Winning an International event is a rarity for women in chess, especially more so in India and Woman Grandmaster (WGM) R Vaishali easily stood apart as she won the Fischer Memorial round robin event at Heraklion, Greece. Koneru Humpy the third highest rated woman player in the World is the other Indian who has won a few Open events. En-route the 20-year-old garnered her second Grandmaster (GM) norm, coincidentally at the same place where her brother R Praggnanandhaa had also garnered one of his GM norms, four years back. Vaishali and her brother Pragg, as he is affectionately called will represent India in the 44th Chess Olympiad commencing from 28th July in Chennai.
The year 2012 was a memorable year for the brother-sister duo as at the World Youth Championship Vaishali as the top seed won the World Under-14 Girls Chess Championship and Pragg won the Open Under-10 World Chess Championship title. Earlier Vaishali had also clinched the World Under-12 Girls title. Vaishali was also a part of the online Gold Medal winning Indian team in the Online Olympiad in 2020. Vaishali is also part of the group that studies at the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy.
Incidentally, Vaishali and her brother Pragg are the second brother siter duo to represent India in the same Olympiad after N Saritha and her brother Sudhakar Babu. Last year Vaishali was awarded the International Master (IM) title. Fighting fatigue but full of enthusiasm and excitement to make her debut at the Olympiad, Vaishali happily gave this interview from the airport in Greece on her triumphant homeward journey.
Excerpts from an interview with Vaishali
Q. A second GM norm, how special is that?
Vaishali: Good to win an international event and happy to have made the second norm. I need a norm more plus enhance my rating to 2500 to get the GM title and my immediate goal is to get it this year. At present there are only two women who are GMS, Humpy and Harika. The event was a 10 player Round robin and I scored 7/9. I drew the first one, lost the next one and then five victories in a row helped me to come back. I tied with Yoav Milikow for top place but pipped him on superior tie-break.
Q. Pragg too made a GM norm at Heraklion?
Vaishali: Yes that is a good coincidence! . I and Pragg practise together. Even during this tournament, he was helping me with my preparation and suggesting Opening ideas which proved fruitful.
Q. Your feelings on making your debut for Olympiad
Vaishali; Yes excited like crazy, just super excited to represent my country!! This is my first over the board Olympiad and to think that I would be playing alongside the players of stature like Humpy and Harika. I am going to learn a lot is for sure and I am also determined to give my best. I am not playing any tournament before the Olympiad and will be training for it.
Q. Who are your Idols in Chess?
Vaishali : I idolize Viswanathan Anand and he has always been my inspiration. When I was studying in school and was about 9 or 10 years old, Anand sir visited our school as a guest and I remember being so overwhelmed to see him and till this day it is one of my best memories. This was immediately after he won the World Championship Match against Veselin Topalov.
Q. You would be training with Gelfand and have Anand as a Mentor?
Vaishali: Yes it is a wonderful opportunity to be training with them and I am really thankful to AICF for arranging it as it will benefit all players. I have attended a training program with Gelfand and Vladimir Kramnik and am also a part of Westbridge Anand Chess Academy.
Q. How did you start with chess?
VaishalI; I was very addicted to television and would watch it the whole day. My parents in an effort to divert me started with Chess classes and I was hooked on to it after winning a prize in a small tournament.
Q. Your support system in chess?
Vaishali; My parents are my biggest support system. My father works in a bank and my mother accompanies me on tournaments to take care of the smallest detail so that I can focus on chess. My father makes all the arrangements for our travels and other things. Ramesh Sir has been our biggest support when it comes to chess and both Pragg and I train with him. He also helps us in selecting the tournaments which we should play. I am also very grateful to Ramco Cements for sponsoring me.
Q. And now do they want you to stop playing chess sometimes and watch tv?
Vaishali; Laughing, no I still do watch some television.
Q.Your favorite food?
Vaishali ; Dosa with Sambhar