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In Conversation With Kavyashree Mallanna - In Pusuit Of Passion

Ranjani Saigal

It is always an inspiring experience to hear great achievers, to understand their motivations and emulate their life as possible. These people have made toughest choices and lived them to great fruition at every turn of their lives. Lokvani spoke to one such trailblazer in our community who is all set to take her passion to new vistas.  Kavyashree Mallanna founder and director of Celestial Minds is one of the New England’s top chess players. A Fourteen time Chess champion in various categories back in Karnataka  for a decade; she pursued her higher studies in California, during which , she acquired United States Chess Federation  ‘Expert’ level rating after winning Kolty Chess Club Championship in year 2000. Chess remained a part of her life either as a player or as a teacher when she started Prema Chess Lab ( 2003) to train the local talents.

Her company Celestial Minds celebrates its annual Chess Extravaganza on December 8th.   Kavyashree shares her insights on her interest in chess and what it takes to be a great chess player.  

How did you get so fascinated by chess at an early age?

All credit goes to my mother Prof. K.R.Premaleela Mallanna, she filled chess in me. She loved chess and as a child I was fascinated to watch her play. She is now a FIDE rated player. I sat by her side collecting the chess pawns she had won and treasured them. My first tourney experience was when she enrolled me in an "open to all ages" event at the age of six. I learnt chess basics from my mother and senior local chess players initially and later moved on to chess books. My mother could have had  a successful chess career of her own,  instead she saw something in me at early age, she dedicated her time in  shaping  my chess career. Even now when I sit in front of the board I connect to my mother,  that is a more satisfying experience than winning games.

How was the chess ecosystem around you in India then?  What role did it play in shaping your chess career.

I must give credit to selected senior players who built an amazing chess community in my home town, Mysore. This kept the momentum going for a decade without losing the charm.  I was part of the ‘Mysore Chess cult’. After State or Nationals tourney senior players would analyze the games and lines that would give more insight to the game. Without these kind of passionate players it would neither be fun nor motivating for me to play the game.

What is the status of chess in India today? 

More FIDE rated tournaments are being held now and the games has become very competitive. A decade back it was harder choice for players to take up chess as profession, but now ‘Chess in School ‘ movement is happening at all the levels and companies are coming forward to sponsor players and offer jobs. Few of my chess friends from other states continued chess as a professions and have achieved Grand Master titles. It is really inspiring to see them representing India .

In the era of iDevices, people are always plugged-in. How do you think chess will transform with emerging technology?

Technology with a matured mind can immensely help chess and can bridge the gap we have between chess players and chess professionals. Technology can’t make us win games, it can help us practice better, form local chess communities at ease. Online chess is getting quite popular, it may help improve the game, however, there is a difference when you play a sport on video console, and with a real person. This also reminds me of correspondence chess that we played in early 90s where chess moves were mailed out on postcards. It was kind of Postal-Simultaneous or Offline-Simultaneous. Chess is a classical game. As of now, it is not as glamorous as tennis or football, it is both a challenge and an opportunity, I would like to use technology to give chess its due glamour.

You were equally good in swimming and table tennis.  How did you  decide to focus on chess?

 My sports career began with table tennis and swimming.  During my schooldays  I had a fair amount of success in those areas. Chess started as fun and relaxing game.  I used to enjoy exploring combinations and could play for hours.  Chess became a passion and quickly became a focus of my life.

Is it harder to pursue chess career as a woman?

Any field for that matter, even with the support and encouragement from the family, women face some kind of challenge. There is hesitation, dilemma, dependency,  social judgement etc. For women it takes an extra mile. This is quite apparent when we see the statistics. Male players dominate the chess world and ranking.  I firmly believe that whatever may the be the reason for fewer players, it certainly is not lack of intellectual capacity.

Many perceive Chess is more academically oriented, isn’t it a sport?

