Interviews Mar 9, 2022 | 11:41 AMby chess24 staff

International Women's Day: Powering the Tour, part 2

It may not be International Women's Day anymore, but that doesn't mean chess24 is finished celebrating the work of our inspirational female figures.

Today we're continuing with Part 2 of our interviews with the women who power the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour. After this, there will be more!

They were like, “Whoa, what just happened?”

WGM and IM Tania Sachdev frequently covers the Tour with Peter Leko. She's a two-time Indian Women's Champion and won the Asian Women's Championship in 2007.

Interviewer: Let’s start at the beginning — how did you learn to play chess?

Tania Sachdev:

I started when I was less than six years old. It started as a hobby. I have two older siblings. They were serious about their education but I wasn't. I wouldn't let them study and my parents would try to distract me with all these different classes like dance and painting and all kinds of stuff but I didn't really care about any of it. Then, one day, we were gifted a chessboard by my aunt. And I remember actually watching my dad teach my brother how to play chess. I think somewhere I have that photograph as well of my dad teaching my brother how to play. 

I wasn't really a part of that, but you might have seen from my interviews that I'm quite a curious person. I want to know everything about everything! So I saw them and thought “what's going on here?” And then he just had to teach me as well. My dad was really bad at it. He was just learning how the pieces move. One day we were again playing and I managed to beat both of them. They both sucked at it, but they were like, “Whoa, what just happened?” And as the stars would have it, they knew somebody who taught chess. It started as a hobby but it soon became a lot more than that!

Interviewer: So how did you move from that into tournaments?

Tania Sachdev:

Well, apparently it was the only thing that could keep me sitting in one place. So it was quite a relief for my folks, and then they kind of wanted to have me do more of it! 

It was a Delhi Open Championship. I was obviously the youngest participant and also perhaps the only girl playing because in Delhi at that time, there wasn't so much chess culture. It was 11 rounds and I remember just not winning a single game. And I was just so mad at everyone!  I’ve always been the kind of person who is motivated by defeat. I didn’t think “oh, I don’t want to do this anymore”, I thought “I will do this again and I’ll win next time.” I won the “youngest player” award which was cool.

After that, I just started working a lot. Over the next few months, I won my age group in the state competition, which qualified me for the Nationals. I think I finished third or fourth there and I just kept going. I think my parents saw that it could be something for me because they were sort of pushing me to play more tournaments. I was just happy that I could play chess and didn’t have to go to school!

Interviewer:  Did you compete in a lot of girls-only events? Or was it mostly mixed tournaments?

Tania Sachdev:

It was a mix. I was very lucky and very blessed. My parents always treated me and my sister the same as my brother. They also had a great love of sports. My brother tried to play golf and he was very good at it, but he didn't end up taking it professionally. They were always very encouraging. So I think the idea was never to make me into a strong female chess player, but just a strong sportsperson and just it happened to be chess. I think for them, what was very important was that I learned the values and ethics that sports teach. They always wanted me to learn that discipline and that ability to be my own person and learn difficult things myself. So they always encourage that.

Interviewer: So specifically with girls tournaments, what was your impression of them?

Tania Sachdev:

I think in India was a little different. Where I come from, there were no girls playing chess. Or at least, there were very few. For tournaments, I always had to travel to another part of the country to meet strong competition. I mean, it wasn't that there were no girls playing chess in Delhi it was just that for me to win an all-girls tournament in Delhi felt much easier than when I went to compete in the national. At the Nationals I thought, “okay, this is real chess happening now.” 

There was always healthy competition between girls and it was really nice to see. And then I went to play the British Championship. At that time Commonwealth countries could participate. Then I saw so many more female players and it was such a tough event and I really enjoyed interacting with them. 

Interviewer: On a similar note, how did you feel about women's titles when you were growing up, did you find them a motivating force?

