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"This is the best thing that has happened to us after Aaryan was born!"

by Atul Dahale - 27/07/2017

Swati Ghate is an inspiration. At the age 37 years, with a family to take care off and a job in LIC, she became the Commonwealth Champion 2017. Right from her humble beginnings from the Sangli as the under-12 National Champion to becoming the National Women's Champion in 2006 and representing India on multiple occasions, hard work has been her motto. In this interview with Atul Dahale, Swati speaks not only about her Commonwealth title, but also how she is striving each moment of her life to become better at the game that she loves so much. 

Interview with Commonwealth Champion 2017 Swati Ghate

 Swati Ghate and Abhijeet Gupta - Commonwealth Champions 2017

Atul:  First of all, congratulations on your Commonwealth Gold Medal! How does it feel after winning Commonwealth Women’s Championship?

Swati: Thank you very much! Obviously, it was really nice to win. It was after a long time that I achieved this. In few of my previous tournaments, I wasn’t quite able to clinch the title despite leading those tournaments at some point by 1.5 or even 2 points. In the National Championship too, this happened to be the case. I was leading but I lost the thread at some point and missed out on winning the title. But in this tournament, I played consistently well. It was a good performance overall. I am happy with my achievement!

Swati lifting the champion's trophy at the Commonwealth Chess Championship this year 

Atul: You played against five GMs and one IM, and won against GM Deepan Chakravarthy. Which was your favourite game from this tournament?  

Swati: Well, my last round’s opponent (Kumar Gaurav) was also good. He is the current National junior champion and although his rating is low - I mean because he lost some rating points recently - his strength is good. And about my favourite game, to be honest, I don't have one. The game against Deepan was good by the result and overall it was a clean finish. But he'd missed a tactic, after which, I was a piece up. Also, he could have sacrificed his queen and defended better. But after missing that tactic, he spent a lot of time and came under time pressure. I think he just felt low after missing that tactic and started playing badly. Before that, the position was more or less equal.

Before her big game against GM Deepan Chakkravarthi

And actually, I couldn't point out any special moment as I didn’t play extraordinarily. It's just that my opponents played badly.  Like in my game against Rishi Sardana, he missed a promising pawn sacrifice I had in the position. Because of this, I was able to build up a strong attack. But even after this, it wasn't really lost for him. He had some tricks in the position and could have played better. So it's not that I played immaculately, I was just consistent.

