Arjun Erigaisi is quick to dismiss any word of congratulations for his latest achievement. Last week, the 20-year-old from Warangal, Telangana rose to the world No 4 spot on the FIDE live ratings, making him the highest ranked Indian currently.

Yet, he is not concerned about it.

“It is a good feeling, but I have stopped caring about the results that much,” he said to Scroll. “I’m trying to focus more on the process.”

This is an approach Erigaisi has been following since January, and one that came as a result of a heartbreak as he failed to make the cut for the FIDE Candidates event that took place in April. He explained that he put undue pressure on himself during events that could earn him qualification to the prestigious tournament – that was eventually won by compatriot Gukesh Dommaraju.

“In critical moments [during the qualification events], I was fumbling,” said Erigaisi. “I realised it’s best to care less about chasing those kinds of targets.”

Also read: Gukesh Dommaraju – inexperienced, expected to fail, but the chosen Candidate

The changed mindset though was not something that came overnight. In fact, Erigaisi took 20 days off from the game. Instead, the Grandmaster, with a current rating of 2770.9 (trailing only Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana) kept himself busy with different activities to help get his mind off chess.

“I had not met my friends for a while, so we all got together,” he said. “We would chat, then we’d go for sports – table tennis, badminton. We played laser tag, escape room… just a lot of fun activities.”

All the while though, he said, he was training himself to mentally not take his results seriously.

“That worked really well,” Erigaisi said. “Now I have reached a stage where, if I have a bad result, it will affect me for maybe 30 minutes to an hour. Last year, a bad game would trouble me till the next day or even more.”

The fresh approach comes at a time when a number of young chess stars from the country have started to make their mark on the international circuit. Gukesh, now 18, became the youngest winner of the Candidates event, and will compete for the World Championship title against Ding Liren in November-December.

Then there is 18-year-old Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, who had reached the 2023 World Cup final, losing only to Carlsen.

Also read: R Praggnanandhaa completes the evolution – Once a prodigy, now a contender

And now Erigaisi is the highest-ranked Indian in the live ratings.

Interestingly though, Erigaisi recalled that he had once come close to quitting the sport in 2018.

“I had stagnated around the 2300 rating for around two years,” he said. “I had not been going to school in order to focus on chess. But since I wasn’t going much further, my father wanted me to get back to my academics.

“At one point, we thought that I was playing my last few tournaments. But then I got a breakthrough and became a Grandmaster [at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 13 days],” he added.

He further asserted that it was only after the Covid-19 pandemic struck that he decided that he wanted to pursue a career in chess.

Maths nut-turned-chess wiz

Erigaisi first started playing chess at a summer camp when he was seven. But it was a game he had been advised to play much earlier.

“We used to live in the outskirts of Tirupati and my school teachers realised I was good in maths,” he explained. “They told my parents chess might be a nice thing for me to start playing, but there was no academy near where we lived. It was only after we moved to Warangal that I got into it seriously.”

He was not, however, pushed directly into chess. The summer camp included other activities like swimming, skating and dancing.

“But I liked chess the most and I cut down on the other things to increase the hours in chess,” he said.

Also read: Indian chess Schism – A north versus south battle to host the World Championship match

Slowly, his parents took him for tournaments within the state and Erigaisi started to do well. Eventually, he was put under the tutelage of A Sudarshan, who guided him during his junior years.

Since August 2021, he has been training with Uzbeki GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov. But since last year, he has started to focus more on his physical fitness, becoming a regular at the gym.

“A lot of people have told me that my posture has improved,” Erigaisi said. “I remember at the 2021 Grand Swiss, I was playing a match that went on for over seven hours. I couldn’t think straight and ended up losing. But last year, I had another long game and I wasn’t missing anything while my opponent got tired. I was feeling fresh.”

What is also new is his latest achievement, even if he does not make much of it. He has put in the work to get to this position, armed with a fitness regimen and a mindset that is process-oriented.

Once stagnating, Erigaisi is on the rise.