of  the top five women players of the nation - Koneru Humpy, Dronavalli Harika, Tania Sachdev, Mary Ann Gomes and Eesha Karavade - all top players took part. In a race between the two IMs, Nisha Mohota and Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman, the former emerged victorious.

On 28th March 2014 IM Nisha Mohota wrote on Facebook:

Six months later this is what Nisha had to say:

Nine years ago, in 2005, Nisha Mohota (2248) had won the National Championship. In 2014 she won again.

The smile says it all. With a score of 9.5/11 Nisha won the championship and 23 Elo-points.

The medalists: Tournament winner Nisha, (center), runner up Vijayalakshmi (left), and third placed Hinduja Reddy (right).

Nisha is not only a WGM but also an International Master. She has won a mesmerizing number of national titles: Under-14 girls in 1993 and 1994, Under-18 girls in 1993, National Juniors in 1999 and 2000, and to cap it all, the National Premier title in 2005. But the going has been tough for her in the last few years. In 2007, she boasted of a rating of 2416, but in the last seven years her Elo has consistently gone down and is now at 2248.

Nisha Mohata - focused from the word "go"

"I was completely focused on the task at hand and had disconnected myself from everything that was not related to chess for the past six months", says Nisha. 

Nisha played a great tournament with eight wins and three draws. She was closely followed by Vijayalakshmi who finished with the same score, but the worse tie-break. Nisha's favourite game from the tournament was her fifth round victory over WGM Soumya Swaminathan. A smooth positional game culminating in a fine endgame.

 

Very close second: IM Vijayalaksmi Subbaraman (2314)

IM Vijayalaksmi Subbaraman also scored 9.5/11 and on any other day this would have been good enough to win the title. Before the last round she in fact had the better tie-break, and after winning her game she seemed to be champion. But it was not to be. The six-time National Premier winner had every reason to be disappointed.

On 16. September 2014 she sent the following four tweets:

Like Nisha, Viji has been going through a rough patch. She can boast of three GM norms and at her peak she had a rating of 2485. Now she is at 2314. But the good news for her fans is that with her level of play, things can only get better from here. One can only wish that she quickly reaches 2500 and becomes the third woman in India to become a grandmaster after Humpy and Harika. Viji's favourite game in the tournament was her win over Padmini Rout.

 

Bronze medal winner Hinduja Reddy

Hinduja Reddy is 19-years-old, has a rating of deceptively modest 1867, but in a field with two IMs, six WGMs and one WIM, the girl from Andhra Pradesh finished third, scoring 8.5/11 and gaining 67 Elo points! She started off with 4.0/6, losing to WGM Kiran Manisha Mohanty and WGM Bhakti Kulkarni. But then she scored 4.5/5 with wins over strong players such as Soumya Swaminathan and Nimmy George. It will be interesting to follow her results in the National Premier that is coming soon.

Top seed Padmini Rout

Fresh from her recent success at the Olympiad (gold medal on the fifth board), the top seed of the event and India's golden girl, WGM Padmini Rout (2354), things did not go smoothly. At the start of the tournament she drew against the talented Himli Parveen (1803) from Kerela. Then she lost to Vijayalakshmi in the ninth round, followed by a draw against Ivana Furtado in the tenth. With 7.0/10 she needed to beat Mahalakshmi (2048) with the white pieces in the last round to qualify for the premier. After failing to get an advantage in the opening she showed fighting qualities and won the game in a complex middlegame. Losing 23 points is not good news for Padmini, but she is happy that she qualified for the premier!

WGM Bhakti Kulkarni (2328) from Goa had a similar fate to Padmini. She was caught in the web of the lower rated players and really didn't get into any sort of rhythm. But champions can focus in crucial moments. Before the last round Bhakti had 7.0/10 and in the last round faced WGM Swati Ghate. She played with amazing calm and precision and qualified for the Premier. The above picture was taken a few minutes before the start of the last round. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to smile before such a crucial game!

