CHESS: An interview with Nihal Sarin

6/20/2017 – "I had the pleasure of first meeting Nihal in Stockholm at the end of last year," writes John-Paul Wallace. "He looked even younger than his tender age of 12, but it was immediately clear that he was a powerful chess player. A few days after this event I conducted a Skype interview with Nihal. As I think you will see, he is a very humble young man and undoubtedly he has a fantastic future ahead of him. I wish him all the best!" Interview in the June issue of CHESS Magazine.

Interview: Nihal Sarin

The 12-year-old Indian star journeyed straight on from the Fagernes International to the Reykjavik Open where John-Paul Wallace caught up with him

I had the pleasure of first meeting Nihal in Stockholm at the end of last year. He looked even younger than his tender age of 12, but it was immediately clear that he was a powerful chess player. Recently in the Fagernes GM tournament he gained, apparently without great effort, his first grandmaster norm.

A few days after this event I conducted a Skype interview with Nihal, who was already in Reykjavik ready for his next event. His father, who is very friendly and relaxed, was happy to be in the background and let Nihal do the talking – I have the impression that he is able to support his son in a very easy going manner.

As I think you will see, Nihal is a very humble young man and undoubtedly he has a fantastic future ahead of him. I wish him all the best!

John-Paul Wallace: First of all, congratulations on your GM norm in Norway, but tell me, who got you into chess, right at the beginning?

Nihal Sarin: I started at the age of five when my grandfather taught me chess.

Did you join a club and so develop your talent?

I had a coach – Matthew Joseph – but I didn’t join a club; I just started playing tournaments when I was around 7.

Presumably you’ve represented India in the world junior tournaments?

Yes, my first world junior was in 2013 and I have played several times since then. In 2014 I even managed to win the Under-10 Championship!

Does that mean you still go to school or are you fully dedicated to chess?

Yes, I go to school. I don’t yet have a regular routine for chess study.

And when you study, do you mostly use the computer, or a board and pieces?

Mainly books, but without the board, just reading.

Please let us know what some of your favourite books and players are!

Well, that is a difficult question! Carlsen, Aronian, Kramnik and, oh, there are many other good players. I don’t have one favourite, although there is Anand of course.

Have you met Anand?

I have seen him, but I haven’t talked to him yet.

I am sure you will in the future! In the UK there are lots of young kids trying to improve their game. What advice would you give them to improve?

Well, I mainly just read books and sometimes I worked with the computer to check some openings.

Do you have a regular coach at the moment?

During tournaments, yes – Dimitry Komarov from the Ukraine. He gives me advice and plans.

And with opening prep?

Oh, yes!

Was it Komarov’s idea to play this line against Postny’s Semi-Slav?

Hmm. Well, I had looked at this line before. The g4 idea is interesting. I thought I got into trouble, but luckily my queen was not getting trapped.

[Event "Fagernes"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "6"] [White "Sarin, N."] [Black "Postny, E."] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D45"] [PlyCount "111"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #06"] [SourceDate "2017.05.21"] 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 c6 4. e3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Nbd7 6. Qc2 Bd6 7. b3 O-O 8. Bb2 e5 9. Be2 e4 10. Nd2 a6 {[#]} 11. g4 $5 {I had looked at this line before. The g4 idea is interesting. I thought I got into trouble, but luckily my queen was not getting trapped.} b5 12. g5 Ne8 13. cxd5 cxd5 14. Nxd5 Bb7 15. Qxe4 Nb6 16. Bd3 g6 17. Nf6+ Nxf6 18. Qxb7 Nfd5 19. Ne4 Rb8 20. Qc6 Bb4+ 21. Ke2 {[#]} Rc8 22. Qb7 Rb8 23. Qc6 Rc8 24. Qb7 Rb8 {I became a bit more confident when he tried to make a draw with ...Rb8-c8. Then I thought I could take the draw and I was quite afraid to play on, but I didn’t see a clear way to trap the queen even after taking the third pawn on a6, which was greedy. Well, risky for both sides!} 25. Qxa6 Nc7 26. Qa7 Qc8 27. Nf6+ Kh8 28. Be4 Nbd5 29. Nxd5 Nxd5 30. Rhc1 Qg4+ 31. Kd3 Qxg5 32. Bxd5 Qxd5 33. e4 Qh5 34. d5+ f6 35. Qe3 Rbd8 36. Bd4 Kg8 37. Rc7 Qxh2 38. Qg3 Qh5 39. Qg2 Qh4 40. Qf3 Qg5 41. Rd1 Bd6 42. Ra7 Bb8 43. Rb7 Rf7 44. Rxf7 Kxf7 45. Qh3 Kg7 46. Rh1 h5 {[#]} 47. f4 Bxf4 48. Rg1 Qh6 49. Bxf6+ Kxf6 50. Qe6+ Kg7 51. Qe7+ Kg8 52. Qxd8+ Kh7 53. Qe7+ Kg8 54. d6 Bd2 55. Qe8+ Kg7 56. Rxg6+ 1-0

This is certainly an interesting system. I guess you know Kovalenko is playing it a lot?

