Chess queen Tania Sachdev is always at the helm, be it the black-and-white squares of the chessboard or the varied hues of life.

Appearances can be deceptive. As Tania Sachdev walks into an upmarket restaurant in Connaught Place, her moves are akin to a svelte model sashaying down the ramp. No wonder, she proved to be a darling of shutterbugs at the just concluded Fashion Week where she walked the ramp for designers Sanjana Jon and Ashima-Leena. There is every possibility of the photographer getting carried away all over again as one turns the discussion to the moves the 23-year-old is really known for. “It is not something new for me. I don't fit the image of a chess player that people have in mind. I don't come from a conservative family and as long as my family is with me and I am delivering results, nobody should mind,” says the woman grandmaster, who topped the Asian championship last year.

Tania agrees it is not just her fashion statements that put her in a different league. “I have always been a hyperactive child. It is only at the chessboard that I find my balance. I don't meditate as much as I should. And when I am free, which is hardly the case, I want to try 20 different things.” Tania recalls how her parents introduced her to chess. “They were trying different ways to make me sit at one place. Chess happened to be one of them. None of them played chess at any level. In fact, they tell me that they had to go through a chess manual to teach me the rules!”

The world realised her forte earlier than she herself did. “I have been playing and winning since the age of eight but I realised the importance of what I was doing when I won the Under-16 Asian Championship in Tehran. “When the national anthem was played I felt for the first time that I love what I am doing and want to do more.”

Breaking the trend

The Delhiite is also the one who broke the southern domination of the game. “It may sound odd, but the kids in the South are more focused and it suits the mental game. In the North, we have a distracted culture and the focus is too much on academics. Most kids takes up sport only to secure a seat through quota. In the southern states, governments are much more helpful.”

How does she fit the bill? “Well, I agree it is a mental game, but the mind will remain in good frame if the entire body is fit. So I work out a lot. I practice for seven to eight hours before a major tournament and otherwise I give two hours a day. The goal is to cross the 2500 mark in Elo ratings and achieve the man grandmaster norm as soon as possible. I have already crossed the first hurdle but there are still two more to go.”

Chess is perhaps the only game where a woman can compete against a man but we see a huge divide with very few female players in the top league. “Like every sport, women have started late. For every 10,000 male players there are only five female players. Male players have more stamina which helps them after five-six rounds. Also men are not known for multitasking, they remain focused on the job at hand,” she laughs.

She continues, “I find men more rational in judging an equal situation. If they find the situation favourable only for a draw, they will accept it right away but female players tend to play on. It costs them the game most of the times.”

Can gender be used to manipulate minds on the table? “Not at the level I am playing now but at the junior level people do try different things.” Tania says playing the mind game doesn't give her any special edge in life beyond chess. “I don't like playing any mind games in real life but yes I am not judgmental.”

In love with films, Tania says her favourite actor keeps changing with time. “The first one that I really liked was Salman Khan after ‘O Oh Jaane Jaana'. Now I am all for Ranbir Kapoor.” But, essentially, it is sports icons, she roots for. Her interest in cricket begins and ends with Dhoni and then there is another example of calculated aggression, Roger Federer. Her choices suggest that she is looking for a calmer effect to balance her hyperactivity. “You got it…opposites attract! But I am not definitely looking for a chess player. People say chess players make a good couple but I don't agree. There is already too much of chess in my life. I would prefer a man who could cook because I can't.”

For now she is all charged up for the Nationals!

(anuj@thehindu.co.in)