Vaishali wins Indian Women Challengers

by Sagar Shah
7/20/2015 – Most of the strongest female players of the country took part in this beautifully staged event. The nine top finishers qualify for the National Premier Championship in October 2015. The winner – ahead of a host of experienced IMs and WGMs – was a 14-year-old girl from Chennai. R. Vaishali scored at 9.0/11, gaining 80 rating points. Big illustrated report with interview and game analysis.

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The RamRatna 42nd National Women Challengers, sponsored by RamRatna Group and organized by Diaspora Times, was held in Bhayandar, Mumbai from the 2nd to 11th of July 2015. The top eight players from the tournament qualify to play in the National Premier Championships which will be held later this year. The tournament had many big names of Indian chess like Tania Sachdev, Soumya Swaminathan, Mary Ann Gomes, Nisha Mohota, Swati Ghate and others.

All of them: well almost – there were a total 104 entries in the 42nd Indian Women Challengers

But the event was dominated by a 14-year-old girl from Chennai – R. Vaishali (2276). Her extreme talent combined with fearlessness makes her a very dangerous opponent. Everyone was in awe of her fighting spirit, as Vaishali raced to 7.0/7 start with wins over experienced campaigners like WGM Kiran Manisha Mohanty, WGM Bhakti Kulkarni and IM Nisha Mohota. Losses to Tania and Soumya in eighth and tenth rounds were compensated with victories in the succeeding games.

R. Vaishali – National Women Challengers title at the age of 14! Now that’s an achievement…

With a score of 9.0/11 she tied with Soumya and Tania for the first place, but won the title on better tie-break score. This young girl already has two huge achievements to her credit – the Under-12 World title in the year 2012 in Maribor, and beating Magnus Carlsen in a simultaneous display given by the Norwegian in Chennai before his World Championship Match in 2013.

Receiving the winner’s trophy from the former
Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan

After she won the event, I waited for Vaishali to go back to her hometown Chennai and then called her up for a small interview. My first question was, “So, Vaishali, how are you celebrating your success?” And this is what she said: “Yes I am enjoying myself. I went to GM R. B. Ramesh’s academy yesterday at half past nine in the morning, practiced the whole day and came back at ten in the night.” I was stunned. To work hard after such a successful tournament requires enormous amounts of dedication and discipline! This girl is sure to make it big. Here’s the interview:

Sagar Shah: How does it feel to win such a strong event?

R. Vaishali: It was always my dream to play in the National Premier. This was the first time that I qualified for it. It is a wonderful feeling to win the tournament when strong players like Tania Sachdev, Soumya Swaminathan and Nisha Mohota were playing.

The winner Vaishali, flanked by Soumya Swaminathan (runner-up) on the left
and Tania Sachdev (third) on the right

SS: Whom would you like to dedicate this victory to?

RV: I would dedicate this victory to my coach GM R.B. Ramesh sir. After one of my losses, he called me and made me believe that I can still win the tournament. That motivated me.

Ed – We asked Vaishali’s coach R. B. Ramesh about his pupil and this is what he had to say, “Vaishali is a very talented and extremely hard-working girl. She is also level headed and fights well till the end. What was heartening about her win is that though she lost her eighth round she came back with a win in ninth and did the same after the penultimate round loss with a final round win with 1.Nc3! I hope she will make it to the Indian women’s team this year.”

Also my parents have been a big support. My father works in a bank and my mother is a housewife. She usually accompanies me and my brother R.Praggnanandhaa (11 years old, Elo 2129) to the tournaments. But just like last year, this year too, the Women National Challengers clashed with my brother’s under-11 Nationals. In 2014, I skipped my tournament for that reason. But this year I wanted to play at all costs. My mother went to Pondicherry with my brother and I decided to come to Mumbai, even if it meant travelling alone.

SS: You lost the eighth round and came back strongly in the ninth. The same thing happened again. You lost the penultimate game but won the crucial final round. How do you come back after such losses?

RV: After seven rounds when I was leading with 7.0/7 many people came up to me and started congratulating me saying that I would definitely win the tournament. I got really upset when I lost to Tania in the eighth round. But then I spoke with my father who said, “Don’t get disheartened. You will get what you deserve.” This calmed me down and I won my next game.

15-year old Kazakh talent Zhansaya Abdumalik

SS: Who is your role model in chess?

RV: My role model is chess is definitely Viswanathan Anand. But I very much like the style of Zhansaya Abdumalik, who is one year older than me. I beat her in Under-12 World Championships in Maribor in 2012. But still I like to study her games and learn from them.

