Savitha Shri Baskar: The next big name in Women chess
While the entire focus of India and the world is on the Chess Olympiad 2022, something truly unbelievable is happening in Indian women's chess in Europe! 15-year-old Savitha Shri (born in 2007) is raking in one win after another and has climbed up from 2230 to 2439 on the rating list. She will become India no.4 behind Humpy, Harika, and Vaishali. We conducted a short interview with her, discussing her performances, future goals, and opinions on the ongoing chess Olympiad.
Gaining 209 rating points in 5 tournaments: Savitha Shri Baskar
Himank Ghosh (HG): Hi Savitha, how are you? Congratulations on your massive performances and getting your 2nd WGM Norm.
Savitha Shri Baskar (Savitha): Hi. I'm good. Thank you!
HG: In the 5 consecutive tournaments you played in Europe, your rating made a huge jump- from 2230 to 2439! When you started playing these events, did you have any rating goals in mind?
Savitha: No, I had no rating goals as such. When I started to play in Europe, my only goal was to become a WGM. Apart from that, I just wanted to play quality chess.
HG: At such a young age, you have been performing so well. What was the foundation, and how did you start playing chess?
Savitha: I started playing chess because of my brother. He used to play chess part-time, I saw him play and I got interested. I was 4/5 years old at the time, then I played a tournament and I was playing pretty well. My father understood that I have got some interest in chess, and he gave me the chance to play a lot of good tournaments. I was playing pretty well in the Nationals, and then he started bringing me to strong events like Asian championships and world juniors.
HG: There are many young players in the country as of now, and you are one of the prominent ones. How do you guys manage to balance your studies? That seems like a very difficult job.
Savitha: Yes [smiles]. I just finished my 10th grade, so I was not playing chess for almost two and a half months. After the online Olympiad, I was completely studying. I got a pretty good score, and now I'm back to chess.
HG: That must be quite difficult for you, no? The other students get a full 12 months for studying, while you have to study a lot in just 2-3 months.
Savitha: People who are studying for the full 12 months are aiming to get top scores in all the subjects, but for me, 70/65% is good enough [smiles]. My school is also very supportive of my situation.
HG: That's the main point, I agree. If I remember correctly, you also had a huge rating jump I think back in 2019.
Savitha: Yes. In 2019 before the lockdown, my rating was around 1900. Then I had a Spain tour, and I increased my rating to around 2260.
But after that, COVID came and I had to spend around 1 and half years completely in my home. Now I have started to play in Europe again and I'm performing well.
HG: How did you spend your time in Lockdown?
Savitha: Well, at that time online chess was the only way you can play chess. So I was playing a lot of online events like the National juniors. I was studying a bit at the time because I was in class 9th and after 1 year I had my 10th examinations. Apart from that, I was training chess as usual.
HG: During the lockdown, did you feel like it was a waste of time, or how was it for you?
Savitha: Well, I think it was okay for chess players because we just need a laptop to prepare. We don't have to go outside for our preparation. For me, I was just preparing and spending some quality time with my family.
HG: In your last tournament, the Czech Pardubice open, you played a really nice game against GM Bryan Smith.
Savitha: Yes. It was a Sicilian Najdorf, and I played a sideline.
Qf3 is not the main move, it is a sideline. I didn't want to play the main line, I was pretty confident in this line.
HG: In this position, your opponent played an exchange sac ...Rxc3. Do you think it is sound?
Savitha: Actually, it was pretty good. Because if you just continue with let's say 10...Be7, you're just allowing me to push g5. This exchange sacrifice gives black some good counterplay with 11...d5, and the engine also likes it.
HG: In this position, you played 17.g6. What's the idea if he plays 17...Bxf1?
Savitha: It's possible, but then I have 18.gxf7+ Kxf7 19.Qd5+ Ke8 20.Rxf1. I have my compensation in this position. later when I checked with the computer, it said Black is better in this position. But it is difficult to play practically, so I was happy with this position. Here he thought for a very long time, and I was thinking he would make some mistake. He played 17...f4, which is sort of collapsing. He is just making his king weak.
When he played 18...f4, I immediately thought of taking on f4. It doesn't make sense to move the Bishop back like Bd2, you have to play Bxf4.
Here I have to find this move 22.Rab1, which is very important. Now Black is completely lost. When I played Bxf4, I saw that I can play Rab1 and thought I was doing pretty well. White can also play 22.Nxb7+, but it is not a good move because after 22...Kc7 23.Rab1, Black has 23...Qc6 and can hold the game.
HG: I really liked the finishing tactical shot 30.Rxf8.
The game ended very quickly- 30...Qxd1 31.Rf7+! and Black resigned, as mate in 2 cannot be stopped.
HG: There was another game of yours which I enjoyed very much- your win against Farkas Gabor in the Slovakia Piestany open.
Savitha: Yes, it was a Slav, and I was entirely out of prep by move 7.
I didn't know what to do exactly after Qb3, because I'm not a Slav player. I'm a Kings Indian player, I played this line in because I didn't play well with the Kings Indian in my last game, and my confidence was a bit low. So when he played Qb3, I thought I had made some sort of a mistake, and I played 7...Na5 after thinking for 10-15 minutes.
In this position, I thought I was doing really well with the Black pieces because I have counterattacking chances.
HG: Would you say that Black can play for a win from this position, or how is it?
Savitha: For me, I'm just an attacking player, so I was happy with this position. Black has a lot of pace in the queenside. But I had no pieces on my kingside- I have to play ...Be7 followed by ...0-0. His Bishop on f4 and Knight on f3 was pretty active compared to my Bishop on e7 and Knight on d7. I can't say that Black is doing very well, but the position is unclear and both sides can play for a win.
Savitha: Here I was thinking a lot about playing ...Bf6. I thought for about 4 minutes, and when I was just about to play it I realized it was a complete blunder due to Bxf6 Qxf6 Nxe5. After I move the queen, White is now threatening to play Rxc8 Rxc8 Ne7+ and it's over.
After I saw this, I found ...g6. This is the only move- if I play ...f6, there's Qxe6+.
HG: I really liked your knight maneuver from Nc4-d2-e4, getting a strong outpost.
Savitha: This is one of the problems of him playing h4- after ...Ne4, he can't play Qf3 because of Bxh4. The queen is kind of misplaced.
Savitha: This was the final mistake because now I have 26...Nxf2! 27.Kxf2 Qc2+ picking up the exchange. I liked this game very much because I didn't make any mistakes and didn't allow him any counterplay.
HG: Team India is playing in the Olympiad right now, are you following the games?
Savitha: Yes, I'm following it right now. Even before the interview, I was checking the openings. I have a 1-week break before my next tournament, so I was checking the games, it is very entertaining to follow. India 2 and Uzbekistan are doing very well!
HG: In the India women's team, do you have a favorite player or an idol?
Savitha: Well, what Harika Akka is doing is pretty inspiring- in such a difficult situation, she's playing well. Tania is really in her form- she is winning all the games! In the first game which was really drawn, she kept playing and playing and eventually won. Everyone is in good form I guess- Vaishali Akka, Bhakti, everyone.
HG: Would you say that Team India has serious chances of winning a medal this time?
Savitha: I don't know about that- in my opinion, let them play as they are without any pressure. Obviously, the Olympiad is happening in India and everyone will have pressure about the media. Let them just play chess!
HG: What event are you playing next?
Savitha: Right now, I'm going to play a round-robin event in Sweden from the 8th of August.
HG: It was very nice talking to you Savitha, best of luck for your next event.
Savitha: Thank you! It's a pleasure to be here.