By Laura Doman
Meet Thanu Avirneni, one of the top high school players in Georgia and certainly one of the most accomplished female chess competitors in the state. This past summer, Thanu played in three consecutive tournaments within two weeks: the 12th Annual Susan Polgar Foundation Girls’ Invitational, the 2015 USCF National Girls Invitational Tournament (NGIT), and the 116th U.S. Open Chess Championship. In all three, Thanu distinguished herself and walked away with top prizes, including a four year scholastic college scholarship. Not bad for a fifteen year old high school sophomore!
Thanu loves playing in both Open tournaments and those exclusively for girls and women. “Playing in girls/women tournaments is always fun because you get to meet other amazing female players that support chess from all over the world. I also love Open tournaments because it is a great opportunity to see high rated players, and it’s interesting to stand out as one of the few girls to play in a heavily male-oriented game.”
Thanu was the Georgia nominee to attend the annual Susan Polgar Girls’ Invitational, the most prestigious all-girls event in the United States. Held at Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri in late July, the experience included an intense training session with Susan Polgar and members of her team and a six round FIDE rated championship tournament. This was Thanu’s second time to attend the Susan Polgar Invitational and, as before, she loved meeting and getting to know all the other talented players. Even more exciting was tying for 2nd place (she received 3rd on tiebreaks) and winning a four year scholarship to Webster University, as well as a thousand dollar certificate to compete in the FIDE World Youth & Cadets Chess Championship tournament in Greece.
From the Susan Polgar invitational, Thanu traveled to Arizona to play in the NGIT with 45 other participants. Thanu reported, “Even though I still played with girls the following week, this tournament felt different. I played with a lot of great players such as Jennifer Yu and Alice Dong. It was again a great experience to be around such positive energy and other girls just like me. I did well; I got 4.5 out of 6 games. I was tied for 5th place.”
The US Open was also in Arizona and it took place immediately after the NGIT. Thanu said, “There were a total of 491 players. This tournament was obviously really tough and challenging. I had a score of 5.5 out of 9. I believe the score isn’t so bad for an Open tournament. I was about to get 1st place under the section prizes, but I just missed that chance. I got the chance to play Mackenzie Molner. This was such a great experience and the game with him helped me learn about the mistakes in my opening.”
Thanu has won other prizes at prestigious scholastic and Open tournaments. She placed 3rd in her age category in the 2011 All-Girls National Tournament in Chicago, and finished in 4th place at the North American Youth chess festival in Mexico, which she described as “the best chess tournament I’ve had. Even though I didn’t win a top three prize, I finished in 4th place, which I am really proud of. I worked really hard and was only .5 away from first. The fact that I was so close to win the top three prizes is a great achievement for me. Also, this was my first tournament outside of the US, so it was an amazing experience to visit a country, I had never seen before!”
Thanu gives full credit to her parents for supporting her in these chess competitions. When asked what it was like to attend three high level tournaments in a row this past summer, Thanu exclaimed, “It was exciting, but also hectic! Usually my dad takes me to tournaments, but this time my mom took me. I would like to give a big thanks to my mom for supporting chess and being so helpful. I met so many new people and got to see my chess friends after a long time in just a span of two weeks. People kept asking me if I was tired or exhausted, but the success I had from each previous tournament just made me feel even more motivated to play the next tournament. I have never really done three tournaments back-to-back before – it was a long two weeks of fun!”
Thanu began playing chess when she was nine years old. Her father taught her the game and, as she explains, “his efforts, hard work, and love for chess motivate me every day to keep working hard.” Her dad is her coach, too. “In the start, my dad was the one who spent time to get me to this level. He learned along with me. We read the chess books together. He analyzed the games with me and we would sit for about 2-3 hours going over each detail in the game. He taught me how to work hard, and his constant motivation is the reason I keep going. We both love chess!”
Chess is not her only passion, though. As a sophomore at Northview High School, Thanu also plays tennis, enjoys swimming and playing the viola, and is a black belt in karate. She is also accomplished in the Indian classical dance called Kuchipudi, which she began learning at age seven and is still performing today. While Thanu has two more years of high school, she is already thinking that she would like to study biology with a pre-med track in college.
Many younger chess girls look up to Thanu as their role model. Her advice to them? “I think that a lot of girls don’t play chess because they believe that it is a guy’s game. Anybody can play chess and be just as good. My advice to all the girls/boys out there is to never ever give up. It sounds very cliché, but it is very true. Everyone has bad tournaments, but from each bad tournament you learn from your mistakes. There were times where I had several bad tournaments in a row, but it didn’t make me sad. It made me more determined to try and learn from my mistakes and do better at the next tournament.
“Playing in a national tournament to me is a lot of fun compared to local tournaments. In national level tournaments, you meet so many new people in a new environment, which is always so great. As far as being a girl in a heavily male competition, it doesn’t affect me. I never think about that, because I am just so used to it. Also, it shouldn’t be something girls think about, because honestly who cares? You’re the only girl in the room, so what? Own the “stage” … prove to everyone in the room you can play just as good as any guy out there!”
Thanu will soon be doing more than just “owning the stage” in January. She’s working on hosting an unrated scholastic tournament at the Ocee Library in Alpharetta to raise money for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Aflac Cancer Center. Details will be posted on the calendar on the Georgia Chess website, www.georgiachess.org, but please mark your calendars for January 2nd and help Thanu raise money for a good cause!
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