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Grandmaster Nihal knows all the right moves6 min read

May 14, 2021 4 min read


Grandmaster Nihal knows all the right moves6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nihal Sarin’s name is definitely not new in the world of professional chess. The teenager, who is the 15th youngest Grandmaster (GM) in the world, has become something of a speed chess genius, and this pandemic and being locked up indoors, has only helped him up his game.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

Who is a Grandmaster?

‘Grandmaster’ is a title awarded to chess players by the International Chess Federation. Apart from ‘World Champion’, ‘Grandmaster’ is the highest title a chess player can attain. Once achieved, the title is generally held for life, though, exceptionally, it may be revoked for cheating. 

In fact, the 16-year-old’s game is so good that the International Chess Federation (FIDE), headquartered in Switzerland, awarded the young Kerala GM with its ‘Brilliancy Prize’, which is a huge deal in the chess world. He was awarded this after the exceptional show he put up at the World Youth and Cadets Rapid Championship that was held online last December due to the pandemic. Now, he is being regarded as a ‘speed chess specialist’ for his online blitz and bullet chess prowess.

Nihal spoke to Owliver on chess and more, and is this week’s Trailblazer. Here’s what he had to say…

Little Nihal practising chess on his computer

How chess happened.

I would constantly look for interesting activities to keep myself occupied, but most of these interests were short-lived. So among the many things my parents were trying out to keep me busy, they got a chess set home. My grandfather knew the rules so he taught me to play. It has been a fun journey, it has been like a dream. I love playing chess, and I get to do exactly that every day.

About ‘speed chess’. 

Speed chess is basically when players have lesser time on the clock. Most famous among them are ‘blitz’ and ‘bullet’ chess – blitz is anything around three-five minutes-long, while bullet chess is usually a minute-long or less.

On the future of chess in a digital, Covid world.

Nihal at the World U-10 Youth Chess Championship

The future of chess is definitely tilting towards it becoming an e-sport, and I think that it is also important to think what is interesting and valuable for the fans to watch. Chess as an e-sport is certainly fun to watch, and I wholly endorse the movement. Over the board games are also important, and I will start thinking about it once such events resume – right now, there’s no scope for it, at least at my level

Nihal with (L) Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, a chess prodigy and fourth-youngest person ever to achieve the title of Grandmaster

Did training virtually give him an edge over his competition during the pandemic?

I don’t think so. People have been playing chess online for more than a decade now. So I imagine everyone has had a taste of playing online. I just happen to enjoy it more and play it more, but I’m not sure if that is a very big advantage.

His most memorable match.

The one I played against Eltaj Safarli in the World Cup 2019 has got to be the best. Everything went as per plan during that game.

On training with Viswanathan Anand. 

It is an honour and was a great experience. Just observing him going about analysing and talking about chess is a huge learning experience.

Watch this video of Nihal and Vishwanathan Anand – India’s first Grandmaster!

On whether chess is being opted for by more youngsters today.

Yes, I myself learned chess at school. It is being encouraged at the school-level by FIDE and the All India Chess Federation – both are doing some commendable work.

How does he balance chess and academics?

Concentrating hard to work out his next move.

It is probably not possible to balance them. I prioritise chess over academics, of course. But during exams, I allocate sufficient time to prepare and study so I don’t do too badly. My typical day is mostly checking games, watching some chess-related content, playing a lot of chess online, and analysing and preparing for tournaments.

I really am worried about what is happening beyond the safety of my home, as people are fighting for life every day. My parents, both doctors and professors at Thrissur Medical College in Kerala, are on the frontlines working hard. I really hope this storm passes us as soon as possible.

Nihal Sarin on the Covid-19 pandemic

His other interests.

A young Nihal taking some time out from chess to unwind outdoors.

I used to like playing Badminton. These days I also watch a bit of cricket – IPL specifically, until it was cancelled.

Some words of encouragement for budding chess players. 

Try to have fun and try to focus on learning new things – new openings, new positions and new structures. Try to play a lot when you are starting out, and test out all the new ideas you are learn.

(Trailblazers is a bi-monthly column where we feature inspiring youngsters who are doing great things, in their own way)

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Images: Nihal Sarin