CHENNAI: In a little apartment nestled among hundreds in Amudham Colony in T Nagar, Mahalakshmi Mugunthakumar and her mother wait at the door. A simple rented house with dull brown tiles and bright yellow walls, houses a 17-year-old chess champion who has won several national and international titles.
The last among four daughters, Mahalakshmi wants to become a Grand master (GM) before she turns 21. After finishing third in the National Women Challengers Championship on Saturday, she said, “In this game, there was no rating. It was fun to play. I could try new openings and I could play aggressively without fear.”
She is now preparing for the World Junior Championship in Bhubaneswar, which is scheduled for early August. Her 12-year chess journey began when she was five. Within two years, she won her first national title at the National Youth Championship (U-7G) in Aurangabad. She has been in the top three in eight international and nine national championships.
Mahalakshmi loves experimenting with her original openings. Whenever there’s time, she watches the matches they’ve played. Her greatest opponent has been Carlsen himself when he played a ‘simultaneous’ game with her.
It has been a long journey for both her and the family to make a career out of chess. “International tournaments involve a lot of money. ONGC and Rotary Club have been supportive. Aarthie aunty (WGM Aarthie Ramaswamy) always helps me find sponsors. But the government has not given me enough recognition,” she rues.
GM R B Ramesh, her coach, says, “It was obvious from the start that she had the potential. She is hardworking and determined,” he says.
Despite all the encouragement from the family, Mahalakshmi thinks the world of chess is different for men and women.
“I’ve never had second thoughts when I go for international competitions, but when it comes to travelling within India, boys can always go alone, but I have to make sure that my mother comes along,” she says.