[Event "Commonwealth Chess Ch"]
[Site "New Delhi"]
[Date "2017.07.04"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Swati, Ghate"]
[Black "Deepan Chakkravarthy, J."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B51"]
[WhiteElo "2278"]
[BlackElo "2482"]
[Annotator "Swati Ghate"]
[PlyCount "71"]
[EventDate "2017.07.03"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "13"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[EventCategory "14"]
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bb5+ {Interesting popular deviation from mainstream
lines.} Nd7 (3... Bd7 {could lead to a solid position after} 4. Bxd7+ Qxd7 5.
c4 {and White will go for O-O, Nc3, d4, and we'll find a typical Maroczy setup,
with the light-squared Bs exchanged. Generally, I think White has chances to
push slowly, and Black has to wait mostly. One of the famous games in this
line went like this:} Nf6 6. Nc3 g6 7. d4 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Bg7 9. f3 Qc7 10. b3 Qa5
11. Bb2 Nc6 12. O-O O-O 13. Nce2 Rfd8 14. Bc3 Qb6 15. Kh1 d5 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17.
Qe1 Rdc8 18. e5 Ne8 19. e6 $1 {very strong positional sacrifice, when Black
starts to have real problems all of a sudden:} fxe6 20. Nf4 Bxc3 21. Qxc3 d4
22. Qd2 c5 23. Rae1 Ng7 24. g4 $1 {limiting the g7-N and preparing for the
following idea:} Rc6 25. Nh3 Ne8 26. Qh6 Nf6 27. Ng5 d3 28. Re5 Kh8 29. Rd1 Qa6
30. a4 {1-0 (30) Carlsen,M (2843)-Anand,V (2780) Sao Paulo/Bilbao 2012. A very
nice game by the world champion!}) 4. O-O (4. c3 $5 {is another natural move,
but not the same as in the game, because now after} Ngf6 {White can not defend
the P with Re1, which is better, ideally} 5. Qe2 a6 6. Ba4 $13) 4... a6 5. Bd3
b5 6. Re1 {c4 is usually played here.} Bb7 7. c3 e5 8. Bc2 Ngf6 {Reaching a
typical Ruy Lopez position, from the Breyer variation.'} 9. d4 Be7 10. Nbd2 O-O
11. Nf1 {If we compare to the normal Breyer lines, Black has an additional
tempo, because normally h3 has already been played. The alternative was to
close it with 11.d5!?'} (11. d5 $5 c4 $13 {the typical Breyer reaction as well.
Now White chooses between Nf1-Ng3 or a direct b3, trying to create something
on the Q-side.}) 11... Re8 (11... cxd4 $5 {would be the standard reaction when
White doesn't go for a quick d5, in this kind of positions} 12. cxd4 exd4 13.
Nxd4 Re8 {we can find some games here (with White's P on h3 already), and
Black doesn't seem to have major problems. For example:} 14. Nf5 Bf8 15. Nxd6
Bxd6 16. Qxd6 Bxe4 $11 {seen in the Sjugirov - Efimenko (with h3). White kept
a slight initiative, but after all it seemed liked a safe draw.}) 12. Ng3 Bf8 (
12... cxd4 $5 13. cxd4 exd4 14. Nxd4 Bf8 $11 {looks completely fine, since all
the black pieces have great squares. Now g6-Rc8 is coming and a possible
