Blitzing his way to stardom

Nihal Sarin is blessed with an extraordinary memory and has an understanding of the game well beyond his age. He has tremendous fighting spirit, too.

“I just want to play as well as I can, in every game. And I would love to win those games,” says Nihal Sarin.   -  K. K. Mustafah

Age: 14.

Education: Class X, Devamatha CMI Public School, Thrissur.

Discipline: Chess.

Beginning: He was taught the game by his maternal grandfather A. A. Ummar. That was after his father, Sarin Abdul Salam, a doctor, failed to keep him in the swimming pool: the boy was so restless that some activity was needed to keep him occupied. He also tried skating, but that didn’t last long either.

It was as if chess was waiting for him. The chess coach at Nihal’s school — Excelsior English School, Kottayam — Mathew P. Joseph Pottoor, was the first to discover his talent for the mind game. He told Dr. Sarin as much. Before long, Nihal began to train under E. P. Nirmal. And it took him no time to make a mark.

In 2011, he won the Kerala under-7 championship. His first national title came in late 2013 in Chennai, where he won the national under-9 championship. That tournament was held as a side event for the world title match in the southern metropolis, in which the city’s own Viswanathan Anand was taking on Magnus Carlsen of Norway. One recalls him talking about finishing the tournament unbeaten and about the Carlsen-Anand match.

A month later, he won the world under-10 blitz championship. He went on to win medals in more world age-group events, even while competing in strong tournaments for grown-ups.

Going abroad, especially to Europe, frequently to play in grandmaster events proved the right decision. It not merely brightened his chances of becoming a GM, but also developed his game a lot faster. Last year, he completed his grandmaster title. He was the 12th youngest in history to become a GM, the dream of every serious chess player.

Grandmaster Nihal Sarin with his mother Shijin, sister Neha and father Sarin in Thrissur.   -  K. K. Mustafah

 

Aim: “I just want to become as strong a player as I possibly can,” says Nihal. “I just want to play as well as I can, in every game. And I would love to win those games.”

Strong points: He is blessed with an extraordinary memory. He has an understanding of the game well beyond his age. He has tremendous fighting spirit, too. And he is fearless: it doesn’t matter who his opponent is, even if it is someone like five-time world champion Anand, whom he held to a draw at the Tata Steel tournament in Kolkata last year.

What they say: “We at home had noticed his memory when he was little,” says his mother Dr. Shijin Ummar. “He could recognise the flags of most countries in the world when he was just three. He never gets tired of playing chess and loves playing blitz games online.”

Career graph

2011: Kerala under-7 champion.

2013: National under-9 champion. World under-10 blitz champion.

2014: World under-10 champion.

2015: World under-15 runner-up.

2017: World Youth Olympiad individual gold medallist. Became international master.

2018: Crossed 2500 Elo points in the FIDE ratings. Became a grandmaster. Secured 11th place at the world blitz championship, finishing ahead of other Indians, including Viswanathan Anand.

2019: Crossed a 2600 Elo rating, the youngest ever Indian to do so and the third youngest in the world.