Nihal played online chess during Anand vs Carlsen in Chennai

Calling his performance in the recently concluded Chess World Cup his Russia his best, the 15-year-old Grandmaster talks about his rise and what the future holds.

Grandmaster Nihal Sarin interacting with children at an event organised by Akshayakalpa in Bengaluru.   -  Special Arrangement

Here's something one may not know about the 15-year-old chess Grandmaster Nihal Sarin. As a nine-year-old, Nihal was in Chennai in 2013 when the World Championship match between Anand and Carlsen was on in the same city. But instead of watching it, he chose to play chess online.

“He only thinks about playing chess,” said Srinath Narayanan, Nihal's triner and a Grandmaster himself. “To get skilled the way he has requires this kind of attention. He has understood this very intuitively and this simple uncomplicated approach is something that has helped him go forward.”

The teen sensation sticks to chess talk as he termed his performance at the Chess World Cup in Russia last month as possibly the best tournament he has played until now. He made it to the second round and once there even won the opening game, impressing no less a figure than the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

“I did not have any expectations at all. I was playing for the first time and was quite motivated,” said the shy but confident Nihal at an event organised by Akshayakalpa, with whom he signed a big-money sponsorship deal recently. “It helped that the World Cup was in the knockout format. You really have to play very well to stay in the tournament and that pushes you.”

The performance capped a rewarding few months for Nihal. Last November at the Tata Steel India Rapid Chess, he earned a draw against Viswanathan Anand. This June he became the world’s third youngest to cross 2600 Elo rating.

“Reaching 2600 felt very nice. I expected to get stuck a bit but could surpass it without much difficulty. The draw against Anand sounds like a big thing. But initially I was not happy with the result. I had a good chance to win. To get a draw with white [pieces] is not really a brilliant result. But it’s a good honour.”

READ : Nihal Sarin stuns Jorge Cori in World Cup chess

Nihal, however, admitted that it gave him the confidence to spar with the sport’s best. “That experience certainly helped me. It told me that I could compete with the best. I started to trust myself more and I have improved a lot by playing against much stronger opposition.”

In a month from now, Nihal will have a chance to gauge this progress against the great Anatoly Karpov, a former World Champion.

“Not thinking about Karpov yet,” Nihal said with a smile. “I am not too nervous [before big games]. But some amount of nervousness also helps. It kind of pushes you. I am sure it will be a great experience.”