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Dhanraj Pillay

'Sports is never easy, and that is why it is awesome!’

Chess champion Tania Sachdev on her love for the game and what it takes to win

June 2023     |     1105 words     |     4-minute read

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Tania Sachdev was introduced to the game of chess when she was six. She fell in love with it, won her first international title at the age of eight, and hasn’t looked back since.

In 2005, when she was 19, Ms Sachdev became the eighth Indian player to be awarded the Woman Grandmaster title. Three years later, she became an International Grandmaster and earned the Arjuna Award in 2009. A sportsperson who has embraced the spotlight, Ms Sachdev is also a chess presenter and commentator, and has her own YouTube channel.  

You have had so many wins. How do you continue to stay motivated? 

Sports is never easy. It isn’t supposed to be easy, and that’s why it is awesome. I love playing chess. It’s what I’ve been doing since I was six and it’s shaped my world. It’s a beautiful, complex game and the stronger you get at it the more difficult it gets. The feeling of winning and playing for the country is unmatched. Chasing goals and dreams is one thing, but for longevity, motivation has to be internal, to see how much I can push myself and how far I can go. As long as you enjoy the sport and are willing to put in the hard work, you will find inspiration.

How did you take to the game of chess?

My father introduced me to the game. He was playing with my brother and I just tagged along. I asked a lot of questions and displayed a flair and fascination for the game. Since I was persistent, my parents enrolled me in chess classes and helped me get the training I needed. I am blessed to have had that kind of opportunity and support to pursue the game professionally.

People often say that chess isn’t a physical sport so there should be a more level playing field for women. Yet we have had only two Indian women grandmasters.

There are many factors. Chess is a mentally and physically exhausting sport. The sport requires you to consistently train extremely hard and play for 10 to 15 years, and it’s a lot of commitment. The dropout rate in the long run for girls is a lot higher in chess. Cultural and social constraints present a challenge. But attitudes are changing. 

Tania Sachdev

You are India’s only woman chess commentator. How did that happen?

I did my first chess commentary in 2013 at the World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand. I enjoyed it a lot. Since then, I have had the opportunity to call the action at several elite chess events — both online and on ground. What I enjoy most is the chance to bring the complexity of chess to the casual fan. Online chess, which became very popular during the pandemic, has made the sport television friendly. But, right now, playing is still my priority.

You have your own online chess channel. Can you share a little about this journey?

During the pandemic, tournaments halted and chess moved online. It was the only sport that not just survived during the pandemic but thrived. People were looking for new hobbies and many rediscovered their passion for chess. It is often perceived as an intimidating sport, but streaming and live online chess tournaments made it accessible to all. That’s also when I got into streaming. It’s a great platform to enjoy the game with fans.

What do you prefer — online or over the board chess?

Over the board! Online chess requires a different skill set. It’s a different animal altogether. I started online chess only during the pandemic. It’s a lot of fun and very competitive, but I have grown up with over the board and the live atmosphere of over the board makes it special for me.

Can you tell us about your journey with Air India?

I joined Air India right after graduation. Back then I had just made it into the Indian national team. Until the pandemic I was travelling almost every month for a tournament, for practice sessions, etc. Air India has been a big support. It provided the assurance of a job, which helped me to focus fully on the sport and playing for the country. The entry into the Tata group is a new chapter and I’m really looking forward to the exciting time ahead with the Tata vision.

- Sanghamitra Bhowmik

Winning Streak

  • 2007: Women’s Asian Chess Champion
  • 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014: Silver medal at Women’s Asian Team Chess Championship
  • 2009: Bronze medal (team) at Asian Indoor Games
  • 2012, 2022: Bronze medal at Women’s Chess Olympiad
  • 2016, 2018, 2019: Commonwealth Chess Champion - Women’s
  • 2017: Bronze medal (team) at Asian Indoor Games
  • 2021: Silver medal at Women’s World Team Chess Championship 
  • 2022: Bronze medal (team) at Women’s Chess Olympiad

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