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The Rediff Interview / S Vijayalakshmi

'Physical fitness is very
important in chess'

If womenís chess in India in the seventies was synonymous with the Khadilkar sisters, the present belongs to the Subbaraman sisters, more so the eldest, Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman, better known as Viji in the chess circuit.

Twenty-three-year-old Vijayalakshmi shot to prominence at the age of 10, the very year she started playing the game at the national level. In the last 13 years, she has won practically every Indian womenís title and established several records. Six national championships, five of which were in a row, and being the first Indian woman to achieve the Grandmaster norm are some of those.

Vijayalaxmi Subbaraman Viji has just returned from Bled, in Slovenia, after leading the Indian womenís team at the 35th Chess Olympiad. Although the team finished only 19th, it was a great outing for the Chennia-based lass. After playing 13 games for the team, she collected 9.5 points and retained the individual silver medal which she had won at Istanbul in the last Olympiad.

"I still am very tired. Thirteen rounds on the top board is really tiring. Even after two days of rest and sleep, I feel devoid of any energy. Compared to last yearís 14 rounds, this yearís 13 rounds is an improvement," the Deputy Manager (Finance) with Indian Airlines told Shobha Warrier when she met her at her residence. Excerpts.

You were the senior-most member of the womenís team that went to the Chess Olympiad. You were also the captain of the team. Was it a big responsibility?

It was a huge responsibility. I was the top board player as also the senior-most member of the team and the most experienced. Apart from that, I had won the silver medal at the last Olympiad.

Did that thought put a lot of pressure on you?

Strangely, I was not even thinking of a medal or anything for that matter till I reached the penultimate round. I was only keen on playing a good game. I am very happy because I did exactly that. I was really running short of time every day because I had to prepare a lot. Being the top board player, I had to meet the strongest players from all the teams. Naturally, I had to be well-equipped. So I was preparing very hard. And I was quite successful too as I was not in trouble in any game. In fact, I had winning positions even in those games that ended up in draws.

As captain, what were your plans for the team?

We did a lot of planning. The general team spirit was very good this time. We never had any misunderstanding during the tournament. In Hyderabad, when we were playing the World Cup, we already had discussions about the Olympiad, and we had decided then itself that we would be playing only for the team and there would be no personal motive at all.

As all of us belonged to the same age group, we gelled well. I am 23, Swati is 22, and Meenakshi and Aarthie are 21. Basically, there was more understanding among us. It was very sad that we couldn't make it to the top ten; but we tried our best.

Were you disappointed finally when the team finished only 19th?

It was very upsetting, because the last time we had finished 13th. So, although I won the silver medal, I was quite sad for the team.

What might have gone wrong? The team had some good wins in the tournaments -- like the one against Germany. You also drew against France...

Yes, we had very good chances in the beginning, but somehow, towards the end of the tournament, all of us were very tired. The responsibility of playing at the Olympiad is very high, and we didnít have much time for preparation too because of the World Cup in Hyderabad. Then, we were playing against very strong opposition from the beginning. Of course, this should not be cited as a reason. Frankly speaking, those games took out a lot of energy from all of us. So, towards the end, we had no energy at all. It could be because we were not doing much physical exercise.

Before the next Olympiad, we should try and learn to preserve energy and keep ourselves fit for the 14 rounds. Physical fitness is very important in chess. We used to go for walks every day, but that's not enough. Sometimes, it used to be very cold, minus 2įC, which was very hard for us. Honestly speaking, the other teams were so strong that it might have been very difficult for us to get a medal.

As the captain of team, which was the most memorable win, and most disappointing performance?

Against Bulgaria, I was expecting a 3-0 win because I had won the first board; Swati was winning on the third board. I was expecting a 2.5-3 win, and we lost 1-2.

Against Georgia, we lost 0-3. We didnít now what to feel after those losses. It was our Russian coach who helped us get over the disappointment after those losses. He was very helpful. In my personal games also, he was extremely helpful. Towards the end, I was so tired that I just couldnít see things after a few hours of play.

Do you feel it is unfair to ask one player to play so many games and expect her to win? Okay, you won 7 out of 13 games, drawing 5 and losing only one...

But what could be done? Yes, we were lacking one more player to play on the top board. It was really sad.

Would it have made a difference if Koneru Humpy was there?

Viji I don't know. She has not done any team championships till now. So, I really cannot speculate on her chances. She definitely has a strong game, and her rating is very high, but I am not sure about her chances of playing an Olympiad, a tournament of this magnitude. It is a different story in an individual championship. This is one tournament where you have to feel for the whole team. So, it takes triple of your energy. In an individual tournament, nothing matters, except you.

So, maybe, once she starts playing such team championships, we will know.

Anand was quite critical about the format of the Olympiad. He cited that as the reason for his decision not to play in it...

What other format can be given? Frankly speaking, you cannot please everyone. There will be some kind of flaw in every system. You have to just get over it and play on. For example, Kasparov came and played for the Russian team. Ponomariov was there for the Ukraine team. So, every strong player was playing. You cannot cite this as the reason not to play. I donít know; itís hard to say.

How did you feel after winning the silver medal ahead of former world champion Maya Chiburdanidze of Georgia?

It is a nice feeling to get ahead of some of the strongest players, but then I knew that I was playing really well in the tournament.

What is your immediate target?

I have improved my rating after the Olympiad. I will gain 25 points, which is a huge jump, and my rating will come to 2419, I think. As of now, only the Goordicke [tournament] is confirmed for January. Apart from that, I donít know my tournament schedule.

Unlike Humpy, you have not been travelling much and playing tournaments outside India...

Yes, I have not been doing that much. I am not playing the kind of tournaments that I want to play. That is one sad part. I need to prepare well too before tournaments. I do not like to go and play tournaments without any preparation.

How ambitious are you as a chess player?

I have mellowed down a bit now! I used to be very ambitious. As you grow, you tend to become very realistic. I don't know. Most of the coaches who have coached me used to tell me that I really have the potential to reach whichever heights I want to reach but... .

What is preventing you from reaching those heights?

I donít know; many things. You have to be in the right frame of mind to play a tournament.

Right now, there seems to be a lull in your career compared to the flying start you had. For example, you were expected to achieve the GM norm much earlier.

It is true. I have mellowed down. Letís see, in the next one year, I should be able to do something.

Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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