After months of uncertainty induced by the pandemic, together with a cash-crunch travelling around the world in these difficult times, Indian-origin American Abhimanyu Mishra has become the youngest-ever chess Grandmaster in the world. Mishra, who is from New Jersey, broke Sergey Karjakin’srecord of 12 years and seven months in Budapest, Hungary on Wednesday, June 30th at the age of 12 years, four months and 25 days old. At the Vezerkepzo GM Mix tournament, Mishra defeated grandmaster Leon Mendonca in the thrilling ninth round to earn his third and final norm having earned his first two over the previous two months.
He had already topped the required 2500 Elo rating mark in June, paving the way for him to better the previous record — which had stood for 19 years — by approximately 66 days. To become a grandmaster in chess, a player must achieve three grandmaster norms — an award given for a high level of performance in a chess tournament — as well as achieving an 2500 Elo rating given out by the FédérationInternationale des Échecs (FIDE), the rankings that govern international chess competition. Three years ago, India’s R Praggnanandhaa had almost surpassed him, but missed the opportunity by a whisker. As did many assaults on the 19-year-old record until Abhimanyu’s moment.
But Abhimanyu, after becoming the world’s youngest International Master last year, chased his dream and achieved the feat at the Vezerkepzo GM Mix in Budapest, a tournament organised just to give him one final shot at the title, as several chess players stayed back due to travel restrictions. Abhimanyu has been in the Hungarian capital since April, in pursuit of the record. He had attained the first and second GM norms in April and May, but the third had seemed elusive with time catching up and fewer tournaments in the horizon. He had to wait till mid-July for another shot at the record, but for this tournament.
Those were angsty days for those around him. Like for GM MageshChandran, one of his coaches at the Kings and Queens Academy in New Jersey, where he polished his game as a quiet but eager child. “We don’t interact on a regular basis, but I keep a regular tab on him, follow each of his games and sometimes chip in with some advice whenever he is here. The sooner the better it would be for him and us. Once he comes back, we hope to catch up,” Chandran had told this paper last month.
Abhimanyu was just two-and-a-half-years old when his father Hemant, who works in data management, introduced him to chess. By five, he was beating his father and competing in local tournaments, where he started defeating players as old as his father. Another coach Arun Prasad remembers another incident. “He was just nine when he was pitted against a veteran 70-year-old opponent. He beat him in no time. I thought I was watching history in the making. I soon realisedhe’s not normal – in a great way. He remembers everything he sees. He remembers moves from games in 2014 and 2015. His mind absorbs everything.”
Abhimanyu’s fame began to spread and he started travelling when he was barely seven, the age at which he became the youngest national champion before becoming the youngest National Master in the US at the age of nine. However, without corporate sponsorships, his family had to dig deep into their pockets. “Whatever people spend on college tuition, we have already invested that in chess,” Hemant once told New Jersey Post. He has a gofund page, where they have raised close to USD 16,000 for their trip to Hungary.
But they are slowly reaping the fruits of their labour, as Abhimanyu is not just breaking records and accumulating ELO points at a rapid pace, but beating seasoned Grandmaster en route. At Charlotte Springs in the US in March, he defeated Vladimir Belous, rated 2521, in just 19 moves. Later, in the first tournament in Budapest, he outwitted top seed Vojtech Plat in convincing fashion, playing an all-out attacking game. “He can be aggressive as well as defensive, is quite fast and thinks on the feet,” says Magesh.
The family is understandably elated, and relieved. “Abhimanyu has worked hard all these years for this. He and his father have been in Budapest for the last three months as Abhimanyu wanted to compete in the chess circuit there to earn the remaining GM norms and becoming the youngest GM in the world is the result of his passion. It has been tough for the family as my husband and Abhimanyu are mostly travelling while I stay with my younger daughter, but this reward is bigger than anything,” Abhimanyu’s mother Swati Sharma said from New Jersey.
Though intense in front of the board, with large brooding eyes carefully working patterns, Abhimanyu is not an out-and-out chess buff. In fact, his sporing idol is swimmer Michael Phelps (his hero in chess is Garry Kasparov), wants to acquire a black belt in karate when he grows older, and plays a lot of video games (Brawl Stars is his favourite) with friends. But as of now, his eyes are firmly trained on the 64-square board.
Abhimanyu is in an elite group. Of the five previous youngest Grandmasters — from Tigran Petrosian (23) to Boris Spassky (18), then Bobby Fischer (15), JuditPolgar (15) and Karjakin—all but Karjakin went on to become world champions, which indicates that the 12-year-old’s journey has just begun, and the youngest GM record is just another milestone in his path. Inputs Nitin Sharma He posted a message of celebration on Twitter, saying: “Finally checkmated the biggest opponent (ongoing pandemic) which stopped me for 14 months. Thanks everybody for all your love and support. Looking forward for World cup.” Breaking records is something Mishra has become accustomed to. When he was just seven, he became the United States Chess Federation’s youngest Expert.