Tata Steel India: Divya and Vantika lead as favourites stumble

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
9/1/2023 – Two young Indian players outscored the rating favourites on the first day of action at the Tata Steel Rapid tournament in Kolkata. Divya Deshmukh (pictured) — who was included in the lineup as Vaishali Rameshbabu’s late replacement — and Vantika Agrawal are leading the standings with 2½/3 points each. Women’s world champion Ju Wenjun stands in sole third place, a half point behind. | Photo: Vivek Sohani

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More Indian youngsters on the up and up

Soon after Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu stunned the chess world by reaching the final of the FIDE World Cup and qualifying to the 2024 Candidates, two young compatriots of Pragg’s left their mark at the start of the Tata Steel India women’s tournament. Divya Deshmukh (17 y.o.) and Vantika Agrawal (21 y.o.) are leading the standings with 2½/3 points in Kolkata.

Divya, who is also the lowest-rated player in the field and a late replacement for Vaishali R, beat Harika Dronavalli and Nino Batsiashvili with the black pieces. Meanwhile, Vantika got the better of Anna Ushenina and second seed Humpy Koneru in back-to-back rounds.

Talking to commentators Soumya Swaminathan and Robert Hess after the first three rounds of action, Divya noted: “This is not what I expected to be very honest”. Surprisingly, the Indian WGM added that she was very disappointed with her quick draw from round 2. It had been, indeed, a short draw with white, but it was also a game in which the youngster faced none other than women’s world champion Ju Wenjun — Divya’s attitude towards this draw says a lot about her winning attitude!

Vantika and Divya are currently ranked 4th and 7th in India’s national ranking among women. Given their poise and playing level, we are likely to see them climb to the very top of the rating ladder like their male, under-20 colleagues.

Ju Wenjun

Women’s world champion Ju Wenjun is in Kolkata | Photo: Vivek Sohani

Divya started the day with a confidence-boosting win over Harika. Already a pawn down in a somewhat simplified position, Harika decided to exchange the last pair of minor pieces when keeping the tension would have given her better chances to defend in the ensuing struggle.

32.Bxb5 axb5 33.Qb4 led to a major-piece endgame in which Black can manoeuvre her queen and rook while waiting for her opponent to slip up — then the extra pawn will come in handy. 32.Bd5 would have been a better choice for White in the diagrammed position.

As time went by, Harika failed to grab Black’s extra pawn and eventually faltered decisively by creating more space for Black’s queen to penetrate and create threats against her king.

The weakening 51.g4 gave way to 51...Qd1 52.Kg3 Qg1+ 53.Kf3 Qd1+ 54.Kg3 Rd8, and Black is no longer defending her b-pawn, but instead grabbing the all-important initiative.

Only three moves later, Harika resigned.

Harika Dronavalli

After losing to Divya, Harika Dronavalli drew her next two encounters | Photo: Vivek Sohani

Vantika, on her part, got to checkmate former women’s world champion Ushenina in the second round. First, she showed her positional understanding by offering an exchange sacrifice while already in a superior position.

Capturing the rook with 39...Bxb5 would be a grave mistake, since the b-pawn would become immensely strong in this setup.

Ushenina went for the correct 39...Nc4 instead, but soon after faltered, allowing the white rook to occupy the open files (and ranks) with decisive effect. Checkmate came on move 47.

46...Nf7 allowed 47.Rbg8#. Game over.

Vantika Agrawal

Vantika Agrawal | Photo: Vivek Sohani

Standings after round 3

Rk. Name Pts.  TB1 
1 Divya, Deshmukh 2,5 0
2 Vantika, Agrawal 2,5 0
3 Ju, Wenjun 2 0
4 Batsiashvili, Nino 1,5 0
5 Shuvalova, Polina 1,5 0
6 Krush, Irina 1,5 0
7 Savitha, Shri B 1 0
8 Ushenina, Anna 1 0
9 Dronavalli, Harika 1 0
10 Koneru, Humpy 0,5 0

All games


Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.