Chess, they say, is the gymnasium of the mind. And so, when one sees, a young eight-year-old trapezing through it, so effortlessly, it becomes a fascinating feat to behold. Alana Meenakshi Kolagatla is such a champion. A cute and lean-looking girl, it’s when you challenge her to a game of chess, that the mean-thinking machine in her comes leaping out. Focussed and composed, she quickly beats you at a game, with moves you’ve least expected.
At the age of five and a half, when most kids were trying to use crayons and colour inside the line, this young girl was already making highly strategic moves. “It all started when I brought home the game of chess, and laid out the board in front of her. I simply told her the names of each of the pieces, and showed her a few basic moves”, shares Dr. Aparna, Alana’s mother. Without giving it a second thought, the box was brought out the next day, and Alana recalled not only all the pieces but their positions as well. Dr. Aparna being a junior level chess player herself, was quick to identify her talent, and slowly started to encourage her child. “It would be casual games at home in the beginning, but I soon felt that I wasn’t doing this right. She had interest and needed time and attention. A coach could really help her understand and explore the game better.” Alana soon became part of a summer camp at YMCA, and despite being the youngest, her coach Chiranjeevi saw the spark in her, when she began beating opponents at matches.
It was from this juncture that Alana started getting into serious training. She participated in competitions, at district and state levels, acing in all of them. By the end of 2018, Alana had played in different formats and even won medals for the country. This included winning four medals at the 14th Asian School’s Chess Championship, in Sri Lanka, which comprised of a gold, a silver and two bronzes in the “Under 7” girls category. She went on to bag the gold in Classic format and also the Women Candidate Master (WCM) Title. Alana next participated in the 32nd “Under-7” girls nationals Championships in Karnataka and was tied for gold. She went on to win at the “Under 8” girls category in the Asian Youth Chess Championship, in Sri Lanka in 2019 and won two gold medals for India in the rapid format in both individual and team. Riding the wave of victories, she next represented India at the World Cadet Chess Championship 2019 in China and finished in the top 15. This was closely followed by the Western Asian Junior and Youth Chess Championship at New Delhi where Alana dominated all the Chess formats in the “Under-8” girls category, as she finished with two gold in Rapid and Blitz and one bronze in Classic format. Having finished 47 brilliant matches, in a short span of 37 days, she has moved from one victory to another, as she was defeating children her age, and many opponents who were older than her too. “It was encouraging to see her improve at every game, analysing mistakes and learning from them.”, says her mother Dr. Aparna.
Striking a balance
Having started to play very early on, life has been far from typical for this chess player. “However, it hasn’t affected her much. When she’s home, she’s chilled out, plays with her friends, paints, and draws. When she’s travelling, she adapts to new places quickly”, shares her father Madhu Kolagatla. “It did take a while to adjust to food options in different countries, and for a while, my wife would carry a cooker to provide the type of food that Alana was used to.” But soon, that wasn’t required as well, as Alana started adapting to new environments and foods. When asked what the extended family and relatives had to say, Dr. Aparna dismisses by saying, “There was some criticism initially, but slowly support started growing when they saw her winning,” she adds.
After her gold at the Asian Youth and Western Asian Chess Championship, Alana now eyes the dream of becoming the youngest Grandmaster. Currently undergoing training, at Chennai’s Chess Gurukul, this chess player is honing her skills. She’s building patience, technique, and skill, to tackle the games that come her way in the future. Having been an official Indian representative for this year’s “Under-8” girls Chess World Youth Cadet, Asian Youth, Common Wealth, Western Asian Youth and “Under-9” girls Chess Championship for World Schools, Asian Schools, and Indian Nationals, she has shouldered plenty at her young age. And as she readies for upcoming competitions, this young star is set to shine further.