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Master of the Game

By Reetika Khanna Email By Reetika Khanna
September 2021
Master of the Game

Twelve-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra is the youngest person ever to earn the prestigious title of chess Grand Master. The New Jersey preteen recently broke a 19-year record held by Sergey Karjakin, a Grand Master from Ukraine. Introduced to the game even before he could string together a proper sentence, Abhimanyu’s passion for chess runs deep. The newly minted Grand Master on his winning strategies and moves for the future.

At what age did you start playing chess? Who or what inspired you?

My father introduced me to chess when I was two-and-a-half years old. I started playing tournaments when I was five. My father inspired me as he was my first teacher.

When did the ambition of becoming a Grand Master (GM) take root?

I have always aspired to be the youngest grandmaster since I started understating and playing chess.

What did you have to do to earn the coveted title of Grand Master?

To achieve the milestone of becoming the youngest Grand Master, I had small milestones set to eventually get this. I got the National Record for Youngest US Chess Expert (USCF Rating: 2000) when I was 7 years, 6 months, 22 days old. At 9 years, 2 months, and 17 days, I got the National Record for Youngest US Chess Master (USCF Rating: 2200). When I was 10 years, 9 months, and 20 days, I got the International Record for Youngest Ever International Master.

In an interview with Chess.com, your coach, GM Arun Prasad, talked about the sacrifices your father has made for you to reach the many milestones in your chess career. Tell us how your family supported your journey.

My family has been my backbone and my support throughout this journey. They are proud that I can achieve what I wanted since I started playing chess. They believe in my dreams and hard work. They have put their entire savings to fulfill my dream of becoming the youngest GM. Chess is a costly affair.

How much time do you dedicate to chess every day?

Since the pandemic started, I have been working 10-12 hours a day. But overall, on any given day, it is seven-eight hours of chess that includes learning about game openings, middle and end games, doing tactics and playing chess games online.

How many tournaments do you play in a year?

On an average, I play 20-24 tournaments in a year.

What are some of your most memorable tournaments? What made them special?

One of the tournaments that I still remember is where I got my last IM norm (norm is a high-level performance, and IM stands for International Master). Despite being a strong tournament and the lowest rated player in the tournament, I managed to play strong and not lose a single game in that event. The other tournament is when I got the last GM norm and became the youngest GM. Despite losing in the seventh round, I came back hard and won two games in a row as black from equal positions.

If you were to venture a guess, how many chess games have you played to date? What inspires you to keep playing?

I guess I have played over 1500 over the board chess games. It is really satisfying to set the goal, and work on that and achieve it.

How do you mentally prepare for a big game? Is there a particular part of the game you study in detail? How many moves do you see ahead?

The preparation remains the same for any game I play, regardless of if it being a norm event, any other over the board tournament or any online chess game. I look into my openings, practice some middle games and end games. To remain focused throughout the game, I say a small prayer before the starting of the game along with some breathing exercises. The number of moves that I can calculate depends on the position.

How do you deal with defeat?

I take the loss as a chapter from the game where I can learn from my loss, and I don't dwell on it.

Name a few chess players who inspire you. In your opinion, who is the world’s best chess player (other than yourself!) and why?

I look up to current world champion, Magnus Carlsen. He has been reigning the world of chess for a decade now and has been very consistent. He is a phenomenal endgame player. There are so many things we all can learn from him. I would have loved to play with Bobby Fischer. His motivation and love towards the game is unparalleled. His devotion and passion to the game can be seen when Bobby Fischer learnt Russian language as all the chess literature during that time was in Russian and he wanted to be the best.

Talk Time_2_09_21.jpgIf you could interview a chess legend, what would you ask him/her?

I would like to ask the current world champion Magnus Carlsen from where he gets the motivation and how he has managed to be number one consistently for a decade.

Who is your biggest opponent? What makes him/her a significant challenge?

Recently, I played against GM Jobava in the FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia. He is known to be a very creative player.

How does the experience of playing AI compare with going head-to-head with a person? Do you prefer one over the other? Why?

At the end of the day, a chess game is just a game. It really doesn't matter whether it is being played against AI or another human being.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

The best advice I have received from my coaches is ‘all equal positions are not drawn.’ It took me some time to understand but now I have started enjoying the games in equal position and win the game from there.

What grade are you in? What are your academic interests and goals?

I am in seventh grade. I enjoy mathematics.

How do you balance academic pressures and chess?

It is difficult but being in middle school I am able to manage it.

Chess is a cerebral game—do you enjoy a sport that requires physical exertion? Do you have any hobbies you would like to talk about?

When I am not playing chess, I indulge myself in reading books and playing video games.

When you became the highest-rated under nine player in the world, you were selected for the Young Stars program by the Kasparov Chess Foundation. How does it feel to be recognized by a legend?

It feels really amazing. To be in the same room as the legend, Mr. Kasparov, and discuss my games with him is a feeling that cannot be described in words.

How do you manage the pressures of being in the spotlight at such a young age? Do your friends treat you like a celebrity? How does that make you feel?

I don't think about all this. I just enjoy being with my friends.

What are your personal goals for the future?

Now that I am a Grand Master, the actual journey begins. There is so much to learn and execute and I want to be a super GM (FIDE rating 2700) by the age of 15. My ultimate goal is to be a World Champion one day.

What advice would you offer young chess players?

With hard work, dedication and perseverance you can achieve and conquer anything in the world. You just need to remain calm and focused on your goal.

What is the best gift you have ever received?

A glass chess board.

Reetika Khanna.png

Author of Kismetwali & Other Stories, Reetika Khanna is an Atlanta-based freelance writer who likes to spotlight people with purpose. She has worked with ELLE as a senior features writer, and as an associate features editor with ELLE DÉCOR, Mumbai. For more, go to ReetikaKhanna.com

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