Prithu Gupta: Late to the board, now among the best

But what makes Prithu Gupta special is that he took to chess as late as age nine — nearly five years later than most kids who have made a mark for themselves in the chess fraternity today.

Prithu on his return to India after winning his third GM norm.   -  Special Arrangement

Age: 15

From: New Delhi

Education: Class X, Modern School (Vasant Vihar, New Delhi)

Discipline: Chess

Beginning: The chessboard that began with Viswanathan Anand on the first square 32 years ago has now been completed. India got its 64th grandmaster in youngster Prithu Gupta on July 18 as the Delhi boy — aged 15 years, four months and 10 days — carved his name on the final square. Beating Germany’s Lev Yankelevich, during the Portuguese League 2019, Prithu touched the rating stipulation of 2500 points, hereby meeting all technical prerequisites needed to be a GM.

In a journey that began at the age of nine, Prithu has achieved great heights — right from gaining 1300 rating points within nearly six years to becoming an international master before his 14th birthday.

But what makes Prithu special is that he took to chess as late as age nine — nearly five years later than most kids who have made a mark for themselves in the chess fraternity today. And to add to it, Prithu has managed to achieve his GM glory in fewer games than others.

“The number of tournaments I play is nowhere near to the number my contemporaries in junior world chess are playing. They must be playing 15 tournaments a year at least, which gives them 145-150 games, whereas I play six-seven tournaments a year,” said Prithu.

Indeed, in 2018, Prithu participated in only six tournaments — the Gibraltar Masters, the Llucmajor Open, the Portugal Team Championships, the Biel Masters, the Isle of Man Masters and the Montebelluna Cup. In these six tournaments, he scored his two GM norms and moved from 2373 to 2462 in terms of rating progress.

Prithu Gupta with father Mohit, mother Poonam and brother Pravit.   -  Special Arrangement

Owing to a rich chess culture at his school, Prithu’s interest in the game built up. The young boy would compete with kids of his age and sometimes seniors, in an atmosphere he described fun, which in turn would kick-start his chess career.

“I got to the level of 1700 Elo a year after I started playing, which in itself was motivating since very few players can do that. After that, I started competing seriously by participating in national championships, and when I became the Delhi state champion (in the under-11 category in 2015), it motivated me to keep on working on chess and not give up,” Prithu said.

“It was just Prithu, his game, and his passion. No one could stop him. He was so enamoured by the game!” recalled his mother Poonam, who accompanies him across the globe for his tournaments.

Aim: After achieving his GM title, the pressure is off his back and Prithu believes he can play more calmly. Although the teenager wants to improve his rating, he is not aiming big and is resorting to short-term goals. “I have made it a religious practice that I want to take one goal off my list at a time. I am a supporter of the school of thought that if you jump to conclusions, it helps very little and could be catastrophic to your purpose. For now, my goals would be to break into the ratings of 2600, and gradually that would culminate to 2800,” he said. However, with the Class X board exams this academic year, chess might take a back seat for Prithu, who excels at studies just as he does on the chessboard.

Strong points: Good positional understanding and imaginative play.

What they say: While it has been an impressive run so far, it was a journey that no one anticipated. “Initially, we weren’t sure for how long Prithu would play chess,” said Prithu’s mother, Poonam. “When he began chess in Class IV, we thought he would be drained out by Class VI or VII and would quit, or maybe move on to a different sport or on to studies altogether. But every time there was a tournament in Delhi, he would want to run for all the tournaments.”

Career graph

2017: Won his first IM norm at Silver Lake Open in Veliko Gradiste in Serbia. Stood first at the Golden Prague Chess Festival, attaining second IM norm.

2018: Won his third and final IM norm at Gibraltar Masters Open, and won his first GM norm at the same event. Won his second GM norm at the Biel Masters, and finished in the top 50 at the Isle of Man Masters.

2019: Drew with top GMs including Aleksey Dreev at the Vergani Cup in Italy. Drew with women’s world champion Ju Wenjun at the Gibraltar Masters. Won his third and final GM norm at the Porticcio Open, and beat IM Lev Yankelevich in the fifth round of the Portuguese League to cross the Elo threshold, hereby becoming a GM.