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Padmini Rout wins her fourth consecutive national title!

by Sagar Shah - 07/12/2017

It was one of the most tense finales that you would ever see at the final round of the National Championship. Four players had a chance to win the title. In the end it was Padmini Rout who held her nerve and emerged victorious. But it was after a lot of drama. In fact until the end of the fourth hour, we still were not clear who would win it. This is Padmini's fourth consecutive title, a feat that is only bettered by Viji in the history of Indian women's chess. We bring you all the action from the last round, video interview of Padmini where she explains the game and a few pictures from the closing ceremony. 

Girl with steely nerves - Padmini Rout

The tension in the playing hall was appreciable. Four players (Meenakshi, Bhakti, Soumya and Padmini) had a chance of winning the national title and the tiebreak rules ensured that there was absolutely no way to determine the favourite. Even Meenakshi who had an excellent head to head score against Padmini and Bhakti, could miss her title if only she and Soumya won their game! So rather than wasting time in trying to understand the various scenarios, the girls just spent time in preparing against their opponents and came to the game for a full fledged fight. In case you are interested to know the tiebreak scenarios, you can read about it in our express report.

This picture perfectly demonstrates the icy cold environment that prevailed in the playing hall in the last round | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Meenakshi had the best chance of winning the title | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Meenakshi not only had the best tiebreak in many scenarios, but she was also white against the last seed of the tournament Srishti Pandey. For Meenu (as she is affectionately called) this title meant a lot. She had come close to winning the title on three occasions and finished as the runner-up. The last one was in 2010 when Harika was the winner. In spite of having a 15 month old baby, she dreamt big. She wanted to win the title, it was her late father's dream. The Chennai WGM had worked tremendously hard. Today could be the culmination of all the sacrifices she had made in the last few months. However, it was not to be. Meenu stumbled and she lost to Srishti.

After the game Meenakshi said that her key error was taking on g6 and releasing the tension in the position

Srishti Pandey had a pretty forgettable national premier until round 9. She had scored only one point. As she said, "I would have withdrawn if it was any other tournament." But as it was national premier, she persisted. And because of this she not only scored two important wins in the last two rounds, but literally decided the tournament by beating Nandhidhaa in the penultimate game and Meenakshi in the final one. "Do not lose hope!" is her biggest takeaway from the tournament.

A quick chat with Srishti Pandey after her win over Meenakshi

If there was someone in control right from the opening and seemed on track to win, it would have to be Soumya Swaminathan | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Soumya dominated the game right from the start, and had a position which many GMs would call as technically won. Bala Kannamma had weaknesses all over her position and Swaminathan's knight was creating havoc. Just a bit of patience and Soumya would have taken the point home. As it turned out, she played a little too direct. Bala Kannamma showed some great endgame skills, not caring about her pawns and activating her king. Soumya tried her best, but the moment was gone. The game ended in a draw and it really was a big setback for the Pune-girl.

Soumya (White) is completely dominating. She can now just get her knight to d3 and enjoy the huge positional advantages that she has. She can create problems down the c-file, get her knight to f4, in short the position is just a nightmare for Bala Kannamma. But Soumya being the active player that she is, went for g4?! which I think was not in the spirit of the position. She was still considerably better, but it was the first step in the wrong direction.

Bala Kannamma started playing really well. She activated her king to f5 not worrying about the g7 pawn and slowly but steadily put a lot of pressure on Soumya. The black king's activity was one of the crucial reasons why the game ended in a draw.

A fourth place finish for Soumya was quite heart-breaking. The girl has decided not to play in National Premier at least for a year | Photo: Amruta Mokal

With Srishti beating Meenakshi and Soumya drawing against Bala Kannamma, all the action shifted to the games between Samriddhaa versus Bhakti and Padmini against Sakshi.

Bhakti was playing great chess, but Samriddhaa has come with a steely resolve not to lose! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Bhakti had a very pleasant advantage against Samriddha throughout the game. She was pressing with the black pieces right out of the opening and on many occasions it seemed as if the game would end in Kulkarni's favour. But Ghosh turned out to be a tough nut to crack. The game ended in a draw.

Black is just better. She has perfectly posted pieces, the c3 pawn is weak, so is the guy on e4. White on the other hand has nothing much to do. Bhakti (Black) should be able to convert this position against quite strong opponents also. So it came as a surprise that Samriddhaa managed to hold the draw.

If Bhakti would have won the game, she would have become the national champion | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Now that's a look of a girl who wants to give her best - Samriddhaa Ghosh | Photo: Amruta Mokal

With all the results going in her favour, it was now left for Padmini to win the game. "I spoke with Surya Shekhar Ganguly before this round and he said the most important thing is to play a long game and play until bare kings." And Padmini did just as she was told. She began the game with 1.Nf3. Already by move five we were out of theory. In the arising fresh position she was able to outplay her opponent Sakshi Chitlange.

Padmini Rout found herself in a situation that she enjoys - last round must-win scenario | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The way in which Padmini built up her position was simply exquisite. One strong move after another and she was in situation where nearly each of her piece was superior to her counterpart. Just when we thought she would romp home with the full point, she made an uncharacteristic error...

The move Bf2, was wrong on so many levels. First of all, all your pawns are on light squares, so you want to keep your dark squared bishop to control these weaknesses. Secondly you have the bishop pair, so why would you want to exchange one of them. Instead just h4! would have given White a nearly decisive advantage. After this bishop exchange, things were not so easy. Sakshi could have held the game with accurate defence, but she made some errors and the game ended in a win for Padmini.

 

We caught up with Padmini after the game and she shows her thought process in the videoand ideas behind the moves in the video below:

While doing this interview Padmini had won her game but was not 100% sure whether she would be the champion as Bhakti's game was still going on. Bhakti drew her game and congratulatory messages started pouring in. All this while the interview was going on!

After all this drama where we couldn't determine the champion right until the very end, Padmini had become the national champion. "It's an unbelievable feeling," said the girl from Odisha. "After my loss to Mary I never thought I would have won the title. I am just very happy!" 

Results of round eleven

Final rankings

Four in a row!

Padmini Rout has won the national title four times in a row. With this win she has overtaken many a big names for example: Rohini Khadilkar won it three times consecutively back in 1976-79. Mary Ann Gomes did it from 2011-2013. The only record now remains to be broken is that of Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman who has won it five times consecutively from 1998-2002.

An inspiration to the current crop of women players of India - IM Padmini Rout! She went back home richer by Rs.1,75,000.

Second place went to Bhakti Kulkarni (left) and third prize was won by Mary Ann Gomes (right). Mary made a great comeback at the event with a 3.0/3 finish. 

All the pretty ladies had come in a saree for the closing ceremony. This was the one that they had bought on their rest day from the Laximpati stores.

A final report will soon be published from all the amazing images of the closing ceremony by Amruta Mokal and insightful interviews by yours truly. For now we leave you with this video that shows how lively our top players can be!