Ashritha Eswaran started competing at chess when she was only seven years old. Her journey in the 64 squared-game led her to become a Woman International Master (WIM) at only 15 as well as a four-time National Champion. However, Ashritha has not just excelled on the chess circuit individually. Recently, she became one of the first female Presidents of the Chess Club at Berkeley (along with the author of the article), which is UC Berkeley's official chess club and team. It is the first time that UC Berkeley has two female Co-Presidents of the Chess Club.
Additionally, Ashritha has also been a mentor to junior players and has volunteered for various non-profits in her Bay Area hometown. So, one couldn't miss the chance to interview Eswaran, who is currently pursuing dual passions- becoming a GM in chess as well as a mathematician and data scientist from UC Berkeley. Onto the Q/A now!
1. Let's go back in time for the first question. Can you talk about how you got engaged in chess?
In the first grade, I got engaged in chess through an after school program called "Success Chess School". The program took place every Thursday for a couple of hours. Initially, it was just a fun game for me to play in my free time.
2. What were your earliest memories of the game? Do you remember the first lesson that you had and your inaugural tournament?
My inaugural tournament was on October 31st, 2008, at a mall. The CompetitionCompetition was very casual. Everyone played in their Halloween costume (myself included)!
I remember the first lesson that I had, which was with one of the coaches who taught the after school program in my elementary school. My earliest memories of the game were always happy ones as I loved going to the tournaments and meeting other people who had a passion for chess. I also enjoyed watching the top-rated players battle in stressful situations.
3. How did you go about your training in the initial days?
In the initial days, I played a lot of games on a program called Chessmaster as well as on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). Besides playing, I did several puzzles on a website called chesstempo. Each day, I dedicated a couple of hours playing chess and learning new concepts. Specifically, I avoided any opening work as I thought it was lengthy, and instead, I focused on middle game and strategy building topics. Also, I participated in many tournaments because I enjoyed the playing atmosphere as well as meeting new people.
4. What led you to take the jump into the big league of chess- the titles, US championships, world tournaments, etc.? When did you decide that you should focus more on chess?
In 2010, I was seriously playing the piano and chess. However, I decided to focus on one extracurricular activity and randomly picked chess. I was going to switch back to playing the piano if I didn't see any progress with my chess career within the first year. However, within the first year, I gained a lot of rating points, and my coaches noticed that I had the potential to go even further. My early success came in April 2011, when I played in an All-Girls Nationals in Chicago, IL. In this tournament, I placed 3rd, tied for 2nd! This event made me realize that I had a future in chess, and then I decided to be more serious about the game. From that point on, I played in many tournaments and started to participate in international events from 2012 onwards.
5. Can you share your thoughts on the preparation for earning your WIM title?
For the WIM title, I practiced a lot and studied 4-5 hours a day. I achieved the honor in the summer of 2015 when I won the gold medal at a Pan-American Youth tournament in El Salvador. Because I won the top prize, I didn't need to go through the traditional path and get three norms. Instead, I was directly awarded the title.
6. Tournaments at the top-level are strenuous and physically demanding. How do you prepare before, during, and after such events?
Before tournaments, I prepare by focusing on strengthening my chess games as well as maintaining a regular fitness schedule. Most of the time, this involves walking and going to the gym. During the tournament, I like to go to the gym as well to keep my mind fresh. Gyming during tournaments helps me reset my mind after a bad game/loss.
7. You have done a lot of work promoting the game amongst the community around you. How has this experience been for you?
The experience has been tremendous and enriching. I love volunteering and giving back to my community. Hence, in high school, I started a chess program at a community service place for underprivileged children. The program is still running to this day. Additionally, I love promoting the game amongst more girls as when I started to play chess; there were very few girls who played the mind sport. Today, there are lots of girls in the chess field!
8. You are now a student at UC Berkeley. How do you balance your academics and chess?
Honestly, it is challenging to balance my academics and chess. However, I make it a goal to practice some chess every day. This can range from studying chess to playing casual blitz/bullet games online. Playing the game every day allows me to destress from my heavy school workload (majoring in math and data science) as well as prevents me from being rusty in my matches. So it's a win-win!
9. What are your future goals in the game?
My future goals are to become a WGM, an IM, and eventually, a GM. I also hope to be the US Women's Champion someday!
10. Finally, what can you say to girls out there who want to become better at chess? Any tips?
Don't be intimidated by the boys and guys! Chess is a battle of the mind, and being a girl does not give you any disadvantage against the boys. Besides this, remember to have fun, enjoy the game, and don't stress too much on the results of the games that you play as success will eventually come to you with good quality games!
Rapid Fire- (Answer in one word/sentence)
1. Favorite Chess Format- Blitz 3+0
2. A Hobby that you pursue- Classical Vocal Singing/Painting
3. Inspirational Figure- Susan Polgar
4. Thought-Provoking Quote- "If you are going to fail, you might as well fail spectacularly!"
6. Favorite Chess Player- Vishy Anand
7. Favorite Chess Destination- Paleochora, Greece
8. Book Recommendation- The Lunar Chronicles Series
9. Favorite Film/TV Show- The Secret of Moonacre (Film) & Super Singer (Indian Reality Show)