The photos of Divya Deshmukh lifting a trophy almost half her size flooded social media on June 13. The massive piece of silverware was what the 18-year-old from Nagpur won after becoming the Under-20 FIDE Junior World Chess Champion, at the event held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

“It was not that heavy [the trophy],” said Deshmukh, laughing as she described, in a conversation with Scroll. “It was definitely tough to get it back [home] from Gujarat, but we managed.”

Having entered the tournament as the top seed, Deshmukh was expected to dominate. She fulfilled those expectations, finishing with 10 points in 11 rounds.

“It is something I have been wanting to accomplish for a while,” said Deshmukh. “There were a lot of expectations, but I was just trying to play good chess.”

While the tournament standings suggested she cruised to the title, Deshmukh did face a hiccup in the sixth round against Ayan Allahverdiyeva of Azerbaijan.

The Indian was “out-prepared” by her opponent and landed in a difficult position before she managed to equalise. Allahverdiyeva then blundered to concede the game.

Deshmukh then finished the tournament with four consecutive wins in the final four rounds to remain unbeaten.

“I did not think that I need to finish unbeaten [before the tournament began],” said Deshmukh.

“I was just trying to take it game by game, the entire time I thought ‘If I am to give away points, it should rather be a draw than a loss.’”

The win also marked Deshmukh’s third age-group world championship, having previously won the Under-10 and Under-12 world titles in 2014 and 2017 respectively. She is also ranked 20th in the live ratings among women.

That is an impressive resume for someone who did not enjoy the game when she first started playing as a five-year-old. It was only after almost two years of constant playing that she fell in love with chess.

Deshmukh’s elder sister – by eight years – used to play badminton. Deshmukh herself was too young to play the racquet sport, so instead, her parents enrolled her in a chess academy nearby because they wanted their younger daughter to also be involved in an activity.

“At the start, my dad almost used to bribe me to go to chess class,” Deshmukh, now an International Master, recalled.

“He used to say, ‘If you go today I’ll give you chocolate.’”

However, once she started winning, she was hooked. And then there was no turning back.

Her mother Namrata – a doctor by profession, left her practice to accompany the youngster to tournaments, while her father Jitendra managed the finances.

“My dad has been supporting my career for almost 12 years,” said Deshmukh. “It has gotten a bit easier in the last couple of years because I have started earning sizeable prize money, which we use to pay for other tournaments.”

Deshmukh, even today, continues to be without a sponsor. She reiterates that she has had multiple offers, but the money was never adequate to accept them.

An outspoken youngster never afraid to speak out her mind, Deshmukh also created a stir during the Tata Steel Masters at Wijk Aan Zee, Netherlands in January, when she opened up about the sexism faced by women in chess.

“I was surprised by the amount of reaction on everything [I said],” she said. “I eventually learnt to deal with it like any other thing. I just focus on my game. I had said already what I had to say. Now I just do my own thing.”

It is a mindset that helped her concentrate during the event in Gandhinagar, despite the anxiety of waiting for the results of her Class 12 examinations.

With her school unwilling to accommodate for the lack of attendance and examination appearances, Deshmukh decided to go for open schooling when she was in Class 8. She has balanced both her studies and chess ever since.

But even now, she asserted, she has kept her options open.

“I haven’t chosen chess professionally,” explained Deshmukh. “I definitely want to continue studying, but I think I’ll take a break now and will enroll in university next year.”

Deshmukh also has her eyes set on the Grandmaster title, which would make her only the fourth Indian woman after Koneru Humpy, Harika Dronavalli, and Vasihali Rameshbabu to achieve the standard. She doesn’t have any Grandmaster norms currently – she will need three.

“Right now, I aim to play in strong open tournaments,” Deshmukh said of her plans.

She is now expected to play in the Turkish league next month before preparing herself for the Olympiad in September.

Deshmukh is now a three-time world champion at a youth level. Her attention has now shifted to the higher echelons of the sport.