central break with ...d5 as well.}) (12... Qc7 13. d5 c4 14. Nf5 Bd8 15. N3h4
Nf8 16. Bg5 Ng6 17. Qd2 Bc8 18. h3 Nxh4 19. Bxh4 Bxf5 20. exf5 Qb7 21. Rad1 Rc8
22. g4 h6 23. Bg3 Bb6 24. Kg2 b4 25. Ba4 Re7 26. Bh4 bxc3 27. bxc3 Kh7 28. Bc6
Qa7 29. Rb1 e4 30. Qf4 e3 31. Bxf6 gxf6 32. Qxd6 Re4 33. Qxf6 Bd8 34. Qd6 Bh4
35. Rb7 exf2 36. Qg6+ Kh8 37. Qxh6+ Kg8 38. Rf1 {1-0 (38) Rodshtein,M (2683)
-Goudriaan,E (2429) Groningen 2013}) 13. d5 c4 (13... g6 {We can relate to
good game played by Harikrishna against Nakamura.} 14. b3 Nb6 15. Rb1 $1 c4 16.
bxc4 Nxc4 17. a4 Qc7 $5 18. axb5 axb5 19. Rxb5 Na3 $6 20. Rb3 Nxc2 21. Qxc2 Nd7
22. Be3 Ba6 23. Ra3 (23. Nd2 $5 $16 {following with natural moves like c4, Ra3,
Rea1.}) 23... Bb5 24. Rea1 Rxa3 25. Rxa3 Rb8 26. Ra7 Qc8 27. h3 Nb6 28. Qc1 Nc4
29. Bh6 Qc5 $2 {The position was difficult anyway, but this loses instantly.} (
29... Ra8 30. Rxa8 Qxa8 31. Bxf8 Qxf8 32. Nf1 $16 {with a long endgame to come,
it looks like White's winning chances are great.}) 30. Nh5 $1 {Now it's all
over, Black can't stop the multiple mating threats.} Bg7 (30... Qxa7 31. Nf6+
Kh8 32. Bxf8 {with Qh6 to come} Ne3 33. Bxd6 $18 {and it all falls apart.}) 31.
Bxg7 Qxa7 32. Qh6 f5 (32... f6 33. Nxf6+ Kf7 34. Ng5+ Ke7 35. Ne6 $18 {would
also be deadly.}) 33. Ng5 {1-0 (33) Harikrishna,P (2706)-Nakamura,H (2789)
Wijk aan Zee 2014 CBM 159 [Mekhitarian,K]}) 14. Bg5 (14. h3 Nc5 15. Nh2 a5)
14... h6 15. Bd2 Nc5 16. h3 (16. a4) 16... a5 17. Nh2 (17. Nf5 Ba6 18. Nh2 Rb8
19. Qf3 b4 20. Ng4 Nh7 {looks equal only. White hasn't got any advantage.})
17... Ba6 18. Rf1 Rb8 19. f4 b4 20. fxe5 dxe5 21. Ng4 Nxg4 22. Qxg4 Rb6 $1 {
Somehow I had not considered this defence during the game.} 23. Nf5 (23. Nh5)
23... b3 {This was my first instant thought.} 24. Bd1 (24. Nxh6+ Rxh6 25. Bxh6
bxc2 (25... Qb6) (25... Qd7 26. Qxd7 Nxd7 27. Bd1 gxh6 28. Bh5 Bc5+ 29. Kh1 Rf8
30. Bg4 Nb6 31. Rf6 $16) 26. Rxf7 Re7 {In the game I could not see any
advantage for white after this defence but somehow machine likes this position
for white.} 27. Rxe7 Qxe7 28. Rc1 Qd7 29. Qxd7 Nxd7 30. Be3 Nf6 31. Rxc2 Nxe4
32. Bb6 a4 33. Re2 Nf6 34. Bc7 Bc5+ 35. Kf1 Nxd5 36. Bxe5 $14) 24... Rg6 25.
Qf3 Qd7 26. Be2 a4 27. Be3 (27. axb3 Nxb3 28. Rad1 Nxd2 29. Rxd2 Rb8 30. Kh2
Rgb6 31. Bd1 {just equal} Rxb2 $2 32. Bxa4 Qa7 33. Rxb2 Rxb2 34. d6 $18) 27...
a3 28. axb3 axb2 29. Rab1 cxb3 30. Bxa6 Rxa6 31. Rxb2 Ra2 $4 {Big blunder
which he immediately realised.} (31... Rb8 32. Bxc5 Bxc5+ 33. Kh2 Kh7 34. Rfb1
Qa4 35. Qd3 Rab6 {is comfortable to play for black side only.}) 32. Bxc5 $1
Rxb2 (32... Bxc5+ 33. Kh2 Rxb2 34. Qg4 Qxf5 {would have been saving try.} 35.
Qxf5 Rf8) 33. Qg4 Qb5 (33... Bxc5+ 34. Kh2 Qxf5 35. Qxf5 Rf8 36. Qxe5 Rd2 37.
Qc7 Be3 38. Rb1) 34. Bxf8 Qb6+ 35. Kh2 Qg6 $2 36. Ne7+ 1-0

