“It’s going to be one Indian after another, after another, after another, after another – all disciples of Vishy.”
In that one sentence, world No 4 chess player Hikaru Nakamura predicted how the sport is going to shape up now that five-time World Champion Viswanathan Anand is nearing the end of his career. The chess world will move forward with a barrage of Indian youngsters challenging Magnus Carlsen, the biggest name in the game.
Nakamura made the statement after GM Karthikeyan Murali beat Carlsen in a classical chess match. But of late, the spotlight has majorly been the likes of new India No 1 Dommaraju Gukesh, Candidates qualified Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, and the ever-improving Arjun Erigaisi – all of whom have successfully graduated to the highest level and are rated above 2700. And there are a few more who promise to reach that stage in the coming months.
One among those is 17-year-old Raunak Sadhwani.
The Nagpur-lad is currently in a rich vein of form, which saw him being crowned the first-ever FIDE World Junior Rapid Champion earlier in the month before finishing second in the FIDE Junior Blitz World Championships.
“I am glad to have won these medals,” Sadhwani told Scroll days after he won the world event in Pula, Italy. “Podium finish in both the formats is quite satisfactory.”
A self-proclaimed cricket-nut, Sadhwani first hoped to make it big in that more popular outdoor sport. It was only after he was denied opportunities to play cricket competitively – he was deemed too young – that Sadhwani took up chess seriously. Till then, chess was just a game he used to play with his father.
“I decided to play chess only as a hobby and later come back to cricket, but once I started there was no looking back,” he said.
“My dad used to play with me in the evening after returning from work. At that time I knew I would lose games against him but I still used to eagerly wait for that time of the day. Later on my parents noticed I am enjoying chess and enrolled me in an academy,” he added.
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But it was only after he achieved the title of a Grandmaster that Sadhwani was convinced he wanted to pursue the sport as a career. At 13, he was the ninth youngest in the world at the time to achieve the coveted standard.
Deciding to take up chess professionally meant that his cricketing ambitions took a backseat. So did his academics – a price the Sadhwani family was willing to pay for their child’s excellence over the 64 squares.
“I have to travel a lot for chess tournaments and so attending a regular school was not possible, so I opted for [National Institute of Open Schooling],” he said.
“My parents also never pressurised me [with my academics] because they know it is difficult to manage both and one will always suffer. Hence I gave my first preference to the game I enjoy the most.”
That decision taken around four years ago has slowly started to pay rich dividends now for Sadhwani. Just before his successful campaign at the inaugural Junior World Rapid and Blitz, he was invited to play beside Carlsen at the European Chess Club Cup.
In what was his debut outing in the tournament, Sadhwani plied his trade for Offerspill Sjakklubb – a club founded by Carlsen in Oslo, Norway.
Playing on the second board, the Indian remained unbeaten in the competition with three wins and four draws in seven rounds and helped Carlsen, who played the top board, to his first-ever European title.
“I was looking for a team to play in the European Chess club and contacted a few teams including Magnus’ Offerspill,” he said. “It was nice that I got invited by many strong teams and I had to choose one. I thought there can be nothing better than playing alongside Magnus and agreed to play for the team.”
During his stint with Offerspill, Sadhwani spent his time picking Carlsen’s brain.
“It was a good experience playing alongside the GOAT [or Greatest of All Time] Magnus,” he said. “It was a fantastic experience being with him for so many days. I got to learn so many things from him like how he usually prepares before the game, physical fitness, and after game analysis.”
Sadhwani also touched a live rating of 2650 for the first-time in his career during the course of the European Club Chess Cup. He is currently rated 2653.9, is ranked 83rd in the world and is the tenth-highest rated junior.
While he has started to reap rewards of his sacrifices and hard work off late, it has never been an easy road to the top. Sadhwani revealed that, despite his exploits on the board, he continues to be without a sponsor with his businessman father still funding his expenses.
“My mother doubles up as my manager, registering in tournaments, communicating with organisers and trainers,” he said, describing how the entire family is committed to his journey.
Sadhwani started the year rated 2627 before falling down to 2603 in June. The 17-year-old has since bounced back with a string of impressive performances and is well placed to join his peers in the elusive 2700 club. The Super Grandmaster club.
Just another Indian youngster making his way into the big league.