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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Youngest Grandmaster Abhimanyu is a Kasparov trainee, Potter newbie

The American 12-year-old, born to Indian parents originally from Agra and Bhopal, might be one of the rarest pre-teens to start a Harry Potter, but get weaned away from the book for something slightly more important - to create chess history.

Written by Nitin Sharma | Chandigarh |
Updated: July 2, 2021 2:43:41 pm
Abhimanyu with parents Hemant Mishra, Swati Sharma and sister Ridhima Mishra.

When just 8, Abhimanyu Mishra joined Garry Kasparov’s Young Stars Programme. Three years earlier, at 5, he had completed a 300-piece ocean-life jigsaw puzzle in just under 3 hours. Besides world champion Magnus Carlsen, Abhimanyu idolises Indian great Vishwanathan Anand. He remembers in detail how the legend beat Levon Aronian once, playing black. The American 12-year-old, born to Indian parents originally from Agra and Bhopal, might be one of the rarest pre-teens to start a Harry Potter, but get weaned away from the book for something slightly more important – to create chess history.

Abhimanyu on Wednesday evening became the youngest Grandmaster (GM) in chess at 12 years, four months and 25 days beating the earlier record of Russian GM Sergey Karjakin of 12 years and seven months. He had left the Potter back home in New Jersey and will resume, after returning victorious from Hungary as the youngest to hold the third GM norm. “I started reading a Harry Potter book and could not bring it here. That will be my next big assignment post the world cup,” chuckles Abhimanyu.

Abhimanyu Mishra A young Abhimanyu Mishra with his trophies. (Special arrangement/Express)

Mother Swati Sharma who stayed back with her younger daughter Ridhima in the US, remembers the early puzzles he cracked.

“Whether bagging the IM or GM norm, Abhimanyu would play video games after the game to cool off. When he was two-years-old, we brought him a 40- piece jigsaw puzzle. While he would also start chess six months later, he would solve a 300 piece jigsaw puzzle in three hours time at five. At that time, we never thought he would become the youngest GM in the world,” she tells The Indian Express.

Both Swati and husband Hemant worked in a data management company, and the young Abhimanyu would be introduced to chess by his father, who played the game at college and corporate level. The child would formally start training under a Russian coach in New Jersey before joining Kings and Queens Academy.

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“We never saw Abhimanyu as a super chess prodigy. It was always an aim to develop his interest gradually. Abhimanyu only remembered the pieces as elephant, horse, camel and not rook, knight and bishop. Once Abhimanyu competed in a tournament and did not know how to write the chess moves and Hemant argued with the organisers to allow him to play just because he loved playing,” shares Sharma.

After winning a string of local tournaments, Abhimanyu became the world’s youngest International Master in 2019, beating the earlier record of Indian R Praggnanandhhaa’s.

“Once Abhimanyu’s game went beyond midnight, and a tired Abhimanyu offered the much older opponent a draw. Another time in a winter tournament, he left one of his games as he was worried about it getting dark and the return journey. But then kids are kids and when he would reach home and see his chess books including Silman’s Complete Endgame Course and study books, he would forget about the loss or the game,” she recalls. But there was no exhaustion that a Silman’s Complete Endgame Course couldn’t wipe off, as he would shrug off the loss and start again.

Abhimanyu Mishra Abhimanyu Mishra playing chess in New Jersey. (Special arrangement/Express)

This one time a very tall opponent came up to him and asked him to call his father to play in his stead. “It felt a bit intimidating for Abhimanyu. He won the game but we also worked a lot on ensuring he looks his opponents in the eye no matter how experienced or older an opponent is,’” remembers Hemant.

Having dipped into his college fund and spending $260,000 on chess, the family would start crowdfunding to push him post his debut FIDE ratings at 1681 in 2016. “When he won the third IM norm in California, Abhimanyu practiced sleeping late, adjusting to the time difference,” says Mishra. The Kasparov programme would follow in 2018, where he was picked as one of the 15 players.

“I admire Kasporov’s energy. His understanding of opponents’ game is amazing. He told me I have to work hard for every win and that’s the mantra. How Carlsen is dominating the world is simply amazing. I also wish to meet Anand sir and I remember one of his games against Levon Aronian where he played with black and defeated him. I often watch that game,” shares Abhimanyu who currently has a performance ELO rating of 2619 and ranked 742 in the world. “My aim will be to get past the 2700 rating and to become world champion some day,” he says.

The father-son duo spent more than 80 days at an apartment in Budapest competing in the local tournaments and with Hemant cooking Indian food or Abhimanyu’s favourite cheese pasta.

The youngest GM in the world will now head to Sochi to compete in the FIDE World Cup next week before he returns back home to New Jersey and plans to spend some days post his return to USA on an important assignment apart from practicing Grunfled defence on his chess set given to him by world number 2 Fabiano Caruano at the age of six.

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