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How India's 17-year old chess prodigy is brushing shoulders with world number 1 Magnus Carlsen

FEATURED COLUMNIST
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16.81K   //    19 Dec 2015, 13:37 IST
Narayanan has also faced world number 61 Igor Kovalenko from Latvia in Poland

At just 17 years of age, Kerala’s S L Narayanan is the latest entry into India’s ever-growing Chess Grand Master (GM) list. A third place finish at the recently concluded Philippine Open Championship, including victories over Chinese GM Li Shanglei and GM Antolio Rogelio Junior has propelled him beyond a 2500 rating.

This prolific performance has potentially set-up a date against world number one Magnus Carlsen, during the Qatar Master Open tomorrow.

The tournament, which will run till December 28, also features a host of Indians including ninth seed P Harikrishna. In the women’s section, second seed Koneru Humpy will be donning the tri-colour.

Narayanan’s recent surge has seen him become India’s 40th GM. He said, “My eventual goal is to reach elo rating 2700 plus, which will help me compete against the best regularly. Ever since I was in my third standard I wanted to take up chess professionally. I have remained focussed towards that. So, now is the time I put in my best.”

Naraynan competing GM Lu Shanglei of China

Ranked 74th in the tournament, Narayanan is likely to play India’s chess tormentor on December 20, subject to the viable tenure of matches. Both players are the exact opposite side of the draw, which ideally should see them squaree off against each other.

He said, “A match against Carlsen will be a massive confident boost for me. The reason being that I have grown up admiring him, I used to watch the Anand-Calsen maches as a part of my training. So I will get to learn a lot, those particular experiences help you grow as a chess player. As they say, if you don’t play the best, you can’t be the best.”

Narayanan has been training under GM Thipsay, and stated that he hires the services of several Coaches online. He added, ”Chess actually has a brilliant future online. Most of the good chess players also play online. So I was able to seek a lot of help through social media etc.”

A case of natural progression

His previous high-profile match-up was against World number 61, Igor Kovalenko of Latvia at Najdorf Memorial Open. Kovalenko won the match 1-0, but Narayanan attacking style was applauded by several pundits. He added, “In that particular match, he began very defensive, so I also played quite aggressive. But, I later realised I was playing into his strategy. As I said, it’s a learning experience.”

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He added, “My target is to reach elo rating 2,700 and the Supreme GM tag in the next three years time. It will be the right age to do so.” A class 12 student from Thiruvananthapuram, Narayanan remains positive about the daunting task at hand.

He said, ”There is no doubt that he is someone I look upto. But whenever I play, I switch off all my emotions with the other person. He is an opponent, and I have to defeat him. It will be a great learning experience. “

Narayanan during his junior days

However, a deeper look into his junior career will reveal that Narayanan’s meteoric rise is basic natural progression. In 2010, at just 11 years old, he won a silver medal at the Commmonwealth Chess Championship in the U-12 category. Two years later, he would go onto win gold in the same competition, but this time in the U-16 category.

By early 2014, He was crowned the National Junior Chess Champion. Within a span of one year, he transitioned through all three GM norms highlighting a prolific rise within India’s chess hierarchy. Narayanan added, “The third norm was the most difficult, I was really close to it for a long time. I was completely relieved when I reached it.”

Now he is just one step away from reaching the crème de la crème of chess. The potential clash against Carlsen only reaffirms that Narayanan is headed in the right direction.

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