For most professional chess players,their association with the sport starts almost as soon as they learn to clasp the pieces. G Akash,however,was a ripe old 10 when he started taking chess seriously. Six years later,he has become the nations youngest national chess champion.
When Akash drew with Grand Master Deep Sengupta in the final round of the National premier championship in Kolkata on Sunday,he was 16 years and 14 days old,a few months younger than Viswanathan Anand and Dibyendu Barua when they claimed their first national titles.
Even a few months back,when the Chennai boy finished third in the under-17 nationals,Akash was seen as a talented player,but in his own age category. The current record-breaking run has left him surprised too,he confessed.
My initial target was to acquire an IM norm. But after the seventh round,I felt I had a chance and played aggressively, Akash,who also gained his first GM norm in the process,told The Indian Express. He had previously held his own against players rated around 2300,the tier-III players of the country. He has not played better players consistently before and when he was doing well mid-way through the tournament,I remember telling my wife he might actually pull this off, said coach GM RB Ramesh.
If the success story sounds incredible,there are a few sobering facts too the premier chess tournament does not attract the top-rung players and the leader for most parts of the tournament,GM MR Venkatesh,was penalised for arriving late for a round and ended a solitary point behind Akash.
Still,that takes nothing away from the journey of a boy who,till a few years ago,was more likely to be found sitting in front of the television,watching Disney Channels Art Attack shows back to back. I am a small-time chess player and used to play with Akash as a kid,at home. We used to discuss some moves as well but it wasnt very serious. When he was 10,I took him to a chess academy and thats where it began, said father Ganeshan.
Within a couple of years,he became the state champion in U-13 and U-15 tournaments. When he won the state U-25 event,I realised he is a special talent, Ganeshan said.
Akash also manages to juggle well his studies with his tournaments. Initially I thought he would find it difficult,but he got 84 per cent in his CBSE Class X examination. Now I am quite confident that chess and studies can go side-by-side, said the father.
Its not about how long I am practising but what I am practising. My father tells me that and so does my coach, Akash said.
The next crucial step would be balancing college with his chess. I received a lot of congratulatory calls after winning the national and naturally I am elated. But my top priority is to acquire a degree in computer science. I also want to become a Grand Master as early as possible and play in the world cup. But chess comes second (to academics), said Akash.
Ramesh pointed out that there are a few players who have managed to achieve that balance. Gata Kamsky gave chess up for close to a decade to pursue medicine and is somewhere near the top after his come back. However,he admitted that wouldnt be easy. A break in play or preparation does make a difference and you may not be able to play to your full potential. It is a life decision and a lot of complications come in,but I hope for the sake of chess he sticks to the sport, Ramesh said.