Tania Sachdev:

I didn't have anything against them. I think especially when I started, there just weren't that many women playing. I mean, there were barely any women-only tournaments. We were always playing in the open section. In fact, chess as a career for women was going to be very, very difficult. So winning a national or a state level, which was a women-only tournament, it gave me the motivation to go on. 

I also understand the argument that women should compete in open tournaments. And I think that's correct and that's exactly what we also do. But I think by taking away women’s prizes or women-only tournaments or women titles, at least the generation that exists now and maybe the next two or three generations, I think it would be very difficult to imagine them coming up. The change has to happen from the grassroots level. 

I didn't win an open tournament. I didn't win money from an open tournament. I didn't represent India in the open tournament. I don't believe that I would have continued playing chess if I wasn't part of the national women's team representing India globally, if I didn't win the National Women's Championship or the Asian Women Championship or become a woman grandmaster. I think these things kept me going. It didn't stop me from playing an open tournament, but you have to make a career out of it at the end of it.

Interviewer:  I noticed your name in a list for an elite training group class — are you still very ambitious as a player?

Tania Sachdev:

Yeah! I did this for one month. I was going to be in my city for a month and they had these classes running. So I joined their elite group. I mean, the thing is that I haven't been able to play much for obvious reasons over the last two years. 

So yeah, I still need one grandmaster norm, but I need 100 rating points to become a grandmaster. I don't know if it will happen or not, but I want to try. I still want to cover as much ground as I can. And if I'm going to play in a tournament, I want to still work and then go play.  I want to feel good while playing, so I want to put in the work for it.  Playing is still a very strong passion in me, especially if it comes to being on the national team. I don't know if it'll happen or not, but I want to give it my best.

Interviewer: Do you think you'll get there before Lawrence Trent?

Tania Sachdev:

The Grandmaster title? If we were the last people left in the world and aiming for the GM title I think I'd beat him to it. I’d only have to play against him!

Interviewer: What’s it been like working on the Champions Chess Tour and with Peter Leko in particular?

Tania Sachdev:

Oh, it's been fantastic! I remember in the first year we did the Legends tournament. I was still quite new to the online commentary thing. And one day I was on a Zoom call with Garry Kasparov, with Judit Polgar, at some point with Anatoly Karpov. It was just a total fangirl moment for me, it had a huge impact.

Then it just grew into the whole Champions Chess Tour. Working with Peter has just been amazing. I think we have a really good rhythm, we can rely on each other. The roles are quite defined, he’s the chess expert and just let him go. But it’s important to keep the show light and entertaining, to connect with the audience, and to have some fun. He’s a great sport when I put him in awkward spots and make some jokes, it was SO much fun making him do Chessle. That’s without even talking about how much I’ve learned from him, it’s like a 4-hour masterclass every day.

Interviewer: What’s your take on the new rules introduced into the Tour this year?

Tania Sachdev:

I think the outcome and the way things went, especially the preliminaries, it kind of speaks for itself, right? We had so many more decisive games, we had so many going on!  People just couldn't draw their way into qualification at any point, which we sometimes saw last year. We saw great performances from Vincent, Eric and Praggnanandhaa. 

I think it made it more sport and made it less Berlin. So I think it was perfect, right?

Interviewer: What was your best achievement in chess?  And what was your best game?

Tania Sachdev:

Most recently, of course, winning the silver medal was amazing at the World Championship! It was a big moment. Apart from that, I think the one that really stands out to me was when I won the Asian Women’s Championship. It was many years ago now, but I think it stands out because of the implications it had in my life. I was really struggling with whether I wanted to get into academics, go out and study or do something else or did I want to push with chess? And then that made it clear to me that I wanted to do that. 

Reykjavik 2016 was the last GM norm I made. So that was very special. I was very happy with the way I played there. 

As for games, I will give the clichéd answer: the best is yet to come!

Interviewer: What are your plans for the rest of the year?

