Sandhya Goli started playing chess at the age of 13. Overcoming obstacles of being in a small town and with limited resources, she is eyeing the title of a Women’s Grandmaster.
Chess has, for most part, been considered a male bastion in India, but that did not deter 27-year-old Sandhya Goli. Starting to play chess as a hobby when she was 13, Sandhya has, over the last five years, made a mark for herself, winning the National Women Amateur Champion, and today ranks second in among Asian Women Amateurs.
As she eyes the title of Women’s Grandmaster, her path to success has been anything but easy.
Sandhya was born and raised in the historic town of Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh. Her father was the chief head warden at the Rajahmundry Central Prison, and her mother was a homemaker.
“My father has been my role model as he taught me to respect every human being without expectations. He worked at the jail and even treated the prisoners with respect.” Sandhya, however, gives credit to her mother for her interest in chess. Married at the age of 14, her mother had to drop out of school. “My mother wanted me to achieve everything she couldn’t.”
“She made it mandatory for me to participate in at least one curricular activity alongside my studies in school. I used attend dance, drawing and music classes, and took part in various competitions,” she recalls.
A visit to her father’s friend’s house sparked her interest in chess when she saw her friend playing the game. “Until then, I didn’t know anything about chess. My father’s friend’s daughter asked us to play chess. We had no idea about it.”
She recalls her father sought his friend’s help to understand and learn chess when Sandhya and her brother told him they had not understood the game.
“He learnt the game and came back home and then taught us how to play. Me and my brother soon started enjoying the game.”
Sandhya and her brother also participated in the school chess competition, where she lost in the first round. “After losing the competition, me and my brother practised for a whole year. We were determined to participate the next year. This time, I secured the first place.”
Seeing Sandhya’s interest in chess, her parents sent her to chess coaching classes. In 2005, Sandhya made her national debut at Hyderabad, and won the first place in Under-19 girls state chess championship.
“It was tough for my parents to take me different for tournaments and coaching. My father sold our house and withdrew money from his provident fund for my chess tournaments and coaching.”
“My father’s colleagues disapproved of his actions. They told my father that the provident fund would be useful after his retirement, and he should spend the money on his son rather than his daughter, but my father didn’t listen to any of them,” she adds.
Sandhya continued to play chess through her graduation, and represented Andhra University in inter-university tournaments. Soon after, she pursued her MCA (Master of Computer Applications) from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) Anantapur.
In 2013, Sandhya started her international career with the Sri Lanka Open Chess Championship, where she won the Women's Champion Trophy.
“After this competition, I completely dedicated myself to chess and never gave up.”
Over the next five years, Sandhya won the first place in mixed doubles at the World Open Chess tournament in 2014 with Yogesh Gautam. In 2015, she bagged the silver medal at the World Women Amateur Championship in Greece, and in 2016, she won the bronze medal at the Asian Women Amateur Championship in Iran. Last year, Sandhya stood at first place in National Women Amateur in Delhi, and won a silver at Asian Women Amateur in Thailand.
Sandhya says the Asian Women Amateur 2017 was the most difficult tournament for her. “I lost the first round to Cuizon Loreshyl from Philippines, but I won the second round and secured 7.5 points. She drew the third round and secured 7.5 points. We both got the same points, but according to Buchholz system, I got the second place.”
Speaking about her training, Sandhya says, “I am coached by Raghunandan Gokhale, and who comes with me for each game. Before a tournament, I take coaching from him, and practice for seven to eight hours a day. If an opponent’s earlier games are available online, I watch these games to get an idea about their playing style and prepare myself accordingly.”
Sandhya says chess is a lucrative game for professional chess players, but that is not the case for her at present. “I am currently not earning money or doing any job. I am on my way to becoming a Women’s International Master, and later a Women’s Grandmaster; only then will chess become lucrative.”
Currently, Sandhya is preparing for two big tournaments in 2018 - World Women Amateur and Asian Amateur. Sandhya is an INK fellow since 2016, and has been sponsored by Mytrah Energy.
On what she has learn with chess, she says,
“Normally, before a game in chess, we find minimum three to four variations our opponent’s game. This applies to real life as well. While trying to solve any situation or a problem, I always keep three to four solutions, which has made me mentally stronger.”