Ivana Maria Furtado (2182) looks cute and greets you with a warm smile before the game. It is easy to assume that she will take it easy on the board. Quite the contrary! The 15-year old is turning into one of India's most promising youngsters. Her rating has been increasing steadily and she has beaten quite a few seasoned players such as IM Saravanan, IM Somak Palit etc. Her solidity can be seen from the fact that she didn't lose a single game in the tournament, scoring five wins and six draws. More aggression combined with her keen positional sense will definitely make her one of India's best!

The 16-year-old Pratyusha Bodda finished seventh. She had a rating of around 2150 a few months ago but the change of the K-factor to 40 did not work in her favour: in July 2014 she lost 91 Elo points in the National Junior tournament. But she is a good player, which she proved with a win against Aarthie Ramaswamy in the last round. A completely crazy game.

 

After eight rounds the 2006 Women's National Premier winner, 34-year-old Swati Ghate, had 6.5/8. But two losses in the ninth and final round could have cost her the qualification. However, in the end the better tie-break secured her qualification for the Premier.

The National Premier 2014 will be held from 24th October to 5th November in Maharashtra. It will be a twelve player Round Robin event:

  • Eight qualifiers from the National Challengers
  • The best three rated women players of India 
  • The defending National Champion

Defending National Champion is Mary Ann Gomes, who won the Women's National Premier 2013.

WGM Mary Ann Gomes.

Mary Ann Gomes (2355) will probably be the top seed in the National Premier 2014, Koneru Humpy, Dronavalli Harika and Tania Sachdev most probably won't play.

Humpy and Harika will both play in the World Women's Championship, taking place from 11th October to 31st October, thus clashing with the National Premier. It seems as if the Indian officials have lost hope that Humpy and Harika will ever play in the National Premier. And Tania Sachdev won't start in the Premier because she will marry in the first week of November.

As the three top Indian players won't start in the premier, the eleven best in the Challengers qualified for the Premier.

Lakshmi Praneetha (2005) came back to chess after a long break, in which she became an engineer and got a MBA, but showed that she was still a potent force as she finished ninth.

Nimmy George (2118) from Kerela lost the last round against Hinduja Reddy but still qualified. Nimmy has made all her three WIM norms and crossed the 2200 barrier but that one foreign norm is missing in her kitty.

V Varshini (1987) of Tamil Nadu finished eleventh and qualified for her first Premier.

Amruta Mokal (right, 2070), the better half of the author of these lines, missed the qualification by a whisker when she finished twelfth. Kiran Manisha Mohanty (2231) on the left also did not qualify which, was really surprising because she was 6.0/7. In the last four rounds she scored just one point to end with 7.0/11. The funny thing was that she had the best Buchholz (76 points) in the tournament, in spite of the fact that she finished 17th.

The non-qualification of WGM Soumya Swaminathan (2352) was one of the big surprises of the tournament.

The National Women's Challengers 2014 took place in Mapusa, 13 kilometres north from the capital of Goa, Panaji. The tournament witnessed 128 participants coming from all over India.

The Peddem Sports Complex was the venue for the tournament

The complex had a good swimming pool...

... and a high quality athletic track.

The players greeting each other and having a chat before the round

But then the zero tolerance rule brought them to their seats!

Chief arbiter IA Paul Arokiaraj 

FA Anandh Babu VL made sure that all games were broadcasted live.

Deputy chief arbiter IA Ravikumar having a light moment with a young kid

These three girls travelled all the way from the state of Manipur to play in Goa. Do you know how far that is?

Nearly 3.400 kms!

Concentration

Battle of generations!

Women chess in India is surely improving. However, the prize money in such National events can be best described as disappointing.

Apart from the top five the best Indian women players took part in the event. For that, the total prize fund of Rs 1,25,000 ($2080) and a first prize of Rs 30,000 ($500) just seems not to be adequate.

With heroes such as Anand and Humpy at the top and the win of bronze at the Olympiad, chess is booming in India. If the prize money of such national tournaments were improved, it will surely motivate more women players to take up this sport as a career option.

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant and would like to become the first CA+GM of India. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder of the ChessBase India website.
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