Middle Schooler Shows No Mercy at the Chessboard
July 26, 2014. By Beau Dure
This spring, Ashritha Eswaran announced her presence at the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship with authority. The lowest-rated and least-experienced entrant in the 10-player round-robin tournament upset a women’s international master and a women’s grandmaster in her first three games, impressing many commentators with her aggressive, resilient play.
Then she finished middle school.
Eswaran is a soft-spoken 13-year-old from San Jose, California, with a flower in her hair and a big smile that shows off her braces. Just a typical smart teenager — aside from holding the title of national master after learning the game only a few years ago.
Few 13-year-olds have the attacking poise Eswaran showed in her first game in the U.S. championships. Her opponent, women’s international master Viktorija Ni, 22, had the advantage of playing white, which in chess terms is like getting in the first punch. Ni built upon that advantage after 33 moves, with menacing pawns in the center and a roaming queen. But Eswaran gave up two of her rooks to take Ni’s queen, and went into a complex endgame with strong pawns of her own.
By move 70 — an eternity in a game in which elite players usually agree to draws much earlier — Eswaran had turned the tide, leaving veteran commentator Maurice Ashley dumbfounded that such a young newcomer could find such brilliant moves under pressure. She seemed to miss an opportunity to win, but when it presented itself again she won the 83-move epic game, and headed home with a $1,000 prize for the best game of the tournament.
“Ashritha Eswaran,” intoned grandmaster Yasser Seirawan on the championship webcast. “A name we’re going to be talking about in the years ahead.”
Being young and aggressive means absorbing some losses, and she suffered five in the tournament. But the three wins and single draw caught everyone’s attention.