Greek mythology describes a phoenix as a bird that rejuvenates itself after rising from the ashes. Similar is the story of the recently famed Vidit Gujrathi,bronze medal winner at the Junior World Chess Championships in Kocaeli,Turkey.
Winning three times and drawing once in the first four rounds,gave him a good start in the 13 round tournament. But after losing in the fifth round,he lost his momentum and eventually dropped to 15th spot after losing in the ninth. A strong finish was needed if he wanted any chance of winning a medal. Just as a phoenix rises,India’s 30th Grandmaster resurrected his hopes by winning three of the remaining four rounds,and earning a draw in his last game against the tournament’s eventual winner,China’s Yu Yangyi. At nine-and-a-half points out of a possible 13,Gujrathi was tied in third position Peruvian Grandmaster Jorge Cori,but pipped his rival with a better tiebreak record to clinch bronze.
Having first participated in local tournaments in Nashik at the age of nine,the youngster’s entry into the sport was marred by heavy defeats. “I used to lose quite badly for a long time,” he says. “But somehow I kept trying and soon I won a game and then I kept on winning.”
Introduced to the sport by his father Santosh at the age of seven,it was a common sight to see the pair playing each other in the Gujrathi household. While the senior Gujrathi kept winning all the games,his son started using a different approach to better his game. “I never won a single game,so I started reading books about chess. I gathered tips and strategies from the books and then I surprised my father,” he says. “We started playing just to kill time,but as soon as I started winning,it became much more than that,” he adds.
Ever since he won his first national title in 2005,in Nagpur in the U-11 category,Gujrathi’s trophy cabinet consistently welcomed new mementos,which include four Asian Championships and the U-14 World Championship,won in 2008. For a long time the 19-year old considered his 2008 win the most memorable of his career. That is until he won his bronze medal in Turkey. “It’s the most prestigious event I’ve performed at,” he says. “Getting a medal there is a very big thing for me,and it just gives me a boost to perform better. The best part was that my idol,Garry Kasporov was giving away the awards,” he adds,still clearly ecstatic over his achievement. “I used to read Kasporov’s books to beat my father,” he mentions cheerfully.
Though just a week after becoming the first men’s chess player from Maharashtra to win a medal at the Junior World Championships,the Nashik boy has already begun making preparations for his next tournament,the Bhopal based national tournament starting on October 12. “I need to work a lot more on the physical preparation. I used to play basketball and swim before I went to Turkey,but since I had to go through several matches that lasted over five hours,I know that I still have to improve,” he says.
Aided by his sponsors and coach Grandmaster Evgeny Vladimirov,who has been training the youngster since 2011,Gujrathi praises his parents for their support. “They’ve always been my biggest fans. They used to fund my training before I got a main sponsor. But more importantly,they kept me motivated all the time,especially in the beginning when I wasn’t winning,” he says. “My only problem with them is that they keep bugging me to go to the gym all the time,” he adds lightly.
As for his coach,Vladimirov,Gujrathi claims that the Kazakh has made a crucial contribution to improve the youngster’s game. “I have become much sharper than I used to be,my positioning has improved and my game has become more aggressive,” he says. “The former Soviet Union players are regarded as the best in the world when it comes to chess. So I’m learning from the best,” he finishes.
Having taken a gap year before applying for a Bachelor’s degree at a foreign university,India’s 30th grandmaster claims to want to work on his game. Specifically,he hopes to improve his openings. “The opening moves are very important because it can decide the game for you,” he explains. “I need to get some good solid starts,”he adds.