A unique chess prodigy

by Priyadarshan Banjan
8/17/2015 – Have you ever seen a GM move his rook in the second move of a game – not in a simultaneous exhibition or against a patzer, but facing a strong opponent in the final crucial round of an international tournament? GM Aravindh Chithambaram did exactly this, echoing his last year's defeat of Alexei Shirov with 1.b3. This 15-year-old super-talent is clearly on his way to world class.

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Aravindh Chithambaram – a unique chess prodigy

Last week we reported Aravindh Chithambaram’s victory in the Indian Junior Chess Championship, 2015. Aravindh is from a humble background and some years ago, as a bubbling 2300 FM who had just won a grandmaster tournament, his growth largely depended on the number of tournaments with norm possibilities that he could play. At that critical juncture the chess world came forward to help him achieve his dream of becoming a grandmaster. The boy hasn’t disappointed.

Have you ever seen a grandmaster move his rook in the second move of the game – not in a simultaneous exhibition or against a patzer but against decent opposition in the last round of an international tournament? FM Nicholas van der Nat (Elo 2348) of South Africa was paired against GM Aravindh Chithambaram of India in the final round of the recently concluded Commonwealth Chess Championship. Foreign visitors to India often talk about a number of bizarre occurrences that they experience in this country. Nicholas, playing the black pieces, might have prepared for his last round game reasonably well, but then... 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Rg1!?!?

The bewildered South African sank into a thirty-minute think and replied 2…d6, but lost the game anyway. Speaks tons about his opponent though, who played an outrageous idea in the second move of the game and proceeded to win it.

[Event "Commonwealth 2015"] [Site "?"] [Date "2015.06.30"] [Round "9.6"] [White "Aravindh Chithambaram, VR."] [Black "Van Der Nat Nicholas"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A05"] [WhiteElo "2504"] [BlackElo "2348"] [PlyCount "83"] [SourceDate "2015.06.23"] 1. Nf3 Nf6 2. Rg1 d6 3. Nc3 c5 4. e4 g6 5. d3 Bg7 6. Bg5 Nc6 7. Qd2 h6 8. Bf4 g5 9. Be3 Ng4 10. Be2 Nxe3 11. fxe3 g4 12. Nh4 e6 13. g3 h5 14. Ng2 a6 15. Nf4 b5 16. h3 b4 17. Nd1 e5 $2 18. Nd5 gxh3 19. Nf2 Ne7 20. O-O-O Nxd5 21. exd5 f5 22. Kb1 e4 23. Nxh3 Qf6 24. d4 cxd4 25. exd4 Qf7 26. Qxb4 Ke7 27. Nf4 Bd7 28. Rh1 h4 29. gxh4 Rhb8 30. Qa3 Rb6 31. Rhg1 Rab8 32. b3 Bh6 33. Qc1 Kd8 34. c4 Qf6 35. h5 Kc7 36. Rg6 Qf8 37. Rxh6 Rxb3+ 38. axb3 Rxb3+ 39. Ka2 Qb8 40. c5 Qb4 41. cxd6+ Kb7 42. Qc7+ 1-0

That is how this young Indian has always been. He would start as a mere 2300 in a tournament full of grandmasters and International Masters, and yet win it with ingenious ease, or so they say. He wouldn’t hesitate to play 1.b3 against a tactically oriented Alexei Shirov, and beat him in a complicated melee – supposedly Shirov’s forte.

When we first spotted Aravindh, he was an obvious talent who announced his arrival with a win at the Chennai GM Tournament, 2013, that was held simultaneously with the 2013 World Championship in the same city. Despite lacking the resources to compete in high-level tournaments, normally occurring in the European circuit, Aravindh fought on.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then. An appropriately timed donation drive enabled Aravindh to play some quality tournaments and unsurprisingly become a grandmaster with relative ease. Here's how it happened:

In November 2013, during the Anand-Carlsen World Championship match in Chennai, a special Grandmaster Open was held in celebration of the title match coming to the Indian chess capital. It was sensationally won by the then 14-year-old FM, ahead of all the GMs and IMs, with a performance of 2728 (his rating at the time was 2335), which gave Aravindh his maiden GM and IM norms. His coach, GM R.B. Ramesh, told us that he had the capacity to become a grandmaster very quickly, "if given the opportunity to play in European tournaments."

