The Rediff Interview / S Meenakshi
'I was compared with Anand by many'
Throughout her life as a chess player, it has been tough on 21-year-old Meenakshi Subbaraman to remain in the shadow of her more talented and successful sister Vijayalakshmi. Having taken up chess under the guidance of her father, Meenakshi soon understood the bitter fact that she was no match for her elder sister. She has had chances to beat her sibling only rarely, one of which was at the National Womenís 'A' Championship in the year 2000. Though she defeated Viji in the final game, her elder sister went away with the trophy.
Meenakshi was a runner-up at the 2000 and 2001 National championships but lost the position to Aarthie Ramaswamy in the 2002 championship. She could manage only the fourth spot, but still qualified for a place in the team for the Chess Olympiad at Bled.
It was at the recently-held World Cup that she came into her own, discarding hesitation and overcoming the debilitating comparison with her illustrious elder sister. The highest point in Meenakshiís career was beating World champion Zhu Chen at the World Cup. For the first time, the limelight was on her and not on her sister.
Though she finished second best among the Indian women, behind Viji, with a tally of 4.5 points from eight games, at the Olympiad, it was not at all satisfactory, says Meenakshi. "I still havenít got out of the disappointment. After the World Cup, I expected a lot from myself," she confessed.
Meenakshi, who is under a scholarship from Indian Airlines, spoke to Shobha Warrier about her showing in the Olympiad, World Cup and her chess career.
How was the Olympiad experience for you?
I had also played the last Olympiad. I expected to do a lot this time but it was not to be. Last year, I had no idea how it was like, playing for the Olympiad. After emerging in the top four in the country, I was only aiming to do well in the Olympiad. I was not even thinking about the World Cup. Somehow, it didnít work out the way I wanted it to.
What actually went wrong?
I was not in the right frame of mind. I was brimming with confidence when I went there. Then, I lost two games, and after that I was playing a game on the top board. If I had won the game, I would have felt different. But it was too much of a disappointment for me to accept the two draws. I was very upset and opted for two draws. Then, I played only after the rest day. So, I had a lot of draws in between, and I was not playing continuously.
It is very difficult to face your team mates after you lose a game from a winning position. I was so upset after a loss that I opted out and didnít play for three days. Then, I played really well and won convincingly.
After your unexpected success at the World cup, there was a lot of expectation from you...
Yeah, after the World Cup, everybody expected me to do well. So, it was very difficult for me to face people after the losses.
How difficult is it for you to perform as a chess player when your sister has always been outperforming you?
It is very difficult. Whatever you do, you are compared with her. Earlier, it used to affect me but now, I donít care. I just play and be happy with my games. Both of us have matured.
How was it when you first started playing?
Nobody considered me as an individual. I had always been Vijiís sister. I had to listen to: 'you still have to do this; do that... .' Even my dad used to say the same. Now I am grown up and think of only my game and nothing else.
I was very young when I started playing chess. But between 1990 and 2000, I didnít play chess at all. I was really suffering. I was very depressed and was in a different world. I used to cry a lot. I donít know what happened in those ten years. Exactly, after ten years, I got a break and am improving a lot. I have now become a mature person and chess player.
Was it because your sister was playing chess that you also started playing?
My dad wanted me to play chess and I also liked chess; I really donít know. Because my sister used to play a lot, I also got interested.
Was there any rivalry between you two?
No, there never was any rivalry. I take my sister as an example; I admire her a lot.
How was the World Cup experience where you did exceedingly well?
Of course, I enjoyed every moment of it! See, it was quite a different experience for me to be in the limelight when Viji was there. Oh, that was the first time that I was given more importance than my sister!
In fact, I wondered what was happening. 'Sheís special and how can people treat me special when she is around,' I thought; I sometimes felt bad too.
When I was playing against World champion Zhu Chen, I did not even think that I was playing against the World champion. I just played as if it was another match. Even after I won, I didnít feel anything special. Then my sister congratulated me, and there ended the matter.
Then, Mr. Koya took me to the press conference. There I saw a lot of people waiting for me! I was amazed. It was an unusual experience for me. Having headlines about your game and photos in the newspapers was a great experience for me. I was compared with Anand by many!!
The whole of the World Cup, I was not just Vijiís sister, I was Meenakshi. Everybody knew me and all of them respected me too! I was very, very happy.
What was the reason for your top form at the World Cup?
I didnít expect anything from myself, and nobody expected anything from me. But at the Olympiad, especially after the World Cup, the expectation level was high. It put a lot of pressure on me. It is very difficult to play when others expect a lot from you.
In the last game, I was literally shivering on the board. I think I would have won the game had it been an individual tournament. Here, I didnít want to take any risk. I played such a cautious game that I went for a draw although I donít like draws.
What are your future plans?
I want to improve my rating; I want to reach 2350 by December. I want to finish my norms. I have one WGM and one IM norm. I have to improve my game a lot before aspiring for anything big.
I don't have anything else to do other than playing chess. Yes, I am doing my second year MBA by correspondence but I study only before the exams. Otherwise, it is only chess for me. I think I can call myself a professional chess player because I donít do anything else, but play chess.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj