Chess is at an all-time high in India currently. Not only has the popularity of the sport skyrocketed, but the country is also producing top-level Grandmasters (GM) at will.
Even though India currently possess of a whopping 73 GMs, only two of them are women – Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli.
In fact, the latter in an exclusive interaction with The Bridge stated that the next few years would be crucial for women's chess in India with some very talented juniors rising through the ranks. One amongst them is Bangalore's Shashini Puvi.
Coming from a family which has no prior history with chess, Shashini has already clinched multiple national titles. What makes these achievements even more exciting is the fact that Shashini is just 8-year-old.
"I started playing chess when I was 3 and have been playing ever since," Shashini tells The Bridge.
So how did this kid get into a sport like chess at such a young age?
"My wife and I took a parenting class after Shashini was born. We were introduced to some memory enhancing techniques in toddlers there, we tried a couple of things on Shashini and it worked amazingly well. The memory power she had when she was two and a half was much superior to the kids that age," says Shashini's father Puvi Subramanian.
When Puvi and his wife Deepa noticed the memory power of their daughter, they decided to give chess a shot. "I have never played chess seriously. I just knew the basics of the game and imparted it to Shashini. To our surprise, she grasped the game very easily and displayed interest as well," he adds.
This led to the chess novice family frantically searching for chess academies near their home. It took them some time to find one, but once they did there has been no looking back.
At present, Shashini trains at the Chess Shoots academy in Bangalore and balances her passion for the age-old sport and her studies in school. She currently has her eyes set on achieving the Woman Grandmaster (WGM) title for now. "I practice for five hours daily. Mostly I train online," says Shashini, who also attends her regular school online, thanks to Covid-19 restrictions.
The academy she has been training at has played a great role in her development, Subramanian stresses multiple times. "We did not know how to enroll for any tournament or anything. The academy guided us and encouraged us even when I was a bit reluctant," Subramanian states.
He cites an example. "There was a National School tournament in 2019, where I did not want Shashini to play. This was right after the Western Asia Junior Chess, where she had just missed out on the podium. I wanted her to develop her game a bit more before exposing her to any tournaments, but her coach Hanumantha sir was confident. He kept saying she will win."
Subramanian could not travel with Shashini for the tournament, but her mother Deepa did. The result? They returned with the gold medal in under-5 girls section.
"Hanumantha sir came to the airport to receive Shashini after this win and we handed over the trophy to the academy, where it still is," Subramanian explains.
Hanumantha Rajanna passed away due to covid-19 last year.
Shashini, who also likes to paint, idolises Viswanathan Anand and wishes to emulate the exploits of India's first-ever Grandmaster. "I have only heard of Viswanathan Anand and want to meet him and become a GM like him someday," Shashini says.