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Nisha's pain and pleasure in chess!

by Nisha Mohota - 19/09/2016

Three months ago the National Women Challengers tournament was held in Chennai. It was emphatically won by S. Vijayalakshmi. The tenth spot in the same event went to IM Nisha Mohota. This was not particularly a performance that Nisha was proud of. In the 7.5 points that she scored, she went through moments of extreme pain, dejection and helplessness. But, in the end she was able to fight her ghosts and come out stronger than ever. In this article she shares with us some intimate details of pain and pleasure in the life of a professional chess player. A must-read.

I love chess and hate chess for the very same reason - it is inexhaustible. The more I study chess, the more I realise that I know nothing!

 

Recently, I returned from what many top Indian women players would acknowledge as the toughest tournament to play - the National Women Challengers! The youngsters these days have improved tremendously and give a very tough time to seniors like me! Senior is a difficult word to tag myself with - I am still learning; why should I be called a senior? But some of the youngsters I compete with happen to be twenty years younger! That’s life - time flies!

 

When I started for my National Women Challengers in Chennai, I made the following comment in my facebook page, which I almost treat as my newspaper-

 

Chess players have strong imagination. In my mind I thought of a train - “Chennai Express”, which takes players from National Women Challengers in Chennai to National Women Premier in Delhi. I was really worried and did not want to miss this train like last year! I hate to remember the 2015 edition of the event: I, the then reigning champion, started with 4.5/5 and managed not to qualify for the Premier! What a nightmare!

 

Sometimes you do everything right, before a tournament, still things do not work in your favour. I was really struggling in the event. I won the first two games and then forgot how to win, drawing games third to sixth! I was on 4.0/6. A special mention must be made of my sixth round opponent, K. Jennitha Anto, three times world champion for the disabled.

My inspiration in this tournament K. Jennitha Anto, three times world champion for the disabled. (photo taken from www.thehindu.com)

When I was complaining to God that he was unfair to me (I had worked very hard before the tournament and still was not able to win my games), he sent Jennitha as my opponent. Looking at her I got all the answers and stopped complaining - she needs a wheelchair to move, plays with her left hand and instead of expressing disatisfaction about her situation, she has conquered the world! I fought with her for five hours fifteen minutes. The game ended in a draw! She remained my inspiration throughout the tournament and I often went to her board to watch her engrossed in the game!

 

After six games five single rounds remained, I told myself- “No more draws”! Guess what happened next? I lost in the seventh round to a talented girl from Kolkata, Arpita Mukherjee. I was completely shattered and my scoreboard showed 4.0/7. This was probably my worst ever score in any Women Challengers! I found myself unable to cope with the difficult situation. The pain was inexplicable! I went to my room and opened Facebook after a very long time. I had no idea what I was looking for - probably it was some kind of an inspiration which I desperately needed. The first thing which caught my eyes was a link by ChessBase India on an interview with the current Asian Women Champion, Bhakti Kulkarni. I immediately clicked on the link. The interview was very inspiring, most importantly the words- “Let us start afresh” used by Bhakti stuck with me.

 

I must say that I am very lucky to have wonderful friends who are with me through thick and thin and believe in my abilities. The list can be long but I will single out two friends from two different generations whom I can never thank enough. One of the them was my idol when I started playing chess and who not only inspires me to play good chess, but also encourages me to write!

My childhood idol and a good friend now, Bhagyashree Thipsay. (photo by WGM Swati Ghate)
 
..while the other friend, Niranjan Navalgund, is a writer cum player, whom I know since he was ten! His new book "The lively library. is definitely worth a read" 

This time there was one other addition in my friend list whom I am indebted to -

Current Asian Women Champion, Bhakti Kulkarni.

After my seventh round loss, I read Bhakti’s wonderful interview, sent her a text and she really helped me stand on my feet when I was ready to lie in the grave! She inspired me to play the next four rounds as if nothing bad had happened. At the end of the tournament when I had made it against all odds with the support of my friends and destiny, Bhakti messaged “One percent hope can work in our favour even if 99 is against us!”

 

Let me show you one endgame from the tournament which almost gave me a heart attack!

 

Nisha Mohota- Sakshi Chitlange,10th round

White to play. Position after Black’s 33rd move.