SS: What is your aim in chess?

RV: My main aim is to continuing playing, keep increasing my rating and become a full-fledged grandmaster one day.

SS: One last question – in the all-important crucial last round you played 1. Nc3!? How did you decide on that move?

RV: I was paired against my roommate M. Mahalakshmi in the final round. We had been helping each other to prepare against our opponents right from the first day. I just wanted to play something different and surprise her. Hence 1.Nc3!?

SS: And here you just went for the move g4!? Don’t you think it just loses a pawn?

RV: Before this tournament I played in the Commonwealth Championships. Over there I analysed regularly with Mahalakshmi. I realized that she used to get pretty uncomfortable when her opponents would play aggressive chess. Therefore, I went for g4!? I had not calculated anything much. I knew that she would not take the pawn. It was just a psychological ploy.

We asked Vaishali to send her favourite game from the tournament along with her annotations and she chose her seventh round win over J. Saranya.

[Event "National women Challengers"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.07.07"] [Round "7.1"] [White "Vaishali, R."] [Black "Saranya, J."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B00"] [WhiteElo "2276"] [BlackElo "2128"] [Annotator "Vaishali"] [PlyCount "45"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] 1. e4 Nc6 {I didn't expect this.} 2. Nc3 d6 3. d4 g6 4. d5 Nb8 5. f4 Bg7 6. Nf3 c5 7. a4 Na6 8. Bb5+ Bd7 9. Bc4 Nc7 10. O-O Nh6 (10... Nf6 11. e5 {If direct Bc4 without Bb5+, here Nd7 would be possible.}) 11. f5 {Better was h3, Be3, Qd2.} Ng4 12. Bf4 (12. h3 Ne5 13. Nxe5 Bxe5 14. Qf3 O-O 15. Bh6 Bd4+ 16. Kh1 Bg7 17. Bxg7 Kxg7 18. Qg3 $16) 12... a6 $2 {Too slow.} (12... gxf5 13. h3 Nf6 ( 13... Bxc3 14. bxc3 fxe4 15. Ng5 Nf6 16. Qe1 $40 {[%cal Re1h4,Rf1f6]}) 14. e5 dxe5 15. Nxe5 O-O 16. Qf3 $16) 13. Ng5 $6 {Missing the more powerful 13.h3. But this is more interesting!} (13. h3 Ne5 (13... b5 14. hxg4 bxc4 15. e5 dxe5 16. Bxe5 f6 17. Bg3 O-O 18. d6 exd6 19. Qxd6 $18) 14. Nxe5 dxe5 15. Bg5 f6 16. Be3 b5 17. Be2 b4 18. Nb1 $18 {[%cal Yb1d2,Yd2c4] and Black's position is a complete mess.}) 13... Nh6 $6 {Black is losing lot of time with this knight.} ( 13... Bd4+ 14. Kh1 Nf2+ 15. Rxf2 Bxf2 16. e5 O-O (16... dxe5 17. d6 exf4 18. Nxf7 Qc8 19. Nxh8 $18) 17. Nce4 $16 {was better than the game.}) 14. Ne6 $1 { With the black pieces scattered, this works!} fxe6 15. Bxh6 Bxh6 16. fxe6 Bxa4 $4 (16... Be3+ 17. Kh1 Bd4 18. Qf3 Qc8 19. exd7+ Qxd7 20. Qf7+ Kd8 21. a5 $16 { is better than the game.}) 17. Qf3 $18 {A very strong attack.} Qb8 (17... Rf8 18. Qh3 Bf4 19. Qxh7 $18) 18. Nxa4 (18. e5 $1 dxe5 (18... Bxc2 19. exd6 $18) 19. Qf7+ Kd8 20. d6 $18 {was more powerful.}) 18... b5 19. Qc3 ({Again e5 was winning.} 19. e5 $18) 19... Rg8 (19... Rf8 20. Rxf8+ Bxf8 21. Rf1 $1 $18 {idea Rf8}) 20. Rf7 $1 bxa4 21. Raf1 {[%cal Yf7e7] I brought my last piece into the attack.} Nxd5 22. Bxd5 Ra7 23. Rxh7 {I was very happy with this game.} 1-0

Just in case you haven’t had enough of this young talent, here is a four minute video interview of Vaishali along with her mother and brother taken by Amruta Mokal at the World Juniors 2014 in Pune. Cute is the perfect word that describes this chess family!