Tania Sachdev:

I'm going to be playing a little bit. I think I'm going to be playing in March and in April. Reykjavik Open is definitely up next. Of course, I’ll be working with the Tour throughout the year. I'm not doing the next event, but I'll be doing the major. I think it starts 19th April. And then we've got the Olympiad this year as well as the Asian Games. So I think my year will depend on whether I make it to the team or not, and we'll find out in May. 

Interviewer: I hear the Olympiad might take place in India?

Tania Sachdev:

I'm excited about that. I think it should be. It's going to be a lot of fun if it's in India, the perfect host for the second most prestigious event!

Chess is a bridge between everyone

Next, we talked to WIM Ayelen Martinez. Ayelen is our VP of Content & Operations and she works tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure the live shows happen.

Interviewer: How did you learn to play chess?


My dad taught me when I was five years old, actually. We are five siblings, so I have three sisters and one brother. He wanted to teach us everything, how to play almost any game and how to play any instrument. 

Interviewer: How did you get into more serious competitions?


Well, I was always competitive. So when I was maybe seven or eight years old, I played a lot against my family. But then I couldn’t beat my brother! I wanted to go to a chess club because I wanted to learn how to beat him. 

There was a club in my city but it was quite small. I was the first person in that city with a FIDE rating. Even though they were amateurs, they were super passionate about chess.  My parents were a little concerned that I was hanging around at a club with all these adults, so they sent me to play tournaments. I learned to beat my brother and everyone at the club and my next goal was the National Championship. I actually won it five times when I was under 18.

Interviewer: Did you play a lot of girls-only tournaments? Or was it mostly mixed events?


To be honest, to me it was a surprise they existed. When I started it was only guys at the club. I felt a bit weird, though, because I was the only girl and I could see my parents were a little concerned. And then when they sent me to the National Championship, I found out that there were tournaments just for girls. To be honest, I didn’t really have a choice, I was too young to decide which event to play. One year I was lucky enough to play in both events because they were on different dates. I actually won the under-16 mixed event. Then I wanted more of that!  I qualified for the Olympiad team when I was 19.

Interviewer: What has chess taught you?


It has made me less judgmental because after all, on the chessboard, we’re all the same, right?  We are all equal and your gender, your age, your race, your country, these things don’t matter. Chess is a bridge between everyone, it’s like a superpower.

Also, in San Luis in 2011 I worked as part of the chess social program. We worked with blind people, people in jail, in hospitals… it showed me that chess is an amazing tool to make people’s lives better.

Interviewer: I’d like to ask you your opinion on women’s titles, are they a force for good?


I would say that if you are an objective, logical person, you can say they should not exist. But the conditions of society over the years should not be ignored, we have to consider all factors. We have to consider the whole context of society. In some countries, women weren’t even allowed to play chess until recently. I really hope that in 100 years, they won’t be needed because we’ll have an equal number of women and men playing chess but until then I am totally in support of them.

Interviewer: So what’s your best chess achievement and your best game?


I won the mixed Championship under 16 in Argentina and also I won the Continental Championship for under-16s. 

I once played in Italy. And one day we had a double round and I won against two GMs. And actually, I won with the same line. With g4 against the Philidor! It was amazing because like the second game, he was trying to just show me the right way to play this line, right? And I won two really exciting games, it was amazing.

1. e4 d6 2. d4 ♘f6 3. ♘c3 e5 4. ♘f3 ♘bd7 5. g4 ♘xg4 6. ♖g1 exd4 7. ♗g5 ♘gf6 8. ♕xd4 c6 9. O-O-O ♕b6 10. ♕d2 ♘e5 11. ♘xe5 dxe5 12. ♗c4 ♕c7 13. ♗xf6 gxf6 14. ♘b5 ♕e7 15. ♕e3 ♕b4 16. ♘c7+ ♔e7 17. ♘xa8 ♕xc4 18. ♕d2 ♕d4 19. ♕a5 ♗h6+ 20. ♔b1 ♕xe4 21. ♕c7+ ♔e6 22. ♖d6+ ♔f5 23. ♕xf7 ♕h4 24. ♘c7 ♖f8 25. ♕xh7+ ♔f4 26. ♕d3 ♕xh2 27. ♕e3+ ♔f5 28. ♕f3+ ♗f4 29. ♕g4+


