11-Year-Old Triumphs at All-Girls Nationals in Chicago
By Jamaal Abdul-alim   
April 22, 2012
Anupama Rajendra, Photo Jorge Barrera
Chicago - When 11-year-old Anupama Rajendra entered the 18 & Younger section here at the All-Girls National Championships , she expected one of the higher-rated players to claim first place.

But thanks to discipline and self-study, Rajendra - who had a pre-tournament rating of 1569 -- emerged as the sole victor in her section after scoring 5 out of 6 points.

The victory makes Rajendra, of Kenosha, Wis., the youngest girl in the nine-year history of the All-Girls National Championships to win the 18 & Under Section, tournament organizers confirmed.

"It's just really exciting when a younger person wins like that," said Ruth Haring, Executive Board President of the United States Chess Federation, who attended the tournament as part of her ongoing efforts to encourage more girls to take up chess.

 "It's a testament to her excellence," Haring said. "To excel at anything takes not only talent but it takes a lot of hard work."

Rajendra's section featured 11 higher-rated players, including four who had crossed the 2000 rating threshold, but none finished with more than 4 points.

Michael Khodarkovsky, Anupama Rajendra & Ruth Haring
Michael Khodarkovsky, President of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, which sponsored the tournament, said he was more surprised at Rajendra's victory because of her rating than because of her age.

"It's more of a surprise that she was not even in the top five-rated players," Khodarkovsky said. "Definitely she was underrated. And she showed quality of the games that she played. She played at a very decent level because she outplayed 2000 (rated) players or played on the same level with them.

"Therefore, it's a big accomplishment for this young girl. And if she will continue on this path, it means we will have a very strong player in two or three years."

Khodarkovsky said he was pleased that the All-Girls Tournament was the event in which Rajendra's talent's were "discovered."

Rajendra defeated her last-round opponent with Black in an endgame in which Rajendra eventually had a King and two pawns - one of which she promoted to a Queen -- against a lone King.
Rajendra said she has played against experts recently and didn't do well, but the final tournament result left her surprised at her newly-developed strength.

"I never expected his, because I was rated so lower than the others," Rajendra said of winning first place.

Asked how and what she studies to get better at chess, Rajendra says she has no formal coach but cited a book titled Mastering Positional Chess: Practical Lessons of a Junior World Champion by Daniel Naroditsky.

She also attributed her success to keeping a cool demeanor no matter what the situation is on the chessboard.

"First, you've got to be calm and concentrate," Rajendra said. "Second, you should never panic in losing positions."

Her 17-year-old brother -- Avinash Rajendra, with a current rating of 1916 - said he also offers his younger sister tips and advice and post-game analysis.

He says they initially got involved with chess a few years ago to have more of a social life since they attend an on-line virtual school, but eventually their pursuit of the game became more about winning games and less about making friends.

"We chose it more for the social aspect, to meet some people," Avinash Rajendra said. "But over time chess became more important than the social aspect."

Now, Rajendra not only has the title of 2012 All-Girls National Champion, but she has the opportunity to represent the United States in the FIDE World Youth Championships in Slovenia this fall, as do other victors in the various sections at the All-Girls National Championships.

"We are excited about the invite," said Rajendra's mother, Shashikala Bangalore, who said all she expected her daughter to win was a trophy. Both Bangalore and Rajendra's father, Rajendra Mudlapur, are engineers.

The family said they will discuss whether to take Rajendra to the World Youth Championships in Slovenia this fall in the coming weeks.

Rajendra's story was just one of several that unfolded Sunday as the top players in each section were announced at an awards ceremony at a ballroom in the Swissotel that featured an array of colorful trophies, some of which were as tall as the girls themselves.

Haring, the USCF president, said she was impressed at the quality of play and the competitiveness exhibited by the players.

"They played it down to king versus king in some of these games. Nobody was agreeing to a quick draw," Haring said. "That's a tribute to the fighting spirit.

"If there's a glimmer of a chance to win, they're going to play to the very end."

Haring said her hope is that some of the girls who competed in the tournament will become role models for future girl players.

"I'm hoping we get a handful of superstars from this tournament," Haring said. "That would be great for all girls. A future Woman Grandmaster might have been in this room today."

The event, which drew a record 238 players from states that ranged from Washington State to Connecticut, was organized by the Renaissance Knights Chess Foundation. Full tournament results can be found here.

Look for game analyses and more in-depth coverage of the All-Girls National Championships in an upcoming edition of Chess Life Magazine.