Atul: As you said, you had missed winning titles despite starting off well in the past. How was your mind set before the last round of this tournament? 

Swati: Actually I was a bit nervous, even though I was playing well. Besides me, Tania and Mary had scored 5.5/8 points. In the 8th round, they had scored wins while I only drew against GM Sahaj Grover, so I was on 5.0/8 points. Okay, it can be argued that I had to face tougher opposition. But the problem was that I had scored less in last 5 rounds. I was on three points after the first three rounds. But after that, I was only able to score 2 points out of my next 5 rounds. So I ended up with 5.0/8 while Tania and Mary were on 5.5/8. It was a risky situation, even Bhakti was on 5.0/8 and had the better tiebreak. I was lucky that both of them drew and I won.


I was nervous, but at the same time, it was a good feeling. Also, their opponents in the last round were much stronger than mine if you go by the rating. But yeah, anything could have happened. My opponent (Kumar Gaurav rated 2014) had beaten a GM in this tournament, so it was not so easy for me either.  I was nervous but I thought, whatever happens, happens. I didn't have much to lose. I had gained a lot of rating points if nothing else. (Swati had increased her rating by 38 points in this tournament)


Atul: So how was the celebration after coming back?

Swati: At home, everyone is very happy, especially my husband. This is the best thing that happened to us after Aaryan was born.  In fact, my office colleagues are also very happy (Swati works as an officer in LIC)! For them, it’s a tremendous thing, you know. They even arranged a felicitation for me. So, it was a good celebration with office colleagues and family.

Swati with her lovely family 

Atul: Going back to your early days of chess, I would like to ask - How did it all start?

Swati: Basically I am from Sangli. I spent the initial years of my life in that very city. Sangli has had a very good chess culture for many years. They used to conduct tournaments regularly. By seeing these tournaments, I started playing chess. I used to go to Nutan Buddhibal Mandal, founded by Late Shree Bhausaheb Padsalgikar. Also, success came my way very early. I won the U-12 National championship for girls in 1992. It was a huge boost. Coming from a small town like Sangli, to go abroad on your own for playing World Championship was a very big thing! So it all started like that.


Atul: Since you mentioned Bhausaheb Padsalgikar, what role did he play in your chess development? And please tell us about your coach as well.

Swati: Bhausaheb would always motivate me, he was always there by my side. He was the one who suggested me books and even games to go through. And I used to go regularly to Nutan Buddhibal Mandal. Many good players from Sangli used to come there. So I always played with them. After school, I used to go there and play sometimes until 9 or 10 pm.

Bhausaheb Padsalgikar with his Nutan Buddhibal Mandal, Sangli, worked tirelessly to promote chess in the region. For Swati, he was her mentor, more than a coach. 

Bhausaheb also helped me arrange finances for some tournaments. When I was selected for the U-12 world championship, he was the one who arranged finances by finding sponsors for me. That really helped me. He was more of like a mentor to me than a coach.


After my class 10 exam, I moved to Pune. And although I gave my class 12 exam from Sangli, I lived in Pune for playing chess. When I moved to Pune, I started working with IM Arun Vaidya. That's when my real chess education began. He really taught me how to work properly. The city of Pune also gave me the opportunity to attend coaching camps by other strong players – like the camp conducted by GM Vladimirov – and helped me develop my game.

Arun Vaidya (making the move) against GM Soltis as Anand watches the game. IM Vaidya helped Swati Ghate to improve her formal chess knowledge. 

Atul: Let's talk about your personal life. When did you get married? After your marriage, how did your husband support your chess?

Swati's husband, Mr Amit Teli, not only motivates her to play chess but also looks after their son, Aaryan, when she is busy playing tournaments.

Swati: I got married in 2008 to Amit Teli. He has supported me tremendously. It’s a very rare case in India that husbands support their wife in continuing their sports career. In a way, I am lucky that he always motivated me to play chess. After marriage, I felt my progress stagnated at some point. I got WGM title but I was not progressing further. At this point, he was the one who gave me emotional support, and at times, he forced me to go and play tournaments. He took care of our son Aaryan and managed many things at home. Even now, when I play tournaments, he looks after Aaryan. So I don’t need to worry about him and it helps me concentrate on chess while I am away. Even my in laws have always been supportive.


Atul: What is your next goal?

Swati: My next goal is obviously to complete my rating requirements for International Master title. The pursuit of touching 2400 is on. There is a lot of fluctuation in my rating, but it has always been between 2200-2300. My highest was 2385, but that was a long time ago. The thing is, you need to be consistent. The main problem is that I don’t play much abroad. Whenever I play in a foreign country, I choose strong tournaments. In India, the problem is that there are a lot of strong but underrated players. If you lose one game against them, you can just bid goodbye to 10-15 rating points and try to win the rest of your games to cover up that loss. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that I will reach the 2400 rating mark soon (her current live rating is 2316).


Atul: How do you train yourself? Do you work with anyone?  