Everything was under control- the game and time. As I was having a difficult tournament, I wanted to keep things simple and allow no chances to my opponent. I calculated the pawn ending until I queen and felt that this was the easiest and the smoothest route to victory! Of course, there are many other ways to win this game. I played 34. Rxf6 and the next few moves were quickly made:

[Event "National Women Challengers, Chennai"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.06.24"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Mohota, N."]
[Black "Chitlange, Sakshi"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2279"]
[BlackElo "1960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "8/6p1/ppk2b1p/5R2/1P2K3/6P1/P6P/8 w - - 0 34"]
[PlyCount "20"]
34. Rxf6+ {I had been completely dominating this game against my young
opponent (who was having a very good tournament, having drawn Soumya and Mary
in the previous two rounds) right from move one. Everything was under control-
the game and time. As I was having a difficult tournament, I wanted to keep
things simple and allow no chances to my opponent. I calculated the pawn
ending till I queen and felt that this was the easiest and the smoothest route
to victory! Of course, there are many other ways to win this game.} gxf6 35.
Kf5 Kb5 36. g4 Kxb4 37. Kxf6 Ka3 38. Kg6 Kxa2 39. Kxh6 a5 (39... b5 40. g5 b4
41. g6 b3 42. g7 b2 43. g8=Q+ $18) 40. g5 b5 41. g6 b4 42. g7 a4 43. g8=Q+ {
My calculation from my 34th move had ended here as the position is completely
winning for White.} b3 {Probably here there are many ways to win
but I found one forced win, finishing things quickly...or so I thought...} *

 

 

Mohota- Chitlange, position after Black’s 43rd move. 

Here I found what I thought was a forced win after 44.Qg2+ b2 45.Qd5+ Ka1 46.Qd1+ b1=Q 47.Qxa4+ Kb2 48.Qb4 Ka2 49. Qxb1 Kxb1 50. h4 winning. But there was a flaw in my variation.

[Event "National Women Challengers, Chennai"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.06.24"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Mohota, N."]
[Black "Chitlange, Sakshi"]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2279"]
[BlackElo "1960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6Q1/8/7K/8/p7/1p6/k6P/8 w - - 0 44"]
[PlyCount "13"]
44. Qg2+ b2 45. Qd5+ Ka1 46. Qd1+ b1=Q 47. Qxa4+ Kb2 48. Qb4+ Ka2 49. Qxb1+
Kxb1 50. h4 $18 * 

The above moves contain a variation that I had missed. If you look at it closely you will realize that sometimes we do not take into consideration our opponent's best resources. This is exactly what I did. Your task now is to carefully go over the moves 44 to 50 and spot my opponent's resource that I had missed. After you have found that, check out the annotations below for the answer:

 

[Event "National Women Challengers, Chennai"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2016.06.24"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Mohota, N."]
[Black "Chitlange, Sakshi"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C10"]
[WhiteElo "2279"]
[BlackElo "1960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "6Q1/8/7K/8/p7/1p6/k6P/8 w - - 0 44"]
[PlyCount "48"]
44. Qg2+ $4 {Here I had 59 minutes on my clock- 29 minutes from the last time
control plus 30 minutes which would get added once one of us oversteps the
first time limit.} (44. Kg5 $142 {After coming back to room in a dismal state,
I made this move in seconds on a chess board (I did not dare to open my
computer and put the game in it!) and the win seemed like child's play!} Ka3 (
44... a3 45. Kf4 Kb2 46. Ke3 a2 47. Qg7+ Kb1 48. Qc3 a1=Q (48... b2 49. Qd3+
Ka1 (49... Kc1 50. Qd2+ Kb1 51. Qd1#) 50. Qd4 $1 Kb1 51. Qd1#) 49. Qxb3+ Kc1
50. Kd3 $18 {the Qs get exchanged and the h-pawn queens.} Qb1+ 51. Qxb1+ Kxb1
52. h4 $18) 45. Qf8+ Ka2 46. Qf2+ b2 47. Kf4 a3 48. Ke3 Ka1 49. Qf8 a2 50. Qf6
Kb1 51. Qf1+ Kc2 52. Qd3+ {this is the point, with White's K one square near
(as compared to the game), White gets this.} Kc1 53. Qd2+ Kb1 54. Qd1#) 44...
b2 {..and here I thought and thought and thought...around 42 minutes...but
found no win! One slip and the win slipped!} 45. Kg5 (45. Qd5+ Ka3 $1 (45...
Ka1 46. Qd1+ b1=Q 47. Qxa4+ Kb2 48. Qb4+ Ka2 49. Qxb1+ Kxb1 50. h4 $18) 46. Qb5
{When I made my 44th move, I left this position as winning for White...what I
missed was the stalemate motif Black had..} b1=Q 47. Qxb1 {Stalemate!! I saw
this /\ only after my opponent made her 44th move! By then it was already too
late!}) 45... a3 46. Kf4 (46. Qf2 Ka1 47. Qe3 Ka2 (47... a2 48. Qd4)) 46... Ka1
47. Qg7 Ka2 48. Qf7+ Ka1 49. Qf6 Ka2 50. Qe6+ Ka1 51. Qd6 Ka2 52. Qd2 Ka1 53.
Qb4 Ka2 (53... a2 54. Qd4 {I was dreaming of this always, but she never
blundered like this!} Kb1 55. Qd1#) 54. Qc4+ Ka1 55. Qc3 Ka2 56. Qc2 Ka1 57.
Qa4 Ka2 58. Qc2 Ka1 59. Qb3 a2 60. Qc3 Kb1 61. Qd3+ {Had my K been one step
ahead on e3, this position would be completely winning for me!} Kc1 62. Qc4+ (
62. Ke3 a1=Q (62... b1=Q $4 63. Qd2#) 63. Qf1+ (63. Qd2+ Kb1 64. Qd1+ Ka2 65.
Qa4+ Kb1 $11) 63... Kc2 64. Qd3+ $11) 62... Kb1 63. Qe4+ Kc1 64. Qc4+ Kb1 65.
Qd3+ Kc1 66. Qc3+ Kb1 67. Qd3+ Kc1 1/2-1/2 

