The youngest grandmaster

Abhimanyu playing chess

Abhimanyu Mishra made history by becoming the youngest grandmaster in the history of chess. He has bigger plans. It’s just the beginning….. 

Abhimanyu Mishra was 12 years 4 months, and 25 days old when he became a chess grandmaster in Budapest–Hungary last week. The youngest in the world to do that, he broke a 19 years record held by Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine. Of the 10 youngest players to become the grandmaster, all less than 14 years, four are Indians. Abhimanyu, though of Indian origin, was representing the United States of America. His father, Hemant belongs to Bhopal, mother Swati hails from Agra. He has a younger sister Ridhimma who perhaps is the most talkative member of the family as well as the cutest. 

After two and half months of gruelling tournaments where he played 70 games, sometimes two a day, winning the grandmaster title was not easy for Abhimanyu. He was there, away from the family, living in New Jersey, with only his father Hemany by his side. Hemant was working from home, and working hours in the Eastern Time Zone of America–6 hours later than the local time in Budapest–would mean that he would be up till very late in the night for two and half months. 

Mother and sister back home would follow each and every game, though Swati is suspicious of watching Abhimanyu play live — thinks she might jinx  his chances of winning. Ridhimma would give her a running commentary. 

Hemant was certain from the very beginning that he wouldn’t let his children get addicted to a gadget like an iPad or a mobile. Chess to him was a healthy distraction. Abhimanyu took time but got proficient enough to start participating in competition when he was not even 5 years of age. He broke many records, now is planning to become a super grandmaster before he turns 15. And that’s not all, his ultimate goal is to be a world champion.  

Still in Budapest, he plans to get back to his family after participating in the world championship. It has been tough for him. His passion keeps him going. With a very intent look on his face, trying to contain his excitement, he replies in short sentences–is a matter of fact in his responses. Over a phone conversation, he says “It was terrific to win. I’m really happy, can’t describe,” is a good way to describe the making of history. What else one expects him to say. He doesn’t think about landmarks he’s going to achieve when playing, “for it will put a lot of pressure on him.” The last game was a “tense and even one…but I won,” he explains.

He summed up his life in three short sentences, “I practice 12 hours a day. There’s little time for anything else. Without the help of Grandmasters Arunprasad Subramanian and Mangesh, I wouldn’t have done it.” 

The family is jubilant, sister Riddhima is ecstatic, “Being a sister of a celebrity brother makes me a celebrity as well,” she quipped. Abhimanyu’s grandmother cut a cake in Bhopal to celebrate his outstanding feat. Abhimanyu doesn’t play much chess with Riddhima–though she didn’t acknowledge being defeated by him–but they do a lot of other things together. 

Chess has been a prime focus in his life, and “there’s little time for anything else” though Abhimayu likes to play with his friends. He doesn’t read much, though confessed he tried reading Harry Potter books.

Talking about his historic achievement from his room in Budapest when he spent last two and a half months Photo credit: Mishra family

Though the family is very supportive, they also don’t want to burden him with high expectations. Swati admires “his calmness” while she gets very anxious when he’s playing the games. It’s not easy for a 12-year-old to deal with so much pressure. But talking briefly to Abhimanyu gives a feeling that he doesn’t feel pressurised, and when the game gets tense–he can still hold his nerves and can think better.

His idol is the reigning world champion, Magnus Carlsen. “He has dominated the world of chess for the last 7 years like no one has in the past. He is good in all formats of the game,” says Abhimanyu. 

Carlsen is known as a ‘street fighter’ who doesn’t have a particular style and doesn’t plan or prepare his openings and still ends up winning matches. He’s a very challenging player to compete with because he’s fairly versatile and unpredictable–and therefore, a tremendously difficult player to prepare against.

Abhimanyu employed some Carlsen methods to humble his opponents, and many felt his style of play seemed to be inspired by that of the greatest of all. Abhimanyu will have to compete with Carlsen at some point in time in the future, perhaps not once but many times, if he’s to realise his dream of being a chess world champion. 

When you are at the global center stage of a sport, you have to forgo many things so integral to growing up. Studies also suffer. Abhimanyu has the support of his family. They plan things well. This year he didn’t go to school to prepare for the grandmaster tournament. His parents knew it, so he did two classes in a year–fifth and sixth standard. “He’s an honest student,” stresses mother Swati. As someone famously said, “You don’t need to have extraordinary effort to achieve extraordinary results. You just need to do ordinary, everyday things exceptionally well.”

At the age of five, he lost an important game that he was winning simply because of the delay tactics of the opponent. The games lingered on till late in the evening well past his bedtime–so he went off to sleep. It was a learning experience. This never happened again. But this has to be said, sometimes the young achievers change the way society looks at childhood. However, the fact remains, he’s still a child.  


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