Winning the under-14 World Championship is a confidence-booster for Chennai girl M. Mahalakshmi, who belongs to a growing league of chess prodigies
Chess players around the world seem to get perennially younger. With no dearth of prodigies, the number of elite young players seem to be more than ever before. The trend has been unmistakable closer home too. One among those is 14-year-old Chennai girl M. Mahalakshmi, who won the World Chess Championship title (under-14) last November.
Mahalakshmi first picked up chess figurines when she was only five-and-a-half. “My sister used to play and a Master used to come home to teach her. I used to watch them and that’s how I picked up the game,” she says. Since then she has progressed up the ranks — from being the youngest participant in a school event to winning accolades at the state, district, national and international levels.
Mahalakshmi’s first national crown was the under-8 title which she won at Aurangabad in 2005. In her first foray into the World Championships at Georgia the very next year, she finished a remarkable third. “I was too young even to be nervous,” she says smilingly. “Once I won the bronze I was happy, but other than that I didn’t know a thing.”
Her maiden international was the gold at the Asian Youth Championship (under-10) in 2008. “I had a carefree attitude then. The result didn’t matter and I enjoyed playing and won with a round to spare.”
Since then, her world view has changed considerably. With each passing event, as she garnered more headlines, expectations rose as well. In the World Youth Chess Championship in 2010 in Greece, she finished third. “I was nervous,” she says. “The thought that a win would fetch me the world championship occupied my mind.”
However, Mahalakshmi seems to have learnt from the episode. In the World Championships in 2012 in Slovenia, she didn’t err and duly bagged the under-14 title. “I didn’t worry too much. I thought that I was just a normal chess player. I made sure that over-confidence didn’t creep in. I had already made that mistake once and didn’t want to repeat it.” The icing on the cake came when she received the trophy from the legendary Garry Kasparov who praised her as “a brave girl”.
Inspired by Anand
But for her, like any other upcoming chess player in the country, the idol has always been five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand. “The first name you hear when you utter the word chess is Anand. He has been my idol throughout.” She added that she was thrilled to have received the ‘Young Achiever’ award presented by the Rotary Club of Madras from Anand, where he described her as a “fellow champion”.
Grandmaster R.B. Ramesh, her coach at Chess Gurukul for four years, has only words of praise for her. “She comes from a not-very-sound financial background. She has missed out on a lot. Despite that she has worked hard and this has kept her going. How far she goes depends on how much more she works. But she is very ambitious. The next one year will be crucial.”
Striking a balance
In one year from now Mahalakshmi will be gearing for the Standard X board exams. Add to that the World and the Asian Championships. Striking a balancing between sports and academics has always been tough for anybody and it’s no different for her.
But she says her parents and school (Velammal International) have been immensely supportive and hopes to continue playing, in her quest to become what every chess player craves for — a Grandmaster.