When M. Mahalakshmi was born in 1998, S. Vijayalakshmi was already a two-time National women chess champion.
Eighteen years later, at the Punjab Bhawan here on Monday, Mahalakshmi pulled off what appeared improbable. In spite of holding a huge advantage, the youngster overcame moments of uncertainty to score over Vijayalakshmi to slow down the march of the 37-year-old towards a record seventh title.
The eventful fifth-round action saw a vastly-experienced Swati Ghate finally convert a promising position for her first victory, that too, over top seed Eesha Karavade. The round ended with a marathon 141-move draw — spread over six hours and 10 minutes — involving Nisha Mohota and P. Bala Kannamma.
When the dust settled, defending champion Padmini Rout was the only leader, with four points, following a 59-move draw with Soumya Swaminathan. Padmini is half a point ahead of Vijayalakshmi and Soumya.
Much before Nisha and Bala ended their contest after playing out the last 50 moves with just a piece each — Nisha’s rook against Bala’s bishop — Mahalakshmi had pulled off the biggest victory of her promising career.
Mahalakshmi, the 2015 World under-18 girls’ champion, was surprised by Vijayalakshmi’s opening choice with black pieces. Vijayalakshmi, who had looked a little rusty in executing an apparent winning plan against Nisha on Sunday, went on an all-out attack on the white’s castled king. In the process, Mahalakshmi collected three pawns, even as Vijayalakshmi was looking for a way to win by force.
But young Mahalakshmi defended accurately. Once the attack fizzled out, Mahalakshmi’s three extra pawns, two of them connected on the deserted queenside, looked ready to script the biggest surprise of the competition so far.
“I knew I was winning but could not find a plan to convert my advantage,” admitted Mahalakshmi as she reflected on the triumph that ended in a rare defeat for Vijayalakshmi.
Eventually, Vijayalakshmi was forced to give her bishop for a ‘queening’ pawn and Mahalakshmi’s other pawn, planted on the seventh rank and supported by the lone bishop, made the decisive difference.
Swati played a near-perfect game to outwit Eesha, for whom she had played the role of guardian during the top seed’s early years in chess. Having messed up her chances in more than a game this past week, a determined Swati finally got it right.
Playing white, Swati managed to get a firm grip on the proceedings after planting her rooks on the seventh rank. Eesha did manage to exchange the rooks but the Swati’s pawn on the seventh rank could not be dislodged. Eesha resigned on the brink of losing a minor piece for the ‘queening’ pawn.
The results (fifth round): R. Vaishali (2) drew with Mary Ann Gomes (2.5) in 84 moves; Kiran Manisha Mohanty (2) bt Pratyusha Bodda (0.5) in 48 moves; Swati Ghate (1) bt Eesha Karavade (3) in 44 moves; Soumya Swaminathan (3.5) drew with Padmini Rout (4) in 59 moves; Nisha Mohota (2.5) drew with P. Bala Kannamma (2.5) in 141 moves; M. Mahalakshmi (2.5) bt S. Vijayalakshmi (3.5) in 100 moves.
Sixth round pairings: Mary-Vijayalakshmi; Bala-Mahalakshmi; Padmini-Nisha; Eesha-Soumya; Pratyusha-Swati; Vaishali-Kiran.