1. e4 d6 2. d4 ♘f6 3. ♘c3 e5 4. ♘f3 ♘bd7 5. g4 ♘xg4 6. ♖g1 ♘gf6 7. ♗c4 exd4 8. ♕xd4 c6 9. ♗f4 ♕b6 10. O-O-O ♕xd4 11. ♖xd4 ♘b6 12. ♗e2 d5 13. exd5 ♘bxd5 14. ♘xd5 ♘xd5 15. ♖e4+ ♗e7 16. ♗d6 ♗e6 17. ♗xe7 ♘xe7 18. ♘d4 O-O 19. ♗g4 ♘g6 20. ♘xe6 fxe6 21. ♗xe6+ ♔h8 22. ♖xg6


Interviewer: Can you describe your role at chess24?


I don’t really know, I have to do a bit of everything! 

Well, one of the main things is working closely with the Tour players. I contact them throughout the Tour, make sure they have everything they need, that everything is okay.  I work closely with the organization of the Tour. I also help coordinate with the different language teams, so I helped to onboard teams in Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, Polish and others quite recently. I help keep them aligned with the rest of the company in terms of content and broadcast designs and I’m super proud that we’ve managed to work together so well across so many languages.

My team takes care of the live shows. The producers, the designers, coordination with sponsors… there is a lot to do!

Interviewer: Would you recommend a job in chess to people?


Yes, but it’s not a regular job. You have to be willing to work late and on weekends, it’s not a 9-5. Chess tournaments happen at any time. You also have to work with people from all around the world, different cultures, different ages. You have to be super open-minded and super flexible.

We do so many things that you have to be ready to adapt. Two weeks ago I had to learn how to distribute a podcast and I didn’t know anything about that. But okay, I had to learn!

Interviewer: What's it been like working with the Tour and top players in general? 


My main role is to keep our team aligned and to make sure all of the participants have a fair deal. I want to make sure they’re all happy and comfortable. It also surprised me how humble some of them are, you maybe wouldn’t imagine it from top players but they can be very easy to work with.

Interviewer: What do you think about the new rules in the tour this season?


I love it, actually. I love it because we have more action and it's something new as well. It encourages people to be more fighting, to have this fighting spirit that, personally, I like the most. More aggressive chess, I love it!

It sounded interesting, so I said, “yeah, why not?”

Tania Karali is an International FIDE Arbiter and the Chief Arbiter of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour.

Interviewer: How old were you when you first learned to play chess?

Tania Karali:

I learned to play chess at the age of five by my father. But I was not involved in the structured chess world. I had no idea that there were chess clubs and federations. Later on in my life when I heard about the system, how it works, I thought it was for professionals, for accomplished players. So in Greece, it is not in our culture as much as we would like chess to be.

Interviewer: How did you get introduced to the tournament world?

Tania Karali:

So in the summer of 2009 I was on vacation. I had been playing chess for one year before online, but just random games. And when I saw the newspaper that there would be a local tournament nearby I thought, why not throw myself in a tournament? So it was totally random.

Interviewer: How did your first tournament go?

Tania Karali:

I think I scored three out of seven and it could have been one of the best tournaments in my life, actually.

Interviewer:  How did you get into being an arbiter?

Tania Karali:

OK, this was the second big random point in my chess career. It was December 2010. I was with a group of friends out one night and they started discussing and said they would be attending a national arbiters’ seminar the next day. And I had nothing to do the next day. It sounded interesting, so I said, “yeah, why not?” I asked if it is open to everyone, do I need to be a very strong chess player to come along? They said, “no, no, no, just come along”. And that's how it started. 

At that seminar, they gave us the advice that whenever there is a tournament, whenever we hear about an event being organized, we should send an application. They said we shouldn’t worry about the level of the tournament. The important thing is that you express your interest in it so that the organizers start to know about you and to know that you are available, that you would like to go to work for the tournament. So just start sending applications everywhere, and at some point, they will invite you.

