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In the footsteps of Humpy and Harika: 10-year-old Sahithi Varshini

by Sagar Shah - 03/07/2017

Sahithi Varshini from Visakhapatnam is a tremendous talent. She learnt chess at the age of eight years. Within two years she was standing on the podium of the Asian Youth under-10 championships in Uzbekistan receiving the gold medal in both classical and blitz sections. This is a story of a father transferring his intense passion and the desire to excel at the game to his daughter. It's a tale of how hard work and dedication can move the mountains. Know more about the 2007 born Sahithi Varshini - the future star of Indian chess.

Moogi Lokeswara Rao was a hard working man. He would go to his HPCL office early in the morning and come back in the evening. He was a senior officer and had a wonderful family - wife and two daughters. Life was good, but the zing was missing. Back in his childhood days Lokesh had always nurtured the dream of becoming a chess professional. He worked very hard and had read a lot of books, but things didn't work out. If not me, then I will make one of my daughters into a chess champion. With this thought one evening after work, Lokesh came back home and decided to teach his elder daughter the game of chess.

Lokesh with his family. Wife Jaya Sri and daughters Falguni (left) and Sahithi
Lokesh began with teaching his elder daughter Falguni the moves of the game. After learning how the rook and the bishop moved, they went to the knight. Falguni found it really hard to grasp the weird movement of this chess piece. Suddenly out of nowhere the younger one, Sahithi, who was looking at the board, said, "Akka (sister), is making all the wrong moves with the knight." The father and the elder sister looked at Sahithi with confusion. They were sure that the little one had not understood much. But here she was, trying to correct her elder sister.

 

"The knight moves like this, this and this," said Sahithi showing a knight path of nearly six moves. "I was stunned," says the father. "A few days ago I had introduced Sahithi to the app called Knight Vision on my mobile phone. The app taught you how the knight and other pieces move and you have to capture the enemy pawns. After showing her the game, I had forgotten all about it. But Sahithi had worked on the puzzles in the app and had mastered the movement of the chess pieces!"
Little had Moogi Lokeswara Rao imagined that his little girl would be wearing Indian jacket and winning medals for India at an international level within two years

Seeing Sahithi's passion and acumen for the game of chess, the father made a bold decision of stopping schooling for the next six months. Sahithi started learning chess seriously at the age of 8 years. By today's standards, considering that we have National under-7 being held, and sometimes even under-5, this was pretty late. However, Lokesh was determined and starting training his daughter with whatever knowledge he had about the game.

 

With just six months of training Sahithi went to play in the national under-9 championships in Ahmedabad 2015. She finished 20th and Lokesh's faith in his daughter's abilities increased manifold.

One of Sahithi's first trophies that she won at the under-9 nationals in Ahmedabad
Becoming the under-9 State Champion of Andhra Pradesh
Sahithi works every day for eight hours on chess. Lokesh has been Sahithi's only coach until now. Sometimes a few local players would help the young girl. Among them was Mr. Varahalu, a senior player of the same district. The hard work began to bear fruit as the young girl started to win one tournament after another.
In her second attempt at the under-9 nationals she missed the gold medal by a whisker. Finishing runner-up with 10.0/11 was no mean achievement!
Gold in the under-9 category of the National Rapid Championships
People began to take note of Sahithi's chess skills
The trophy case in the house began to fill up thick and fast!
The real challenge for Sahithi came in the first half of 2017. The Asian Youth Championships were going to be held in Tashkent Uzbekistan from the 2nd to the 10th of April 2017. Sahithi was naturally one of India's biggest hope for a medal in the under-10. However, the family was unable to cope with the finances. Somehow Lokesh and Jaya Shri managed make the ends meet and sent their girl to Uzbekistan.
Sahithi began as the fourth seed at the event. She was a favourite to win the medal, but the way she dominated the tournament was simply unbelievable. She scored 8.5/9 and finished ahead of all her competitors by 1.5 points!
London System! Sahithi in action at the Asian Youth 2017

As if this performance wasn't enough, Sahithi followed it up with another scintillating show at the blitz section of the same tournament and won the gold medal scoring 8.5/9. This time the runner-up scored 6.5, two points less than Sahithi.

