FEATURE: Pooja Lam displaces reigning women’s champion, becomes youngest to claim the title
A rising star on the local chess scene, young Pooja Lam has taken her first National Title after playing chess for just about two years.
She beat out more seasoned players such as 20-year-old Jessica Callender, who won top prizes in a number of chess tournaments in the early part of 2022, and 18-year-old Sasha Shariff who held the women’s title since 2020.
Lam said: “My toughest opponent in this entire tournament would undoubtedly have to be Ms. Sasha Shariff.”
“Our game lasted four hours and it eventually concluded with a draw after a long and treacherous puzzle. This game and the game I played against Nellisha Johnson are my favourite games for the entire tournament.”
14-year-old Lam won the title on Sunday May 29th, 2022 at the Guyana National Stadium, Providence.
She suffered no losses in the 2022 KFC Women National Chess Championship, finishing with draws against Shariff and Callender and amassing victories against Waveney Johnson, Angel Rahim, Alexia McAdam, Anaya Lall, Nellisha Johnson, Adia Alphonso and Maliha Rajkumar.
“Winning the Women’s Championship was always a goal of mine for the far future since I didn’t believe I was strong enough or capable enough to actually win the championship at this stage in my chess development. The result came as a quite unexpected but pleasant surprise.”
Throughout her matches in the busy competitive chess calendar of local events, she demonstrated clinical diligence over the board, not displaying any intimidation by more seasoned or matured players.
“All in all this tournament was a big success for me and I’m 100% satisfied with the outcome of it.”
This resulted in her finishing second place in two Grand Prix tournaments and third in the other. She also finished second place in the National Qualifiers behind Jessica Callender.
“I honestly believed that my performance in the qualifiers would be my best but the championship proved me wrong.”
The Saraswati Vidya Niketan student got into the sport after stumbling upon a chess club at her former school, the St. Stanislaus College.
The Guyana Chess Federation had utilised the pandemic to fuel a passion for chess in a younger generation by making the sport more accessible to them through online learning and virtual competitions.
As chess returned over-the-board in February this year, a younger generation of chess players returned with skills to challenge veteran and senior champions of the game.
Notably, eight year-old Julian Mohabir made headlines earlier this year when he produced the biggest upset of the Guyana Chess Federation (GCF) DeSinco-sponsored National Junior Chess Championship Qualifiers by defeating the highest rated player of the tournament, Keron Sandiford, in the first round.
At 14, Pooja Lam is a leader of an even younger generation after displacing reigning champion Sasha Shariff to win the championship title. Lam demonstrates what is possible with determination, consistent competitive exposure and a passion for the game.
This win solidifies her place on the Guyana 2022 Women's National Chess Team booked for this year World Chess Olympiad in India from July 25 - 10 Aug, 2022 – according to the provisional qualifying points on the Guyana Chess Federation’s official website.
“Gaining a spot on the Olympiad team to represent Guyana in India will honestly be one of my most major chess achievements. I wish the entire team good luck and I do hope we make our country proud in whatever we do in this tournament.”
The preliminary points from the qualifying tournaments show Lam qualifying in the 2nd spot on 97 points, 10 points ahead of Callender on third and 7 points behind Shariff in first.
Lam’s rapid rise in chess is well documented and praised by local chess enthusiasts.
Earlier this year, Vice President of the Guyana Chess Federation was quoted in Stabroek news saying “I see a great future for her in chess. Pooja understands the game and likes chess. She will continue to do well” after she drew a match with Loris Nathoo, whose tactical diligence is feared by quite a few local players.
It can be stated with certainty that Lam has a bright future ahead in the sport.