The runner-up of the event was WGM Soumya Swaminathan. The former World Junior Champion had a horrible start as she lost two consecutive games in rounds four and five. At 3.0/5, it seemed as if Soumya’s chance to qualify for the National Premier were all but over. But like a true champion she revived her fighting spirit and chalked one victory after another, scoring six straight wins to finish second.

“Never say die!” was Soumya’s war cry in this event!

In the crucial tenth round, Soumya was able to defeat the eventual winner of the tournament R. Vaishali. This encounter has been deeply annotated by Soumya herself. Have a look at what lay beneath the surface!

[Event "National Women's Challengers 2015"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.07.10"] [Round "10"] [White "Soumya, Swaminathan"] [Black "Vaishali, R."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C45"] [WhiteElo "2363"] [BlackElo "2276"] [Annotator "Swaminathan,Soumya"] [PlyCount "67"] [EventDate "2015.??.??"] {I chose this game because I was able to follow my strategy throughout - of taking my opponent into positions I wanted to play, and because this game ensured my qualification with a round to spare, something I did not expect after the first five rounds.} 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 {My opponent had a couple of games with 4...Bc5 in the database and none with 4... Nf6. Still, she is a young player so I expected her to change something.} 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. e5 Qe7 7. Qe2 Nd5 8. c4 Nb6 9. Nc3 Bb7 (9... Ba6) 10. Bf4 O-O-O ( 10... g6) 11. O-O-O {I have a game in the database in this same line against Shyam Sundar, played in August 2012, where he opted for 11..f6. I made some very awkward moves with my queen and lost. Soon after this game I saw the game Nakamura-Sasikiran live at the Istanbul Olympiad, which made a great impression on me. I couldn't remember it over the board, but the a4-a5 idea was imprinted on my mind.} g5 (11... f6 12. Qe3 Re8 13. exf6 Qf7 14. Qg3 gxf6 15. h4 Rg8 16. Qh2 Nxc4 {0-1 (34) Soumya,S (2271)-Shyam,S (2486) Korinthia 2012 }) (11... g6) 12. Bg3 Bg7 (12... h5 13. h4 g4 14. Kb1 Bg7 15. Qe3 Rde8 16. Re1 c5 17. a4 d6 (17... a5 $142) 18. a5 Nd7 19. Nb5 Nxe5 20. Qb3 Ba8 21. f4 gxf3 22. gxf3 Qf6 23. Nxa7+ Kd8 24. Bxe5 Rxe5 25. Qb8+ Kd7 26. Bh3+ Re6 27. Qb5+ Ke7 28. Bxe6 fxe6 29. Rhg1 Rd8 30. Nc6+ Bxc6 31. Rxg7+ Qxg7 32. Qxc6 Qd4 33. a6 Qd3+ 34. Ka1 Qd2 35. Qe4 Kd7 36. a7 Ra8 37. Kb1 Rxa7 38. Qxe6+ Kc6 39. Qe8+ { 1-0 (39) Nakamura,H (2778)-Sasikiran,K (2707) Istanbul 2012}) 13. Re1 Rde8 14. Qe3 Qe6 $6 (14... h5 $142 15. h4 (15. c5 h4 16. cxb6 axb6) 15... g4 16. Kb1 $11 ) (14... f6 15. exf6 (15. c5 Nd5 16. Nxd5 cxd5 17. c6 dxc6 18. Qxa7 fxe5 19. Re3 c5 20. Ba6 Bxa6 21. Qxa6+ Kd7 $13) 15... Qxe3+ 16. Rxe3 $11) 15. Bd3 (15. Ne4 $1 {I rejected this move because I didn't find anything for White after 16. .. Qd5. But analysis showed a nice idea.