On the podium with the gold medal
With the two gold medals and the huge trophy!
Sahithi's results speak for her chess level. But just in case you were not convinced, here is her seventh round win from the Asian under-10 Championships 2017.
[Event "Asian under-10 Tashkent"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Sahithi, Varshini"]
[Black "Ayaulym, Kaldarova"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A80"]
[WhiteElo "1368"]
[BlackElo "1367"]
[Annotator "Sagar Shah"]
[PlyCount "55"]
[SourceDate "2017.07.02"]
[SourceVersionDate "2017.07.02"]

1. d4 e6 2. Bf4 $5 {Sahithi goes for the fashionable London.} f5 3. e3 d5 4.
Nf3 Nf6 5. Nbd2 Be7 6. Bd3 O-O 7. c3 b6 8. Ne5 Bb7 9. g4 $1 {I really like the
fact of how the girl did not use her time to 0-0 and started a kingside attack.
In fact 0-0 would have been quite normal, but then you cannot really launch
this attack with g4, which is a typical idea against the Stonewall.} Ne4 10.
gxf5 Nxd2 $2 (10... exf5 {was a better option.}) 11. Kxd2 $1 {Excellent move!
The king is very safe in the centre. With this move the rooks are connected,
and White launches a huge attack on the black king.} Bg5 (11... exf5 12. Rg1 {
Just the fact that the bishop is going to h6, Queen to h5, rooks doubling down
the g-file is enough to convince you that Black won't last for long here.}) 12.
Qh5 $1 Bxf4 13. f6 $1 {A mate awaits on h7.} Bh6 14. f7+ Kh8 15. Ng6+ $1 (15.
Qg6 $1 {was also very powerful. The aesthetic sense in me likes this move
better, but Sahithi's solution was equaly strong.} hxg6 (15... Bxe3+ 16. fxe3
Qh4 17. Rhg1 $18) 16. Nxg6+ Kh7 17. Nxf8+ Kh8 18. Ng6+ Kh7 19. f8=Q Qxf8 20.
Nxf8+ $18 {White is clearly winning.}) 15... hxg6 16. Qxg6 Bxe3+ 17. fxe3 Qh4
18. Raf1 (18. Rhg1 {with the threat of mate on g7 was very powerful.} Qh6 (
18... Qf2+ 19. Kd1 Qf3+ 20. Kc2 Qf2+ 21. Kb3 $18) 19. Qxh6+ gxh6 20. Rg6 Rxf7
21. Rag1 Nd7 22. Rxh6+ {It's all over.}) 18... Qh6 {Black is now able to
exchange the queens but the position is simply winning.} 19. Rf3 $1 e5 20. Rg1
Qxg6 (20... e4 21. Rh3 $1 $18) 21. Bxg6 Bc8 22. Rg5 Rxf7 23. Rh5+ Kg8 24. Rxf7
Be6 25. Re7 Bd7 26. Rh7 Kf8 27. Rf7+ Kg8 28. Rh8+ {A very nice finish. I would
say, this was some excellent bit of chess shown by a 10-year-old girl.} 1-0

Two moves that really stood out for me were:

1. 9.g4! instead of the normal move 0-0 which White could play without a thought. Sahithi was intent on attacking the black king and found a way to open the lines.

 

2. 11.Kxd2! Once the move is made, the strength of it is quite apparent. However, during the game, it is quite usual that we miss such unusual moves!

Chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and chess lover Chandrababu Naidu recognizes Sahithi's feat

Moogi Lokeswara Rao has done a great job of inculcating a passion for not only the game, but also hard work in his daughter. Judging from her results and game, it seems like an indisputable fact that Sahithi Varshini has a bright future in front of her. But, she is at an important crossroads in her chess career. Professional coaching and financial support will go a long way in converting this talent into a full fledged, well rounded chess player.

 

"Sahithi suffered seriously from bad health when she was 6 years old. She had dengue fever and doctors had told that even survival was going to be not easy for her. I am proud of my girl that she not only came out fighting from that, but she is making me and the country proud with her chess achievements," says the father brimming with pride! 

ChessBase India would like to present one year of ChessBase Account Premium Membership to Sahithi in order to improve at the game and become a stronger player.

 

Sahithi is playing at the Commonwealth Championships in the under-10 girls section. ChessBase India wishes her the best.

Links:

Asian under-10 classical 2017

Asian under-10 blitz 2017