So I started with some events with my local club and then I sent an application for the National Schools competition in Greece. At first, they said they would like to have someone more experienced in this event because of its national significance. But two days before the event, one of the arbiters that had already arranged to go got sick so she couldn't go. It was my first big event. They got to know me. I got to know some people. They were satisfied with my work. And this is how slowly, slowly I started being invited to events of national level.

Interviewer: What's the biggest event that you've worked at in terms of numbers?

Tania Karali:

It would be the 43rd Olympiad, the Rapid and Blitz World Championships in Saudi Arabia, and Warsaw, where I was also the pairings officer. And online numerous youth events. I mean, the World Youth Cup in August had 1600 participants and in 2020, a World Youth event with 1300 participants.

Interviewer: I guess you’re one of the most experienced online arbiters in the world because you've done all these top events What's that been like working with the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour?

Tania Karali:

It is a unique experience to be working in youth events of that mass scale with 1600 participants. They have different needs.

It is totally different to be working with top-class players where, of course, you need to be very careful and pay attention to minor details. You might need to help them with the technical details, you need to have test events before to make sure they can go through all the complicated procedures because it's not just the game, it is also the broadcast. I ensure they set up the camera, both for broadcasting and for fair play reasons. We give them a list of many technical details of what they need to do. 

And you may be prepared, you may have set up everything, you may have tested the camera to make sure it is at the right angle, you may have the proper background. You may be dressed very nicely for the interview afterward… and simply forget your password. There are so many details that have nothing to do with chess itself. 

Interviewer: So do you recommend being an arbiter and if other people wanted to follow your path, what would you suggest as the first steps?

Tania Karali:

OK, so first of all, they need to know the rules, the regulations! 

People often ask what my job is and the main job is to make sure that there are the perfect conditions of play for the players. This might be to make sure that the playing area is quiet or that there is enough light and no sound, no distractions. 

Arbiters need to be aware of a full set of rules and regulations, which in some cases can get quite complicated. The first thing that someone would need to do is to study them. The best way to do this is to attend seminars because there the regulations are explained. And you can also gain from the experience of some of the lecturers, they will present some examples to demonstrate the reason behind each regulation, especially after a rule has changed. 

And then, of course, do not be afraid! It’s important not to be afraid to make decisions, provided that you know the regulations. If you really don’t know, you can always call someone to ask for an opinion. It's no shame to call for help. Also, as I mentioned earlier, make sure that people know you’re willing to work as an arbiter. I mean, if you just are in contact with your chess club and you have not told anyone else that you would like to go to their events, you cannot expect to be invited.

Interviewer: So, do you have any ambitions as an arbiter? Maybe a World Championship match one day?

Tania Karali:

Yes, I think that everyone aspires to that!  I would like to be at the Candidates or the World Cup one day. Also, the players that I know online thanks to the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour, I would like to meet them over the board at some point.

Interviewer: What places have you travelled to through chess that maybe you wouldn’t have got the chance to go to?

Tania Karali:

So I've been in Saudi Arabia.  And it was a huge experience, of course. I've traveled to many places in Europe, twice in Spain, Italy, Latvia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland Slovenia. Also, I’ll be in Slovenia next month for the European Championship. I have also been to Georgia and Belarus.

Interviewer: Could you share a favourite game of yours, or maybe a puzzle?

Tania Karali:

Sure, I have a nice tactic!  I mean, the game by itself is not brilliant. I made a mistake in it. But the final position was nice.

White to play and win!

I hope you enjoyed reading about just some of the women who power the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour (trust me, there are many more!). Over the next few months, we'll be speaking to women from all over the chess world, in all different kinds of roles. If you'd like to hear from someone in particular, feel free to leave a comment below!

Save 40% off chess24 Premium with code WOMANSDAY here.

Save up to 50% off Chessable courses here.

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