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Rucha Pujari's never-say-die spirit!

by Sagar Shah - 06/04/2017

Rucha Pujari had hit a plateau, the Women International Master title was so close yet so far. During the hunt to complete the requirements, she faced various technical difficulties. Determined to play best chess possible, she took part in both the Aeroflot Open B and C categories this year (only player to do so). She persevered in spite of tough opposition and successfully completed all the requirements. In this interview, Rucha tells us about the backstory of becoming a WIM and her immediate goals. 

Rucha Pujari becomes India's latest WIM

Rucha has been involved in various chess activities to promote the game in India. One thing remained in her check-list as a player was to achieve one final WIM norm. But it wasn't easy! She had to face setbacks and obstacles. Over and above being a hard-worker she is thoroughly sincere. This quality yielded her success in her last tournament - the Aeroflot Open 2017. She is now India's latest Women International Master (WIM). 

WIM Rucha Pujari 

Sagar Shah (SS): First of all heartiest congratulations for becoming a WIM. Long overdue, but finally you made it. Can you tell us how difficult was it for you to achieve the title?

Rucha Pujari (RP): Thank you, I am quite happy now. Yes, the final norm took some time for me. Maybe something wasn’t going right, maybe the selection of tournaments, not playing strong tournaments more, or missing it very closely a lot of times. It was a difficult phase for me not just because it wasn’t going smooth but also because it made me question my self-belief.


But I learned something from it and that is to keep going on, and I think that has made me stronger as a player and a person.


SS: If I am not wrong you reached the rating of 2200 in 2012, it took you five years to make your norms. Why did it take so long?


RP: It is true that I got my rating 2200 and two norms some years back, and was sitting with it for a long time. I was too optimistic about getting the title soon, as I always looked forward to next tournament thinking that this must be it!


But it wasn’t in my control, as sometimes I didn’t fulfill the technicalities or either my opponents didn’t show up in 9-round tournaments. These things happened to me many times, and it was heartbreaking then.
But things happen and it’s a sport and one can always play better, and that’s what I decided to do. I don’t want to complain about the past critical moments now. I look forward to the future because I feel that’s the best thing to do, and work on my next goals.


SS: In between your chess career, you have dipped your feet into chess writing (articles and interviews), writing a chess book, and also creating an academy. Do you think doing these multiple things distracted you from your goals as a player?

Rucha is one of the few Indians to have written a chess book. You can buy the e-book from here.

RP: Well, yes and no. It can affect if we let it. I like to try new things. I am managing all these and I think it is possible because these things are related to chess in some way, and I love this game. Also, I am studying, by the way, post graduate course in literature. Managing can get tough at times, but I tell myself I am tougher and get along.


SS: How did you decide to play two events at the Aeroflot Open. Were you not afraid that you would not be able to physically sustain?

'Picture with the snow from the room.' 

RP: I was planning to play in Aeroflot B, and I wrote to the organizers asking them if I could play in both B and C tournaments (above 2300 and below 2300), which they accepted. I was very excited to be able to play in such strong tournament and was looking forward to it since long. I don’t think I was afraid with my decision at any point. I was amused once for sure when I went there and was informed that I might be the only player playing in two tournaments. I took two tournaments as two opportunities for playing well, and it turned out successful for me.


Moscow is covered with snow and the temperature is around the 0 degree mark during the Aeroflot Open

'Real feel to be in Russia!' 

SS: What exactly went right for you at the Aeroflot Open?

RP: My schedule there was quite tight. C tournament game started at 9.30 a.m. and B tournament game at 3.00 p.m. Every day I would play for more than 8-9 hours, and with very strong players. I feel it was quite important to me that I started the tournaments well and scored points, and that made me happy and wanting to play more. My mindset was different; I was not thinking about anything but to play 18 games, one at a time. Maybe it was a good thing that because I was playing two rounds every day, I didn’t get time to think about other things like ratings and norm.

It was helpful for me that I had a good tournament before going to Moscow, National Teams where I had scored 4.5/5 gaining around 30 Elo points. I was working on chess and on myself and that gave me confidence and positivity, and I feel the combination of these things is what worked for me here.

 'Taking this success as a motivation to work even harder and reach new heights.'

We asked Rucha to send us her favourite game and she chose her round one victory in the B-category against Shant Sargsyan. Here's an important position for you from the game:

Shant Sargsyan - Rucha Pujari 


The h5 pawn is attacked and Black seems to be in some trouble. What should Rucha (Black) play?
[Event "Aeroflot Open B"]
[Site "Moscow"]
[Date "2017.02.21"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Sargsyan, Shant"]
[Black "Rucha, Pujari"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "D37"]
[WhiteElo "2399"]
[BlackElo "2127"]
[Annotator "Rucha Pujari"]
[PlyCount "124"]
[EventDate "2016.10.08"]
{Time control: 90+30mins after move 40, 30 secs per move from move one. Moscow:
I was playing in two tournaments B & C, C games in morning 9.30 am and B at 3
pm. There would be many games to play in nine days, but my mind was prepared.
I also wanted to see if I can do it, and good.} 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4.
Nf3 Be7 5. Bf4 O-O 6. Rc1 Ne4 {Taking the game into new and original positions}
7. cxd5 Nxc3 8. bxc3 (8. Rxc3 $2 Bb4) 8... exd5 9. e3 Bg4 10. Qb3 {I realized
that Bg4 wasn't a great choice as my Queenside may become weak now} b6 11. Ne5
Be6 {I want to stabilize my position after one dubious move and try to give
minimum advantage to White} 12. Bb5 a6 $5 {is a resourceful move as it gives
the a7 square for the Rook} 13. Bd3 (13. Nc6 Nxc6 14. Bxc6 Rb8) (13. Bc6 Ra7)
13... f6 14. Nf3 b5 {My idea was to stop c4, as I felt for which White will
have good prospects} 15. h4 Nc6 {Clock time W:60 B:43} 16. Qb1 f5 17. g4 Qd7
18. Ke2 h6 19. g5 h5 {I'm giving up some squares, but I also get few in return,
but for now I have stopped White's attack} 20. g6 Bd6 {Clock time W:41 B:18}
21. Ng5 Bxf4 {I was quite happy to exchange and make the pawn structure weak}
22. exf4 Ne7 {And now the g6 Pawn can't be saved, but still I have to be
careful, as I have some weaknesses in my position and also the Bishop is
passive} 23. Kf3 Nxg6 24. Rce1 Rae8 25. Qb4 Qc6 {Clock time W:24 B:11} 26. Kg3
Bd7 27. Be2 Re4 $3 {I was very happy to find this move during the game with
around five minutes in the clock. Attack f4, and if White takes, I will have a
lot of compensation.} 28. Qc5 Qxc5 29. dxc5 Nxf4 (29... Rxf4 {is not good
enough} 30. Bxh5 Rxh4 31. Rxh4 f4+ 32. Rxf4 Nxf4 33. Bf7+ $16) 30. Bf3 c6 {
Playing solid, I have offered the Rook and I'm not trying to save it. Clock
time W:3 B:3} 31. Bxe4 fxe4 32. f3 exf3 33. Nxf3 Nd3 34. Re3 Nxc5 35. Ng5 Bf5 {
Clock time W:1 B:4} 36. Rf1 Ne4+ {I wanted to block the e-file, or potential
invasion on the seventh rank} 37. Nxe4 dxe4 (37... Bxe4 38. Rxf8+ Kxf8 39. Kf4
{I was not sure about the evaluation of this endgame, but I felt I should keep
the Rooks}) 38. Rd1 Rf6 39. Rd8+ Kf7 40. Ra8 Ke6 {I felt King activity can be
more important than trying to passively save the Pawns. Clock time W:30 B:30}
41. Rxa6 Rg6+ 42. Kf2 Ke5 {My idea was to invade on the Kingside} 43. a4 bxa4
44. Rxa4 Rg4 (44... Kf4 $2 45. Rf3+) 45. Ra5+ Kf4 46. Rh3 Rg6 47. Re3 Rd6 48.
Ra4 Rd2+ 49. Re2 Rd3 50. Rc4 g6 51. Rxc6 Rh3 52. Rc4 Rxh4 53. Kg2 Rg4+ 54. Kf2
Rg3 55. Re1 Rf3+ 56. Kg2 h4 57. Rc7 h3+ 58. Kh1 g5 59. c4 g4 60. Ra7 g3 61.
Raa1 Rf2 62. c5 e3 $19 {Clock time W:1 B:11 First game of the tournament, I
like this game because this victory gave me a good start to the tournament.
Also finding 27...Re4 and then later converting the advantage was quite
satisfactory.} 0-1

RP: The first game of the tournament, I like it because this victory gave me a good start to the tournament. Also finding 27...Re4 and then later converting the advantage was quite satisfactory. 

During one of the eighteen rounds that Rucha played at the Aeroflot Open 2017

SS: Now that you have achieved your WIM title, what are you next aims? Do you think a person can be successful as a player, coach as well as a writer?

RP: My next target would be to climb the next step and become WGM, and cross 2300 rating. Also, I want to understand my game more, what works for me, and keep getting better as a player.


To your second question, Yes, I think it is possible. I am sincere when I work and for me having different roles has increased my capacity, be creative, increased my love for the game and made me a better person.

 'One with Karjakin!'

SS: There are many young girls out there who are taking up chess. What would be your advice to all of them?

RP: Chess is a great game to learn especially for kids because we learn a lot of things from this game like concentration, discipline, focus, dedication. I promote this game wherever I go, and I would definitely recommend everyone to learn this beautiful game.


To young girls I will say- Work hard, follow your dreams. If we keep going in the right direction we will achieve all our goals, some immediately, some eventually. And believe in yourself, I think it is very important.


A huge amount of work on the article was done by Hinduja Reddy, who is not only an editor but also the social media and communications head of ChessBase India.


Previous articles on Rucha Pujari

Beautiful Puzzles - ebook by Rucha Pujari

Training your chess with Rucha Pujari