} Nxc4 16. Qxa7 Qd5 17. b3 Nb6 18. e6 $3 {[%csl Rc7][%cal Gf1a6]} Qd4 (18... dxe6 19. Ba6 $16) 19. exd7+ Nxd7 20. Qxd4 Bxd4 21. Bc4 $14) 15... h5 (15... Nxc4 $5 {Over the board I thought this move was impossible} 16. Qxa7 c5 {The computer's suggestion, controlling a6 square with the queen, threating Ne5.} (16... Nb6 17. a4 Qb3 18. a5 Nc4 19. Re2 $18) (16... Nxe5 17. Ba6 $18) 17. Na4 (17. Ne4 Nxe5 $15) 17... Nxe5 18. Bxe5 Bxe5 19. Nxc5 Qb6 $11) 16. Ne4 $1 {The queen on e6 is really awkward and allows White to improve her position.} g4 (16... Bh6 17. Nc5 (17. Nxg5 Nxc4 $11 ) 17... Qe7 (17... g4 18. Nxe6 Bxe3+ 19. Rxe3 $16) 18. f3 $8 g4 19. f4 $14 {I felt White has good initiative here. She has supported e5, developed her bishop, the knight is well placed. Usually White never gets time for all this.} ) 17. Nc5 Qe7 18. Bf4 f6 ({I thought Black's only move is} 18... Kb8 19. a4 ({ Over the board I thought this was a good option for White :} 19. Kb1 Bc8 20. a4 (20. Re2 Qf8 {here, idea d6.} 21. a4 d6 $15) 20... a5 21. Re2 {[%cal Gb2b4, Ge5e6,Gh1e1,Gh1c1]} (21. h3 $5) (21. e6 d6 $15) 21... Bf8 (21... h4 22. b4 axb4 23. a5 Bf8) (21... Qf8 22. e6) 22. Ne4 Qb4 $13) 19... a5 {I was stuck here but white has} 20. b4 $1 (20. Bf5 Bc8 $1 (20... f6 $2 21. Na6+ $3 Bxa6 22. Qxb6+ $3 cxb6 23. exf6+ $18)) (20. Kb1 Bc8 21. Re2 Bf8 22. Ne4 Qb4 $13) 20... d6 (20... axb4 21. a5 d6 (21... Nc8 22. a6 Ba8 23. a7+ Nxa7 24. Bf5 Rd8 25. Rd1 $18) 22. exd6 Qf6 23. dxc7+ Ka8 24. Be5 Rxe5 25. Qxe5 Qxe5 26. Rxe5 Bxe5 27. axb6 Bd4 28. Kd2 $1 $18) 21. bxa5 dxc5 22. axb6 cxb6 23. Kc2 $40 {[%cal Ga4a5]}) 19. exf6 (19. e6 $1 {I was just so sure about the endgame after exf6 that I didn't even consider this move! Objectively it's much stronger than 19. exf6.}) 19... Bxf6 20. Qxe7 Rxe7 21. Rxe7 Bxe7 22. Nxb7 Kxb7 23. h3 Bc5 $2 {This makes White's task very direct. My opponent had taken up too much time in the opening / middlegame so she played a bit hastily here.} (23... Rg8 24. hxg4 hxg4 25. Rh5 {stopping Bc5}) (23... Rf8 $142 24. g3 Bc5 25. hxg4 hxg4 26. Rh4 Bxf2 27. Rxg4 d5 28. b3 $14 (28. Rg7 $5)) 24. hxg4 Rf8 25. Bh6 Rxf2 26. gxh5 Rxg2 (26... Bd4 27. b3 Rxa2 28. Bd2 $18) 27. Bd2 Bd4 28. b3 d5 29. h6 dxc4 ( 29... Nd7 30. h7 Nc5 31. Bc2 (31. Kc2 Bh8) 31... Bh8 32. Re1 Rh2 33. Bf4 Rh4 34. Be5 $18) 30. bxc4 Nd7 31. h7 Bh8 (31... Nc5 32. Kc2 Nxd3 33. Kxd3 Bh8 34. Rh3 $1 $18) 32. Kc2 Nc5 33. Rb1+ Ka6 34. Bf5 1-0

