W Power 2024

Grandmaster Rameshbabu Vaishali sets eyes on World Champion title

Rameshbabu Vaishali overcame financial constraints to become one of three women Grandmasters from India. The Arjuna Awardee is not done yet

Naini Thaker
Published: Mar 27, 2024 12:51:09 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 02:08:00 PM IST

Grandmaster Rameshbabu Vaishali sets eyes on World Champion titleChess Grandmaster, R Vaishali

When she was six, Rameshbabu Vaishali’s parents enrolled her in chess classes in an attempt to wean her off cartoon shows. In just a year, though, she had started participating in serious competitions, and it became evident that she will take up chess professionally. At 22, she became one of the three women Grandmasters from India and was bestowed with the Arjuna Award this January.

Vaishali has a slew of achievements in her short career: The Girls’ World Youth Chess Championship for Under-12 in 2012 and Under-14 in 2015, the International Master title after scoring her final norm at the Biel Masters Open 2021 and the Women’s Grand Swiss 2023 where she qualified to compete at the prestigious Candidates Tournament. In December 2023, at the IV El Llobregat Open Tournament 2023 in Spain, she crossed the 2500 mark, earning her the title of a Grandmaster.

Early days

While her parents were encouraging and supportive of her talent, it was challenging to make ends meet. Her father Rameshbabu works at TNSC Bank as a branch manager and mother Nagalakshmi is a homemaker. “It was a new experience for all of us, since no one in our family was a professional chess player. But we found the right support in my coach at the time, S Thyagarajan of the Bloom Chess Academy. He helped us in picking the right tournaments, what books to read etc,” she says. Her school, Velammal International School, Chennai, waived her fees too.

Grandmaster Rameshbabu Vaishali sets eyes on World Champion titleWhen she would practice her game, her younger brother Praggnanandhaa would bother her. “That’s when my parents bought him his own chess set,” she recalls. Eventually, Praggnanandhaa also started playing at competitions, and in 2018, became India’s youngest Grandmaster and the world’s second-youngest aged 12.

The brother-sister duo, along with their mother, would travel all over for competitions. However, that would mean shelling out a lot of money, so they took whatever help they got. Over time, Vaishali started getting sponsors—the first was Ramco Cements that has been supporting the siblings for the past nine years.

She confesses that it bothered her when she saw her brother performing well at a sport that she loved. “I did not handle it well, initially,” she admits. It took time, but now her perspective has changed. “I’ve become a fan of Praggnanandhaa… how he prepares for the game, his hunger to win. In the last few years, he’s become an inspiration for me,” she says. Both are competitive and share a healthy sibling rivalry. “He helps me prepare, and even during tournaments, it’s good to have his support,” she adds.

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Vaishali and Praggnanandhaa spent a majority of their childhood training. Looking back, she says often she felt like she was missing out (on having fun). “At the same time, I was travelling across the globe and meeting new people. It was a very different experience.”

Pushing the envelope

Vaishali completed her international master (IM) title in 2021, and since then she had been attempting to complete her Grandmaster title—for which she needed a 2500 rating and three Grandmaster norms. “I had around 2450, but that 50-point lead and getting those two pending norms was getting difficult. I kept playing tournaments, but I would miss by half or one point. After a point, I didn’t want to play any tournaments, but my family kept pushing me,” she says. Eventually, she completed four Grandmaster norms, won the Asian Games and finally crossed 2500 points. In those few months, she admits the pressure got to her, and she forgot to enjoy playing the game. “The minute I stopped worrying about the results, the results started coming,” says Vaishali.

“She is very hardworking, and has a great ability to stay away from distractions, to focus entirely on chess, and has a lot of self-belief,” says RB Ramesh, Dronacharya awardee, and her coach from the time she became World Under-12 Champion, till last year. “I think these qualities make her a remarkable player. Vaishali became the third woman Grandmaster from India, after a gap of 12 years. It shows her exceptional talent.”

Grandmaster Rameshbabu Vaishali sets eyes on World Champion title

The 22-year-old is now gearing up for the upcoming Candidates Tournament—one of the most prestigious tournaments—where she will be one of the eight women players participating from across the world. To prepare for the tournament, she regularly meditates and does yoga, to help with her mind control. Praggnanandhaa will also play there, making them the first brother-sister duo to qualify for the tournament.

“My goal is to become a World Champion. I will keep working improving my game,” she reckons. “But I’m not taking too much pressure. “I’ve learnt that if you enjoy the game… eventually, you will get the results you were striving for.”

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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