Much like the Khadilkar sisters’ dominance from 1974-83 and a 16-year-old Humpy’s achievement in 2003, Divya did the unthinkable at the 47th National Women’s Chess Championship in Bhubaneshwar on Wednesday.
While the three Khandilkar sisters — Vasanti (1974), Jayshree (1975) and Rohini (1976) — became national women’s chess champions when they were 13, Humpy achieved the same at 16 years, 7 months, 20 days in 2003. By winning the title at 16 years, 2 months, 22 days, Divya became India’s fourth-youngest player to win the title since the tournament began in 1974.
When Harika Dronavalli won the nationals in 2009, she was 19 years old. At 20, Padmini Rout clinched the title in 2014 while winning the event four successive times.
Ranked 10th among the Indian women masters, Divya was in the form of her life as she remained unbeaten to finish on top of the table in the strong field of 103 players by a full point. Divya finished the nine-round event with 8 points.
After being held to a draw by a lower-ranked player in the opening round, Divya not only toppled the top-seeded Vaishali R, but also defeated two-time defending champion Bhakti Kulkarni while posting seven successive victories. She played out a quick draw with Soumya Swaminathan in the final round on Wednesday.
The eighth-seeded and 2301 Elo Divya earned 24.4 Elo points while winning a handsome prize money of Rs5.5 lakh.
Becoming a national champion as a teenager is difficult for Divya herself to believe. “It’s hard to believe but I have to believe it. I had zero expectations while heading to this tournament as I just wanted to play my best,” Divya told TOI.
In the previous edition of the nationals held in 2019, Divya, at 14, won the bronze. Had it not been for the pandemic break, Divya could have had an earlier opportunity to lower Humpy’s record further.
Secretary of the All India Chess Federation (AICF) Bharat Singh Chauhan said, “The Indian youngsters have considerable strength, but the pandemic was tragic for most of them as they lost two crucial years. I always felt Divya has the potential to do much better and she proved it today. Divya has been the most consistent performer and she surely will be a chess sensation.”
In the 64-chequered-box world, Divya is synonymous with chess and records. In the first national championship that Divya played in 2011, she was placed 34th in the U-7 event. The next year, Divya pocketed her first national gold by winning the U-7 event. Since then, Divya has won a medal each in every national tournament she has participated — again a rare record.
In the 11 years since she first made a move on the chessboard, Divya has won 12 medals in various national tournaments. She has in her kitty six age-category national gold medals and four silver medals before the 2019 women’s bronze and Wednesday’s yellow metal. Having represented India 24 times, the Indian chess queen has won 17 gold, five silver and as many bronze medals.