Vaishali’s first coach Thyagarajan speaks of how as a 7-year-old, Vaishali had the ability to sit still at the chessboard with monk-like discipline for hours. RB Ramesh says Vaishali and her younger brother Praggnanandhaa never get bored of chess.
When India’s Vaishali Rameshbabu defeated FM Tamer Selbes on Friday at the IV El Llobregat Open tournament in Spain, the win secured her status as India’s 84th grandmaster. Vaishali also became only the third woman from India to achieve the grandmaster title, after Koneru Humpy (who got there in 2002, as a 15-year-old) and Harika Dronavalli (who became a GM in 2011 as a 20-year-old).
In the heady span of just over a month, the 22-year-old Vaishali has achieved goals she had set for herself as a kid: she secured a spot at the prestigious Candidates Tournament by winning the ultra-competitive FIDE Grand Swiss tournament last month and has now become a GM.
All of her coaches talk of Vaishali’s dedication to her craft. As a seven-year-old, her ability to sit still at the board with monk-like discipline was what struck S Thyagarajan, who was her first coach at the Bloom Chess Academy in Chennai, where she was sent by her parents to wean her off cartoon shows.
“Her biggest quality that stood out for me was how she could stay patient for five hours — or more — at that age. Time plays a big role in chess. You need to play long matches to improve your rating points. That she could sit for hours at a stretch was very special. Besides that, she could also play fast under time pressure. At the age of seven or eight, these are not common qualities. She could do both,” Thyagarajan tells The Indian Express.
It was that sort of discipline that started getting her tournament results that had her coaches rubbing their eyes in disbelief. Her most jaw-dropping performance, Thyagarajan says, came when she defeated a player over 150 rating points higher to claim the U12 World Championship.
“The U12 Worlds title is the most memorable (moment for me). Her rating at that time was just over 1900. We had some openings planned before the tournament. But in the last round, she was playing the top seed. So we changed her opening for that match based on the opponent. Despite that, she won against the much higher-rated player,” says Thyagarajan, who adds: “She plays aggressive chess, not that her defence was weak but she likes to play that attacking brand of chess a lot. You need to be that way.”
In those early days, seeing her scythe through the rest of the field, MA Velayudham, the founder of Bloom Chess Academy, had boldly remarked that the girl would one day rule the sport in India.
“Her understanding of chess was extraordinary. At the age of seven, she had the maturity of a 15-year-old,” says Velayudham.
All these years later, like the seven-year-old version of herself sitting glued to a chess board, she’s been unflappable in her pursuit of success..
“Most players also have other interests. And they’re trying to manage chess along with balancing those other interests. In her case, she’s dedicated herself completely in this journey (to the top). It’s not easy. Her single-minded dedication makes her different,” says Ramesh.
“Right from the start, when they were not very strong players, just reasonably good players, they would travel nearly one and a half hours daily just to get to my chess academy. No matter what. And afterwards they would travel the same distance back. Even in heavy rains, they would both travel on their father’s two-wheeler. At the academy, there would be non-stop chess for four hours. Everyone else would take a break in the middle. Not Pragg and Vaishali. They would start playing a blitz game while the rest of the kids relaxed!” recollects RB Ramesh, who is a mentor and current coach for both Vaishali and her younger brother Praggnanandhaa who adds: “Eventually, what stood out about the two was that they never got bored of chess.”
Source: Indian Express