Swati: Recently, since last 3 or 4 months, I have been working with IM Dinesh Kumar Sharma and that is really helping me. Basically, I am trying to improve my calculation. So what we do is that we take any game or position and try to find the ideas behind the moves. Because of internet and engines, we are habituated to seeing moves without grasping the important things in that particular position or game. That’s what I have experienced with myself and I am trying to change it.


When we solve positions, we try to go into the mindset of that game and think in perspective of any player. We think about what should be done and why it is to be done. If you spend 1 or 1.5 hrs on one particular game or position, you can really learn a lot. You need to remember the concept, not the moves. When you understand that concept you can reapply it in similar positions. This way, you can improve your understanding of the game as well as you calculation!


Atul: Were you studying classical games or any recent games?

Swati: Well, I have been picking up material from many good games. Obviously, classical games are good to study but even recent games are rich in ideas and concepts.  You just need to select good games from any magazine or database. And while going through the game, pause for some time and have a good think about the position and understand why a certain move was played.  


Atul:  What are your favourite books?

Swati: Nowadays I like to study from Aagard’s books, they are good. I like the content. My choice of books has changed with time and I have read a lot of books. 'My Great Predecessors' by Garry Kasparov is among my favourites. Then, 'Think Like a Grandmaster' by Kotov was also one of my favourite books in the past. At one point in my career, I was also very influenced by Dvoretsky’s books.

Jacob Aagaard is one of Swati's favourite authors. In case you would like to learn a thing or two from the great trainer, you can download Jacob Aagaard's ChessBase India show with IM Sagar Shah from here for free.

Atul: Do you use any Chessbase Products?

Swati:  Obviously, ChessBase is like Bible or Gita for chess players. You know you don’t just refer to them once. Time and again you go back to them according to your requirement and learn! Studying games from the database is a compulsory routine for any chess player. It’s like brushing your teeth, you must do it every day!


(Swati is a regular customer of the ChessBase India shop and has bought ChessBase 14 + Mega Database 2017 in order to strengthen her game).  

Macro alias: EmbedProduct


Atul: Who is your favourite player?  

Swati: Hmm (thinks), I don’t have any favourites, I like the traits. For example, I like Carlsen’s technique, Nakamura's fearless opening choices, Kramnik’s perfection, and about Anand, I will say more than his games I like his personality, he is very cool. Also, I like Kasparov’s aggression, his domination, not only in the game but in general. He has a different aura. He has this distinct personality which I think is unique. I try to take up different qualities from different people!


Atul: You are one of the strongest women players in India and a parent too. So, what will be your advice to woman players in India and their parents?

Swati: Actually, there is no big difference between men and women players. I can tell from experience that women players tend to play more emotionally. We need to play very practically, without fear. The new generation has really improved. Many girls tend to play in women’s tournaments. But apart from those tournaments, they also need to participate in open tournaments. That will surely help them to improve their game. About openings, I will suggest that they should try different patterns and different openings, and not get stuck. This will enable them to explore more and their style will be developed.

Being a player and a parent herself, Swati has some good advice to give to both players and parents.  

For the parents, I will say, I am happy that they are encouraging their girls to play chess and are providing them coaching. That's a good thing, but I will suggest that they should not expect good results very early. Being a parent, I understand that we expect. But in chess, we can’t always expect great results at an early stage.


They should let their children play for the love of chess, without putting any pressure on them. Just play and practice, the results will come at some or other point, it’s just the matter of time.


Atul: Thank you very much for your time and all the best for your next tournaments! It was a pleasure to speak with you!

Swati: You're welcome, and it was a pleasure talking to you too!

About the Author

Atul Dahale is one of the first Internationally FIDE rated players from Parbhani. He loves the game of chess and enjoys the fact that he can travel to different places, meet people and make new friends thanks to chess. His highest live rating has been 2170 and is a successful coach. He considers life to be an adventure and recently shifted his base from Pune to Mumbai. You can contact him on