Yes, I missed 45. Ka3 followed by 46...b1=Q, leading to stalemate! It was only a three move combination. Why did I miss such an easy tactic? I had been dominating this game from move one and my opponent (who was having a very good tournament, having drawn Soumya and Mary in the previous two rounds) could not create a single counter in the full game. When I queened on the 43rd move I had lost my sense of danger and was already thinking about my next round game which I would need to win. I became relaxed and did not remember that “it’s not over till it’s over” and “opponents also have a right to exist”! Chess, like life, is a hard teacher. I learnt a big lesson- I should never relax till it is over. Never. Ever!

 

I cannot express what I went through after this game. I had almost lost the qualification due to a small carelessness. Heartbroken as I was, I could hardly move that day, let alone think of the next game! But I did manage to win my final round. A lot of results went my way and as they say “Luck favours the brave!” All credit to my wonderful and encouraging friends!

 

I stood tenth in the event, not a great performance you might say, specially for someone who won the National Challengers two years back. What am I writing so much about? Well, for me, it is very easy to have a smooth start in a tournament, continue unhindered and end in a nice way. But to script a fight back from an extremely difficult situation is something I find the toughest. That is why this tenth position is as sweet to me as the number one position two years back!

Do you know what I like the best about Chennai - the waving Indian flag outside the airport!

I would like to end the article with a small incident that took place at the start of the National Challengers, when I was taking a flight from Kolkata to Chennai. I reached the Kolkata airport and finished the mandatory security check. The boarding time was 11.20 a.m. I had lots of time and so I happily started talking to a friend over the phone. At 11.22 a.m., I reached my boarding gate, found no passengers there and thought that probably my flight was delayed. I couldn’t be more wrong! The boarding had completed before time and they were looking for their last passenger! Just like the fact I was about to miss my flight, I was almost going to miss the berth for National Women Premier...almost! In the end I managed to squeeze in just as I did in my aircraft! 

Final Standings:

Rk. SNo   Name Rtg Club/City Pts.  TB1   TB2   TB3   TB4   TB5 
1 2 IM Vijayalakshmi Subbaraman 2384 AI 9,0 0,0 7,0 73,0 78,0 63,25
2 12 WIM Michelle Catherina P 2135 AI 8,5 0,0 7,0 69,0 73,5 54,00
3 9 WIM Mahalakshmi M 2251 TN 8,0 0,0 7,0 67,5 73,0 50,00
4 7 WGM Swati Ghate 2281 LIC 8,0 0,0 6,0 76,5 81,5 56,75
5 3 WGM Soumya Swaminathan 2346 PSPB 8,0 0,0 6,0 72,0 76,5 52,75
6 1 IM Karavade Eesha 2409 PSPB 8,0 0,0 6,0 70,0 75,0 52,25
7 6 WIM Vaishali R 2291 TN 8,0 0,0 5,0 76,5 81,5 57,25
8 21   Bala Kannamma P 2033 TN 7,5 0,0 7,0 68,5 74,0 46,50
9 4 WIM Pratyusha Bodda 2346 AP 7,5 0,0 6,0 66,0 71,5 48,00
10 8 IM Mohota Nisha 2279 PSPB 7,5 0,0 5,0 63,5 69,0 45,25

See the complete standings here.

PS: The official number who qualify for the National Premier is eight and I stood tenth. However practice has shown that normally eleven players get in. I hope for the best!

About the author:

Nisha Mohota started playing chess at the age of seven. She became India’s youngest WIM in 1995 and India’s fourth WGM in 2003. Since February 2011 she is a full IM – her highest ever Elo rating was 2416.

Nisha has represented India in 25 countries. Her accomplishments include qualifying for the 2001 and 2008 Women World Chess Championships as well as playing for India in 2004, 2008 and 2010 (Women) Olympiads. She won the Indian National Women Premier title in 2005.

Nisha's first love, chess, helps her continue her other passion: writing, photography and travelling. She also loves to learn foreign languages and has a diploma in Spanish, which she wants to master in future! She is employed with Oil India Limited (OIL), a petroleum company, as a sportsperson.