Mature beyond his age: 12-year-old chess wizard Raunak set to become IM
Raunak, a young 12-year-boy, is a chess prodigy who hails from the city of Nagpur in Maharashtra. What is so special about him is that he is going to become the youngest International Master (IM) of Maharashtra after getting the requisite three IM norms under his kitty and recently reaching the 2400 Elo mark during the four-day Felix Cup in Romania.
The young lad has extraordinary capabilities and is known to compete with children much older than him. One such example is when he finished third in National Juniors (U-19), that too, when he was just 10 years old.
Raunak has all the three IM norms, the first one he achieved at Pardubice Open 2017 and the second at Gibraltar Masters 2018, finally clearing his third IM norm at the Sharjah Masters International Chess Championship in April. He is now set to become the Nagpur's second IM, only after Anup Deshmukh, who achieved the feat way back in 1999.
In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Heena (Raunak's mother) and Swapnil Dhopade (Raunak's coach) reveal what Raunak is up to now and share everything to know about the young talent.
"Raunak started playing chess as a hobby when he was just 8 years old. Soon he realized that this is his passion and he prompted us to enrol him in training. Chess had always been Bharat's (Raunak's father) favourite game as well so we did not refuse and enrolled him in serious training after he had learned the basics of the game from us," shares Heena.
Besides chess, when Raunak is taking a break he loves to watch movies and also fancies going for a swim every now and then to keep himself fit. Raunak has been working with GM Swapnil Dhopade for the last two years and has also attended camps conducted by the likes of GM Amonatov Farrukh of Tajikistan.
Rigorous preparation at the camps in addition to the personal training by Swapnil has done Raunak a lot of good, enabling his career graph to show a steady and steep growth.
Heena and Bharat own a chemical repacking business and try to balance their schedule according to the maestro's upcoming events. One of the parents accompanies Raunak and the other stays back to take care of their younger son and manage the business.
Heena believes,"It is our duty to support him 100% to pursue his dreams and do our bit to enable him to become a Grandmaster eventually. His passion is now our passion as well. We always try to stand by him in all his highs and lows, as it is said - 'Behind every sportsman who believes in himself is a parent who believed first.' We both have immense faith in Raunak's capabilities and let him devote the maximum possible time to pursue his dreams."
Centre Point School, where the young sensation studies, is also very supportive. The Director of the school, Mrs Radhika Rajwade and principal Mrs Shilpee Ganguly, always allow him to go for various tournaments, as he achieves so many accolades and makes the school proud.
"Recently, Raunak played an extremely attacking game in the Island of Mallorca, Spain with GM Fier Alexander of Brazil - and it is one of his favourite games. A draw against Legendary GM Nigel Short of England and Iranian player Firouzja Alireja are two other games he cherishes most," says Heena, when asked about Raunak's favourite games of his career so far."
Swapnil Dhopade, who has been coaching Raunak since the past two and a half years, says, "When Raunak came to me, he had a FIDE rating of 1900, which for his age was still commendable. When we started working together, I knew he had a lot of potential and could go a long way. I always try to focus on both the strengths and the weaknesses of a player, and it was no different for Raunak.
"One department we worked on most was his openings, as he really needed improvement here initially. A limited knowledge of openings was hindering him to go all-out during games. I taught him the Caro–Kann defence, which I have been following since my childhood. I imparted the relevant knowledge to him and he eventually adapted really well."
The starting month he did not show any signs of improvement, however, he picked up gradually from the second month onward. His Elo ratings also started to improve drastically as a result of following this.
However, it was not always a fairytale story for the young mastermind and he had his fair share of struggles, the biggest being his apprehension when playing higher-ranked players. Raunak used to be scared of renowned players in his starting days, and even settle for a draw by playing it too safe.
"Another hurdle we faced was that Raunak was always fearful of higher ranked players. He was stuck-up and a jittery mindset meant that even if he was in a winning position, he used to settle for a draw. It is a fact that his rating would still improve but I had to do something about this mindset as it would not have done him any good in the long run."
"He had started getting some poor results and missed out on plenty of winning chances now. To achieve the success you desire, you need to aim higher and push yourself more and just go for the kill. If one goes on playing safely then it is impossible to reach your full potential." said Swapnil, who is himself preparing for the Commonwealth Chess Championship.
"Constant nagging by everyone around him moulded his mindset and ensured that he starts going all-out in his matches. His approach changed drastically and he started winning many more games in a short span of time. However, most of the credit goes to him. Raunaq recently assured the IM title and now is the time for celebration.
"My house is 3-4 hours away from his, so now that he is back it certainly calls for a party. We used to manage our training over video calling but this occasion certainly calls for a meeting as it is a moment of jubilation. After he has taken a break from chess for a while, we will try and implement some new strategies in his game so that he can take it up a notch," Swapnil concludes.
Raunaq is back home after a month in Romania, and without much ado, he has started finalizing his upcoming tournaments and training sessions - a mark of a true champion. He will be officially bestowed with the honour of IM by World Chess Federation (FIDE) after their general meeting, which is scheduled to take place this month.
He is human, so naturally he will make mistakes. However, the little whiz is truly a phenomenon and has all the capabilities to make it big. He overcame one of his shortcomings and is now fearless on the board, showing tremendous composure at the same time.
India certainly has a bright future in chess as there are a plethora of super talented youngsters such as Praggnanandhaa from Tamil Nadu, and Prithu Gupta from Delhi coming to the forefront besides Raunak.
The current World No. 8 (Under 14 category) has just begun his journey and there is still a long way to go for Raunak, who is en route to becoming a Grandmaster and dreams to win medals for the country.