Woman Grandmaster Tania Sachdev in Mumbai on Wednesday Aakash P Malvankar
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Woman Grandmaster Tania Sachdev in Mumbai on Wednesday Aakash P Malvankar

At an age where girls get dolls and skirts for gifts, Tania Sachdev was gifted a chess board on her seventh birthday. A hobby soon turned to promise as she won her first international title in Britain the next year. Now 28, and a Grandmaster in the game of 64 squares, there’s no surprise that Sachdev’s biggest strength is her memory power.

In the city on Wednesday to play online chess with enthusiasts at the Red Bull Battle For The Queen, an event in which players tweet their moves with the most popular move being selected, Sachdev, wearing a tee and a pair of denims, remembers her first chess board like it happened yesterday.
“It’s a day that I’ll never forget. It is since then that I have been playing actively. You can see how good my memory is,” says the Delhi resident.

As a budding chess player in the country, there was only one person Sachdev turned to inspiration. “I think growing up in India, it was all about Vishy (Viswanathan Anand). He’s an absolute legend. He’s been playing really well and it seems that the pressure is finally off him. If you see the way he played in Norway (Anand finished second in the Grandmasters tournament in Stavanger in June), he’s had quite a fantastic year.”

Anand may be her hero, but Sachdev is a fan of the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen. “What really impresses me about him is that he has completely changed the look and feel of the game. He has made chess more appealing and that’s what I love about him. He’s so young and super fit. His style of play is what stands out. He’s not playing your typical opening. He is totally the opposite of the computer style of play. That totally takes the opponent by surprise.

“Before he came into the picture, a lot of focus was given on the opening preparation. Even today it is. But Magnus has broken that mould. As the world champion, it is his responsibility to promote his sport and he has done that brilliantly. It encourages an entire new generation of players,” she says.

One of chess’ most recognisable faces in the country, Sachdev says that it was about she played a game with her fans. “I haven’t done anything like this before. I have been on Twitter for the past two years and there are a lot of fans who wish you before a major tournament. These guys always ask if I could play a match with me and it’s good to finally play against the people who aren’t professionals and don’t really get a chance to play,” added Sachdev, who will next be playing at the Asian Championships in Dubai in August.

Sachdev’s current form has been far from impressive. A first round exit at the Commonwealth Chess Championship in June and a third place finish at the 42nd National Women’s Challenger Chess Championship as top seed are no good show for the World No. 59.

“I played this tournament after 10 years. I hadn’t played the national championships last year, so I had to play this tournament and finish in the top-nine to qualify for the nationals this October,” says Sachdev, who is an avid yoga and Arctic Monkeys fan. “I need both peace and music besides chess. Physically, chess players need to be top of their game as well. Our mind and body needs to work in tandem.”

Sachdev got married to Viraj Kataria last December and has been enjoying the new life. “My husband loves what I do. We don’t play chess between ourselves. I like that part of our lives to be separate. He’s interested in the game but can’t play well. He’s bad,” she says.

Know Tania

Introduced to the game at the age of six by the mother

As a child, Tania Sachdev won multiple events. Her career successes are U12 Indian champion, Asian U14 Junior and Senior Champion, Bronze medal winner at the World U12 Championship (World Youth Chess Championships) & Bronze Medal winner at the Chess Olympiad 2012 in Istanbul

She became a Woman Grandmaster in 2005 and an International Master in 2008

Was awarded the Arjuna Award in 2009

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