Soundarya Pradhan is a 100% visually challenged chess player from Odisha. He is currently India's third highest blind player with a rating of 1800+ ELO. Recently, he created history by becoming the first ever from the country to win a silver medal at the World Junior Chess Championship for the Blind, the previous record being held by Darpan Inani who had won the bronze medal in 2013. Soundarya, who is also pursuing his degree from the prestigious National Institute of Technology(NIT) spoke to us in an exclusive. So, let's get down to business.
1. Congratulations on winning the silver medal at the World Junior for the Blind. Can you share how you feel right now?
Thank you very much. I feel extremely happy with my success. This is the biggest one in my life till now. I could also do something for my country. I am also grateful to the people who have helped me reach this stage.
2. How was the overall tournament experience? How did you prepare for it?
I was not doing especially well in the first few rounds. Fortunately, I regained my form in the second half. I won the last three rounds continuously. In fact, I played the last few rounds with fever. Still, I performed very well. This gives me confidence that I have improved my capacity of playing well under pressure. I think most parts of the preparation was done before and during the tournament in Bulgaria(Referring to the World Team Championship for the Blind, 2018). Before the tournament, IM Sagar Shah sir trained the Indian team online over Skype. We also played some strong tournaments, like the Grandmaster tournaments in Kolkata and KIIT. I would like to thank Dibendu Barua sir for giving us sponsorship for the 3rd Grandmaster tournament in Kolkata. I would like to thank Sekhar sir for the concession in the 11th KIIT GM open. He had also given us free entries in many other tournaments in the past.
3. You played in the World Team tournament a few weeks before this championship. Can you say something about that event?
The world team chess championship in Bulgaria was really wonderful. I think the tournament itself played a big role in my improvement before the tournament in Poland(the World Juniors).
4. This year has been quite eventful for you in chess as special initiatives have been taken by AICFB and Chessbase India to support the top selected players from the National A. What do you think about this?
I am very very grateful to Chessbase India(Especially Sagar Sir and Amruta Ma'am) for their support for the Indian blind chess. We got online training sessions with Sagar sir and also got an opportunity to learn from GM Adhiban B, and IM Prathamesh Mokal sir. Also, we had a training camp in Mumbai just before the tournament in Bulgaria.
The most important change that has taken place due to Chessbase India is the publicity. We are getting much more recognition than before for our achievements. Of course, it was all possible because of the All India Chess Federation for the Blind (AICFB). It is because of the continuous efforts of the members of AICFB that we are able to compete and show our talent to the world. I would like to thank DR. Charudatta Jadhav sir, President of AICFB, and other members who have immensely contributed to the creation and growth of AICFB.
5. What are your future goals and how do you aim to achieve them step by step?
I want to become the first visually challenged super grandmaster in the world, and I also want to be a renowned computer scientist. I need sponsorship for playing high-level tournaments and for coaching.
6. You are also a student at NIT. How do you balance your school work and play chess?
I am quite flexible with my schedule. If there is an exam coming up, I direct my focus towards studies, and if there is a tournament coming up, I direct my focus towards chess. But I keep in mind to stay in touch in both spheres.
7. Who is your motivation and what keeps you going in the game?
I am deeply inspired by late Prof. Stephen Hawking. He has shown the world that disability does not take away everything from one. Sure, it does give challenges, but it is possible to overcome them. I am also inspired by Vishwanathan Anand, late DR. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and many others. I like chess because it is very logical, yet sometimes it is so complex that calculation alone is not enough to find the best moves. One needs to develop a strong intuition. I think chess helps in developing a logical thinking and also intuition in life.
8. What could be done to improve the levels of blind chess in the country?
Blind chess needs more recognition. Players should get sponsorship and coaching. This will dramatically improve the results, and this can generate interest in chess in the blind community. That will give visually challenged players a motivation to work on chess.
9. Any tips that you would like to give other Blind players who want to improve?
When you face a challenge, try to find the bright side of it. For example, the fact that I cannot see the position while looking at a game directly from the computer screen is a challenge, but in fact, this has helped me train my brain for visualizing the board properly.
10. Finally, any concluding thoughts that you would like to share with the audience?
Disability is not a curse, but a challenge. If the necessary support is provided, we can do wonders. I request everyone to do their best to spread awareness on this matter. For example, there are many visually challenged persons who are not able to use a mobile or a PC because they do not know about the software like Talkback, which runs on android, and JAWS and NVDA, which run on Windows. Once the necessary awareness is made and support is given to the disabled, the entire country will improve. I have an inner dream to live in an India that will, one day, be the best country for the disabled.