The style icon of Indian chess Tania Sachdev was by far the most solid player at the event. She scored seven wins and four draws and remained unbeaten. After her poor performance at the Commonwealth Chess Championships 2015 in Delhi, where she lost the first round on time, Tania came straight to Mumbai to play in the National Challenger. She showed some great chess and was the one who stopped Vaishali’s scintillating run in the eighth round.

Just after this event ended, Tania is already busy preparing to play against the world in the “Red Bull – Battle for the Queen” contest. The game between Tania versus the world will take place on the 22nd of July – you can get more information about it from the official page of Red Bull.

Goa’s top player WGM Bhakti Kulkarni not only finished fourth
but also gained 23 Elo from the event

Fifth: V. Varshini, who is rated just 1959, qualified to the National Premier for the second time in consecutive years. The reigning Under-17 National Champion gained a whopping 155 rating points from this tournament!

Sixth: Neha Singh, wife of IM D. P. Singh, scored four wins in
the last four rounds to secure a spot in the National Premier

Seventh: Michelle Catherina from Tamil Nadu who beat strong players
like Soumya Swaminathan, Rucha Pujari and Ivana Maria Furtado

Eighth: 14-year-old talent from Tamil Nadu K. Priyanka

The National Premier 2015, according to the AICF website, is scheduled to be held from 10th – 22nd October in West Bengal. It will be a twelve player Round Robin event. This is how the twelve players are selected:

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

The top three rated women players of India are Humpy Koneru (2589), Harika Dronavalli (2508) and Padmini Rout (2441). There is a high possibility that Humpy and Harika would not participate in the National Premier. Assuming that Padmini decides to play, she is the third highest rated player of the country by quite some margin and was also the defending National Champion. This leaves eleven players to be qualified instead of eight from the National Challengers 2015. Thus, the remaining three qualifiers are:

Ninth: The experienced war horse WGM Swati Ghate

Tenth: Pratyusha Bodda (right) and eleventh: 13-year-old Priyanka Nutakki (left)

Top final standings (after eleven rounds)

Rk. SNo Title Name Rtg Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3   TB4 
1 7 WFM Vaishali R 2276 9.0 74.0 68.0 61.00 65.0
2 2 WGM Soumya Swaminathan 2363 9.0 71.5 66.0 60.50 62.5
3 1 IM Tania Sachdev 2413 9.0 70.5 65.0 62.00 61.5
4 8 WGM Kulkarni Bhakti 2256 8.0 77.5 71.5 56.75 68.5
5 27 WFM Varshini V 1959 8.0 65.0 60.0 49.50 57.0
6 23   Singh Neha 2020 8.0 60.0 55.0 44.75 52.0
7 11 WIM Michelle Catherina P 2220 7.5 74.0 68.5 49.50 65.0
8 22   Priyanka K 2035 7.5 70.5 65.0 46.75 61.5
9 5 WGM Swati Ghate 2279 7.5 69.0 63.5 46.75 60.0
10 9 WIM Pratyusha Bodda 2244 7.5 67.5 62.0 48.75 60.0
11 21   Priyanka Nutakki 2043 7.5 65.0 59.5 46.50 56.0
12 3 WGM Gomes Mary Ann 2353 7.5 63.5 57.5 46.50 56.5
13 18   Nimmy A.G. 2128 7.0 73.5 67.5 47.50 64.5
14 6 IM Mohota Nisha 2277 7.0 71.5 65.5 45.50 62.5
15 10 WIM Ivana Maria Furtado 2236 7.0 68.5 63.5 43.75 59.5
16 13 WFM Pujari Rucha 2156 7.0 68.5 63.0 44.00 60.5
17 14 WFM Mahalakshmi M 2149 7.0 66.0 60.5 40.75 57.0
18 28   Lasya.G 1955 7.0 62.5 57.5 39.25 55.0
19 32   Vantika Agrawal 1930 7.0 62.0 57.0 40.25 54.5
20 20 WIM Parnali S Dharia 2056 7.0 61.5 56.5 39.00 54.0
21 31 WFM Potluri Supreetha 1937 7.0 55.0 50.5 36.00 48.0

Top class organization

Some days ago there were a few articles written on the ChessBase newspage by Sabrina Chevannes about the poor level of organization at the Commonwealth Championships 2015 held in Delhi, India. It seemed as if the organizers of the 42nd National Women Challengers made it their personal responsibility to show the world that Indians too are capable of staging high quality events.

The tournament was organized in Keshav Shrushti, in Mumbai. The campus, which is nearly 250 acres in size, is nestled in the lap of nature and spread across miles of greenery, flowing streams and hills. It is home to various species of fauna and flora and herbal plants, coupled with mango and coconut plantations. It was a perfect environment for conducting a chess tournament. And what’s more, each and every player was provided free accommodation within the tournament premises.

The titled players (IMs and WGMs) were provided single rooms in cottages like these

Amenities like swimming pool and table tennis were provided to players in order to unwind

Spacious settings with top boards on the podium...

... with the rest of the 104 players comfortable in the playing hall

Creativity at its best – a flowery chess board!

The man who made this event possible Ashok Motwani (right) seen in this picture with Salil Ghate

The runner up of the event WGM Soumya Swaminathan wrote to us after the event, “In his speech at the closing ceremony, Mr. Ashok Motwani mentioned that his idea behind organising this event was to conduct a tournament that players would want to play rather than one that they have to play. I would like to thank him, Salil Ghate and everyone involved for implementing this thought so wonderfully. Certainly one of the best organised events I have played till date.”

Pictures by Amruta Mokal and Subhash Morvekar


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Sagar Shah 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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