With white? Yes. It can be a solid line too, if Black doesn’t play ...e5 and both sides just castle.

It was a big achievement to beat Postny. Were you nervous when you were playing him?

Yes, or at least I got into time trouble very quickly.

But you managed to stay calm even when you got into time trouble?

Once I played the 40th move it was fine. It was good to make that without losing the advantage. It was hard, the time situation was...

Putting you under pressure?

Yes.

Postny certainly plays fast. At which moment did you think that you were going to beat him?

I think after I played f4 maybe. That was a very lucky idea.

It was a great move. How, though, were you feeling earlier when your queen was on b7?

Terrible!

You thought you might be losing?

Yes, but I became a bit more confident when he tried to make a draw with ...Rb8-c8. Then I thought I could take the draw and I was quite afraid to play on, but I didn’t see a clear way to trap the queen even after taking the third pawn on a6, which was greedy, but...

It looked too greedy?

Well, risky for both sides!

It was a good move according to the computer, but for human beings it looks really scary!

Yes, that’s true.

How did you manage to get your confidence, because many people if they are playing a strong GM rated 200 points higher than them like Postny would take the chance to take the draw. So how did you get this confidence to fight?

Well, I got some confidence when he tried to make a draw.

You realised he was a bit worried?

Yeah, and he looked a bit worried too. And I was really happy that the queen was not getting trapped so easily.

In the last round was it your opponent, Alon Greenfeld, that offered the draw?

Yes.

And you needed a draw to make the GM norm?

Yes, I needed a draw [said with a smile and sense of relief].

[Event "Fagernes"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.??.??"] [Round "9"] [White "Sarin, N."] [Black "Greenfeld, A."] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A40"] [PlyCount "30"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [SourceTitle "Chess 2017 #06"] [SourceDate "2017.05.21"] 1. d4 e6 2. c4 b6 3. e4 Bb7 4. Bd3 Bb4+ 5. Bd2 Bxd2+ 6. Nxd2 Qf6 7. Ne2 Nc6 8. Nf3 g5 9. Bc2 g4 10. Nfg1 O-O-O 11. Qd2 Nge7 12. f4 Na5 13. b3 c5 14. O-O-O Nec6 15. d5 Nb4 1/2-1/2

I was a bit surprised he offered a draw. I thought he was going to try and win, but maybe he was nervous playing against a talented 12-year-old?

I don’t know. After the game he told me that thathe was happy to give me a draw.

Do you set yourself goals, like ‘I want this rating by this time’ or ‘I want to get this many points in this tournament’?

No, I just play.

That must take the pressure off. Does anyone give you advice, like your father or your coach, or did you figure these things out on your own?

I don’t know. I just try and play. It would be hard to play if you are thinking of ratings all the time.

Indeed! Do you have a chance to be the youngest GM in the world?

I think I am too old already to break Karjakin’s record.

Just three days after Fagernes you are about to play again. Does that mean you don’t get tired being so young?

I’m fine and even straight after Fagernes I was fine, because it was a good tournament. I was very happy to have that draw in the last round; I thought I would suffer and lose, especially seeing my knight on g1.

Yes, I was also worried about that knight! What about other tournaments – do you normally get tired or depressed after a painful defeat?

Well, for a bit of time maybe.

A couple of hours or a couple of days? Sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks!

I think I take some minutes...

Now I am jealous and my wife, Astrid, is laughing, because she knows if I lose a painful game maybe I am suffering for two weeks.

Well, I have lost some games as well. Against Kovalenko I nearly made a draw, but blundered and lost after a long fight. Then I was clearly depressed.

Those situations are certainly tough.

Also against Naiditsch I maybe had a draw, but blundered again. OK, I missed a nice tactic, but somehow I did not get too depressed.

Are you a strong blitz player as well?

I don’t know. I have not played many blitz tournaments.

Many thanks. I’ll be cheering you on in Reykjavik and and your future tournaments!

The one thing that had me puzzled after this interview was: how is this youngster so good? It seems like he hardly studies chess! On the other hand, looking in the database Nihal played 67 games in 2016, which is more like eight international events per year, a reasonable amount, if far less than Magnus played at around the same age. [Note: If investigated slightly deeper, many of the tournament games were not recorded, so the number stands at approx. 100 games]. However, like Magnus, Nihal appears to be very much a natural talent who is able to improve through casual study. He is certainly a name to very much keep an eye on!

The above interview was reproduced from Chess Magazine June/2017, with kind permission.

CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt Read. The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.

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KevinC KevinC 6/21/2017 01:51
I have seen a lot of prodigies over the last 40 years, and I think this kid is going to be something truly special.
Mangler Mangler 6/21/2017 08:40
So what books is he using? He did not answer that question, and even though he stated he "mainly reads books", that was not followed up. Otherwise, nice interview and I wish the kid well in the future.
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