October 9, 2014 2:13:13 am
It was at the Latvian Embassy in New Delhi where VR Deivanai first heard her son being referred to as the ‘next Viswanathan Anand’. The mother and son, International Master (IM) Aravindh Chithambaram VR, were patiently waiting in the lobby for their visa interview — ahead of the Riga Chess Open in August. They’d expected their wait to last a few hours. But this unexpected association with the Indian Grandmaster hastened the paperwork magically.
“The person in charge of the interview addressed him as the ‘next Anand’ and said ‘how can we not allow him in our country. He seemed very happy to meet us and took no time to approve our application,” recalls Deivanai.
The family – mother, son and his maternal grandparents had moved to Chennai from Madurai only last year. The switch in residence first triggered the faint, yet steadily growing comparisons between the teenager and the 44-year-old veteran.
GM Abhijit Kunte, present at the World Juniors where Aravindh is chasing his GM title, claims the youngster’s rapid rise in ELO ratings and his capture of the required GM norms — all achieved after he moved to Chennai — also added to the comparison.
It’s also Aravindh’s sprinting progress which has brought him to the threshold of the GM title. “In just over a year he has all his GM norms. Normally it takes years to get them,” Kunte informs.
Aravindh’s coach GM RB Ramesh, however, carefully steers clear of any such pronouncements. “I don’t know where the idea came from. This is certainly the first time I’ve ever heard it,” he asserts, playing down the idea.
Women Grandmaster Soumya Swaminathan says, “All prodigies are likened to greats of the game. This may be one of those situations.” However, she does go further to mention that the youngster is indeed rising in reputation. “He has been playing very well. He doesn’t seem to get intimidated by higher ranked opponents. And he beats them quite often,” she adds.
While debates on Aravindh’s prowess continue, the youngster is working his way up the points ladder in the World Junior Chess Championships in Pune. By the end of the third round, he has gathered two-and-a-half points from his two wins and one draw. All this comes just a week after he returned from South Africa with a silver medal in the U-16 category at the World Youth Chess Championship.
Aravindh is now just 15 points short of becoming a Grandmaster. He stands with an ELO rating of 2,485. It has taken him six years to get to this position, since he started playing chess and oblivious to all comparisons to the Indian legend, Aravindh has been idolising Norwegian boy-wonder Magnus Carlsen for years now.
Deivanai explains that Aravindh was an ardent cricket lover. “He used to try and pull his grandfather to play as well. At that time my father was 80. He thought chess was better so the boy would sit in one place,” she recalls, smiling.
The Madurai-born youngster would often lose to his grandfather, and then challenge his uncle and lose again.
“He used to cry so much because of that,” describes Deivanai. His determination to beat his family members is what encouraged him to enroll in KR Prasad’s weekly chess classes, and under G Kamardeep’s coaching he would bag his first title, the U-11 national championship, prompting suggestions to train under a GM.
But finances restricted Deivanai from taking it up. Her husband had passed away when Aravindh was three, and her work as an insurance agent at LIC, where payment only came through commissions, didn’t make the move too easy. Aravindh continued to win, becoming India’s youngest winner of a GM tournament, when he won the U-19 national championship in 2011. Eventually, the family came into contact with GM Ramesh, who ran the Chess Gurukul Academy in Chennai. The veteran waived off the fee and encouraged the move to Chennai. “And so we decided to break our 40-year association with Madurai,” says Deivanai. Once in Chennai, Aravindh won all the GM norms he requires for the Grandmaster title.
Aravindh’s aversion to drawing games reminds some old-timers of the old Anand. Though, in the youngster, it’s a vulnerability. So much so that during matches where a draw seems the only outcome, he tries to look for a win. In the process, he makes a mistake and loses the game. But there is one such match where he enjoyed playing for a draw. Carlsen played against 20 players simultaneously when he came to Chennai last year for the World Championship match.
“Aravindh told me he could have beaten Carlsen, but settled for a draw instead. He told me he didn’t want to beat his idol,” laughs Deivanai, not sure of whether Aravindh spoke in jest or was dead serious.
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