14-year-old Nihal Sarin created history by becoming India's latest Grandmaster on 14th August 2018. After reaching the 2500 Elo rating a few months prior, the lad was just missing his final norm to gain the coveted title.
He finally managed to get it in style at the Abu Dhabi Masters Open tournament. Thus, it became mandatory and long overdue to capture the thoughts of this young master. Now, let's move on to the questions.
SK: Congrats Nihal on becoming India’s latest GM. Firstly, how do you feel about achieving this title?
It feels good but also normal. It was not something I was aiming for, although I kind of knew it was important.
SK: You are only 14 and have become a GM. You were already above 2500 ELO for some time now. So, what was going on in your mind during the time when you hadn’t achieved your final norm?
I really did not feel or think about the norms too much. When I missed them here and there, I would be sad about it for a couple of hours but that is about it.
Had I been scared, I would not have played normally. For example, in the last two months, I played 39 games and all of them are a mixture of 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, Sicilian, Caro Kann, 1…e5, Slav, Nimzo, Queen’s Indian and so on.
When thoughts of norms are harassing you, it is difficult to play what you want to play. You end up suppressing your intuition due to the fear of failure. That should not happen.
SK: You practice using the online site chess.com. Can you share something about your training routine?
I just play. There is no routine. I play a lot, even bughouse and 4-player chess, analyse a lot, observe other games, etc. It is all a mixture.
SK: What can you say are your future ambitions in the game? I’ve heard that you like to place more emphasis on the quality rather than the results. Is this true? Can you elaborate a bit more on this.
I would like to play as strongly as possible, nothing more, nothing less. Playing good moves, day in and day out, and coming up with creative ideas and plans is already quite difficult. There is no reason to complicate it further with additional goals. Ideally, in the future, I would like to play the best chess in the world and keep it like that for as long as I can.
SK: You share a great bond with your fellow mate GM Praggnandhaa. He too became a GM only a few months back. Can you tell us a bit about your friendship and if you both practice together?
He is clearly one of my best friends. We enjoy each other’s company to the fullest, and it is always a lot of fun when we play the same tournaments, which happens quite a lot. We don’t practise together but we do play a lot together.
SK: Recently, you had also contributed towards the extremely unfortunate flood in Kerala by organising a live show. Even former World Champion Vishy Anand contributed to this. What would you like to say about this event?
It was sad but it also showed all of us how to respond to such calamities. I thank each and every person who contributed to the rebuilding of my state.
Also, we can see that many people worked very hard to help people in distress. It is humbling to know what nature is capable of. But the way people came together, we also have hope.
SK: At such a young age you have accomplished so much. How do you keep yourself motivated? Do you pursue any side activities to keep your brain ticking?
I am not sure about accomplishments. Also, I don’t see a need for motivation. I go to school and play a lot of badminton and other sports.
SK: What moment in your chess career has made you look back with the most pride?
Some games I played gave some satisfaction. Not sure of pride.
SK: Can you share something about the people who have supported you throughout in this endeavour of yours to become a GM and reach the very top of the chess world?
I am very thankful for each and every person who helped me in various instances. It is an honour to work with all of them – my coaches, my parents, and my financial supporters.
I have not reached the top yet.
SK: Finally, can you give some tips for the aspiring players.
Play a lot. There are a lot of myths related to getting better at chess. Question everything you hear and make your own decisions based on logic and results of your own experiments (which is why you should play a lot – so you can experiment a lot). Trust yourself.