Absolutely!  I believe in ‘Sound mind in a sound body”  we need to be fit to be at our best to sit without losing focus. Unlike academics where each one can score cent percent, in Chess we have a Win or Loss or Draw.  Player must learn to accept the defeat but still cherish the game Or enjoy the Win and celebrate the moment.However, there are several research papers proving that Chess has helped academics. It  does help to develop lateral thinking, handle multiple tasks, have a holistic view and approach, and balancing a situation.

How were you able to balance chess with your academics and IT career?

A balanced life is a must to empower one’s passion. We should do our duties without shutting off the fire of passion. Thanks to my family, husband Prasanna Kumar, parents,relatives and friends who have always cheered me and supported me, throughout my career, I could balance necessities and passion. For instance, when I was doing my master's in Computer Networking, I visited the chess club in California where I often played. After moving to the east coast I worked in a IT startup company but did not let go of my passion for chess.  Through my laboratory ‘Prema Chess Lab’ I taught chess and played selected tournaments here to maintain USCF rating.

What suggestions do you have for a chess enthusiasts ?

Personally, when I play, I take myself  to romantic era of chess, where winning with a style was popular. In those days gambits were widely used and it was more of tactical fun. That’s how chess has been a most fascinating game for me. My suggestion here is to have fun with chess. Don’t get clogged by fixed lines, opening or ending theories. Understand theoretical aspects to have a good foundation but don't hesitate to try novelties. There are different kinds of time controls like Standard, Active, Rapid, Blitz, Bullet. Employ the ones you enjoy and have fun with the game. I still cherish our "Lightning Chess" days where tournament director choreographed the moves by screaming “White” “Black” every few seconds and chess hall resonated when players synchronously made their move.

What’s most satisfying experience with chess so far?

I love to play and I enjoy it more than anything else. I would like to spend more time on my game and try reach a  better rating. But to be honest teaching has been very satisfying. Watching students starting from learning moves to winning in chess events and coming to class with a trophy or  seeing the look on their face after they have solved a puzzle using an interesting move is a great experience. 

Was it a hard decision to switch from IT to chess full time?

It is not easy to switch careers for anybody since it puts you out of comfort zone. I realized that at some point in the middle of the career our goals become rusty, we fall in love with the comfort. I did some soul searching, that cleaned up mind. One fine day I got my mission statement of life, I wanted a career where failure and success are equally enjoyable and a career that I can pursue throughout my life. After that point, I decided not to look back. I kept doing what it takes, so far I am enjoying every bit of it.

Could you tells us a little about your new organization  Celestial Minds?

A truly passionate player or a performer is never satisfied by just his/her performance. I could flourish in chess, because of the atmosphere created by my seniors and they found satisfaction creating the ecosystem. Celestial Minds is founded to do exactly that, I want to spread the love for game of chess. I also see a need for an ecosystem for chess in the area.

What are you trying achieve through your organization, that you could not as an individual?

We need to balance business and promotion aspect too. We need to identify players who have potential but cannot afford training and events for who we like to support through our org, at the same time without business side to the company it gets impractical to nurture the players who need help.

Celestial Minds aims to promote chess and music.  Why the twin aims?

Love for music is a blessing from my father Prof.S.Mallanna and love for chess is a gift from my mother. Mother and father are in literary fields by profession, however their hobbies intertwined and always helped me find an expression and always balanced out highly competitive career be it chess or information technology. I hope our organization also finds perfect blend and balance with these two rare combination that is personally very dear and near to me.

Please tell us about your December-8th annual chess extravaganza. We hear the Mayor is attending your upcoming event. 

Our annual event is all about chess ! I am hoping this event brings chess professionals and chess enthusiasts more closer.  The event starts with the inauguration by the Mayor of the city of Nashua  followed by children's and corporate professionals chess tournament and a unique Social-Simul Chess segment. I take this opportunity to invite all Lokvani viewers to our annual event.

Any message to our viewers?

Pursue your passion. Enjoy the success, but never measure it. Build community around you that consists of passionate people like yourself, share your knowledge, encourage youngsters, contribute to society. Passion you posses is only recognized by the legacy you leave behind. Dream, Explore, Discover and become a Celestial Mind.

Finally, I like to share R.W.Emerson’s quote that I strongly believe in,

“Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

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