While the World Championship is garnering the public and media attention, how many are aware that the first ever International Woman Grandmaster Tournament is also on in the city?

While the World chess championship that’s on now at Hyatt Regency is grabbing everybody’s attention, it would be easy to ignore another international tournament that’s taking place in another part of the city. But, we shouldn’t.

That tournament, the International Woman Grandmaster Open, is the first of its kind in the country. And it features players from several countries such as Russia, Armenia, Serbia, Georgia and Malaysia. It also has quite of few of India’s Woman Grandmasters (WGMs) —Mary Ann Gomes, S. Vijayalakshmi, Soumya Swaminathan, Swati Ghate and S. Meenakshi.

Though India has been hosting several international events over the last couple of decades, there have been only a few exclusively for women. “I think there have only been two in all these years,” says Vijayalakshmi, who became India’s first WGM in 2000. “But this is the first international open to women. We certainly could do with a few more like this.”

Not that women do not have opportunities to play in the country. Chess is one sport where there is equal opportunity. Women are free to compete with men in most tournaments. Some talented women have made excellent use of their opportunities too. Hungary’s Judit Polgar has been ranked as high as No. 8 in the world ranking for men; her victims include World champions Viswanathan Anand, Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Veselin Topalov.

Closer home, Koneru Humpy once terrorised her male rivals at the National men’s championship; only five Indian men are ranked above her. Women like Humpy have excelled in events that are open to both men and women.

“Still, having a tournament just for women occasionally would help Indian chess progress,” says Vijayalakashmi. “You need events like this to promote women’s chess.”

It is only apt that Chennai got to host this tournament. It is home not only to seasoned WGMs such as Vijayalakhsmi, her younger sister S. Meenakshi and Aarthie Ramaswamy, but also to some extremely promising girls such as M. Mahalakshmi, G. K. Monisha and R. Vaishali, who are all competing in the event at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Tamil Nadu has always been the dominant force in men’s chess, but as far as women are concerned, Maharashtra has been the superpower, because it could come up with players such as the Khadilkar Sisters (Jayashree, Vasanti and Rohini), Bhagyashree Thipsay, Anupama Gokhale and Swati Ghate. Tamil Nadu could pose a serious challenge in the near future.

As many as 100 players are participating in the International Open for which the prize money is to the tune of Rs. 8 lakh, with the winner becoming richer by Rs. 2 lakh and the runner-up by Rs.1.4 lakh.

It has been organised as a side event of the World title match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen. “And that was a huge incentive for me to play here,” says Sopiko Guramishvili, the top seed from Georgia. “It is good that India is conducting a WGM tournament and I hope there will be many more.”

So do her Indian sisters in chess.