The Amravati Ace

Swapnil Dhopade is the first person from Vidarbha and the fifth from Maharashtra to achieve the Grandmaster rating.

Swapnil Dhopade is presently competing in the IIFL Wealth Mumbai International Open Chess Tournament 2016.   -  Vijay Bate

It’s celebration time for Swapnil Dhopade, who has been officially recognised as India’s latest Grandmaster. The All India Chess Federation (AICF) secretary V Hariharan told The Hindu that he received the intimation from FIDE two days ago. Dhopade is the first from Vidarbha and fifth from Maharashtra to achieve the mark.

Presently competing in the IIFL Wealth Mumbai International Open Chess Tournament 2016, where he is leading by half a point after seven rounds, the 25-year-old youngster from Amravati says it was “sheer perseverance and support from my parents” that helped him achieve his dream.

After finally crossing the GM rating last October after an agonising wait following the completion of the norm way back in 2013, it was a case of “better late than never” for Dhopade. “While completing my International Master (IM) title, I had crossed the rating mark much earlier, but my last norm was remaining. At the time, I was quite dejected. There was even a point where I felt I would not be able to make a career out of chess,” he says.

Dhopade is also very happy for his good friend and fellow State-mate Shardul Gagare, who received his GM rating last month. “We played many tournaments together. He totally deserves it because he has been working very hard for the past few years.”

Dhopade himself realised the importance of hard work while trying to cross the magical figure of 2500 Elo points. At 2489 points, he was a mere 11 away from becoming GM in 2013 itself, but he slipped to 2418 after some poor results, leaving him frustrated and prolonging his wait for the GM recognition. During this tough period, it was his parents - Sunil and Hemlata - who encouraged him to go for the mark.

First steps

After starting his journey at the age of 10, Dhopade has indeed come a long way. “One day, I saw my friends playing the game, and became interested. I began playing in school competitions…and even won a few tournaments. After watching my dedication towards the game, my parents were confident that I could become an accomplished player, and soon hired a coach for me,” he says.

Omprakash Kakra, an experienced player himself, was his first coach, and Dhopade achieved his first international rating under his guidance. “Before learning the game from him, I had no idea about the scale of tournaments happening. So, he was the first to introduce me to all the big tournaments - national and international. That’s how my progression started. I used to train with him from 9 pm to 1 am, almost on all days. He (Kakra) was very passionate about what he was doing…and never took any credit for his efforts. I really started picking up the game after I began working with him.”

Dhopade presently practises alone, with Kakra becoming more of a mentor over the years. The 25-year-old also receives guidance from IM Anup Deshmukh from Nagpur, and GM RB Ramesh of Chennai.


Like any other sportsperson, Dhopade has a hectic schedule, which involves travelling for many national and international tournaments. And his parents have made a lot of sacrifices to realise his dream. “We belong to a middle class family. First of all, I was lucky that my mom and dad both were having a job. They also accompanied me for many tournaments, taking leave from office and managing the workload. That wasn’t easy for them,” he says.

What advise would he give to those who have the talent to become an IM or GM, but end up missing their target by failing to reach the required rating barrier? “There are so many players in India who are very close to completing the IM or GM title. Some players complete the norm, but fail to cross the rating mark. Others cross the rating, but fail to complete the norm. So, the main thing is not to lose hope, because if a player completes even one IM norm or GM norm, he deserves to be a IM or GM. Sometimes, there are tournaments in which you play badly…and your rating comes down. So, you should identify the mistakes and figure out ways of solving them. I think having the right attitude will help them complete their titles,” Dhopade signs off.

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