Aravindh, who lost his father when he was three years old, comes from a very poor background and was in need of financial support to achieve this goal. In January 2014 an Indigogo campaign was launched to secure the $8,000 needed for a European tour.

We asked our readers to support Aravindh's chess career, and within a day or two he had over $10,000. He used this to complete his IM and then GM norms, to get his title in December 2014, at the age of fifteen years one month and eleven days.

GM R.B. Ramesh, who was also the coach of the Bronze medal winning Indian team at the Tromso Olympiad 2014, has had an immensely successful stint with his now grandmaster pupil. They first began working together in 2011 when Aravindh was already quite talented and had numerous National level achievements under his belt. It was obvious to him that that the lad could find good moves pretty quickly, in all kinds of positions – a versatile player.

Early success: the above story from 2011 in The Hindu says: "V.R. Aravind Chidambaram, a Std. VII student of Dolphin Public School, is the reigning under-11 national champion and this victory led him to participate at the Asian and International championships. He contested at the Asian level championships held recently in Manila; he romped home with three gold medals and one silver medal."

Aravindh in 2013 with his mother (left) and his grandparents

The article also tells of the beginnings, in Arvindh's words: "When I was in Std. II, I asked my grandfather to play cricket with me. He wittily replied, I am 84 years old, how can I play cricket? I will instead teach you another game which can be played indoors, he said, and thus my interest for chess began.”

At that point they decided to not to focus too much on opening preparations but to try to improve Aravindh’s concrete thinking process and endgames. Says Ramesh, “I think everyone is blessed with a unique aptitude. In Aravindh’s case, we realized early that a theoretical approach, like the one I took when I was young, might not be the best, as he was not very hard working in openings back then. We decided to trust in our practical skills rather than in our aptitude to learn complex opening systems and remember them. Now he is working a lot on his openings of course, and I believe it will take a while to become very good in this phase as well.”

Often people work very hard in their field yet success eludes them. However, it is due to this hard work that things fall into place eventually. Aravindh was progressing normally when, unexpectedly, he won the GM tournament in Chennai. Curiously, it had to happen when Anand passed the baton to his younger successor. This worked wonders for Aravindh, who was immediately noticed by the chess world’s media, all of whom had made Chennai their home for that one month of November in 2013.

GM R.B. Ramesh recounts, “I had sent out a public request for financial support to Aravindh, considering his talent and background, on Twitter, while the World Championship was in progress at Chennai. A friend, Mr. Meyyappan, came forward to design the campaign and carry it forward at Indiegogo. Initially the response was timid, but once the ChessBase website published it, within three days, we collected 10,000 USD! We halted the campaign so that other needy people could make use of such initiatives.”

Aravindh at the 2014 Cannes Open, France, with the winner GM Ankit Rajpara

Right after that moment, Aravindh started a carefully planned trip across tournaments in Europe. He already had an IM and GM norm thanks to his win at Chennai. However, things were not as simple. The 2013 World Youth Chess Championship towards the end of that year was a disaster, where he lost some of his hard-earned rating points. Aravindh, though, is not the one to care much about the results, never mind the pressure of performing with the whole world watching. After a break to recharge his batteries he regained his composure and, by February, had already completed the requirements to become an International Master, scoring his remaining two norms at Austria and France. He also made an extra IM norm at the Reykjavik Open 2014.

He returned home for a month of rest and recuperation as India’s newly minted IM. Aravindh then sealed his second GM norm at the Kuala Lampur Open, April 2014, with a last round draw against Dutch GM Sergei Tiviakov. The third and the final norm came in late August of that year, at the Riga Technical University Open 2014 in Latvia, when, despite already completing his norm requirements, he celebrated with a win over the local superstar Alexei Shirov. Believe it or not, prior to this game, Aravindh was contemplating whether to play 1.a3 or 1.b3! Watch the board being set on fire, for a change not by Shirov.

[Event "Riga Tech Open A 2014"] [Site "Riga LAT"] [Date "2014.08.24"] [Round "9.8"] [White "Aravindh, Chithambaram VR"] [Black "Shirov, Alexei"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A01"] [WhiteElo "2467"] [BlackElo "2709"] [PlyCount "97"] [EventDate "2014.08.16"] 1. b3 e5 2. Bb2 Nc6 3. e3 Nf6 4. Bb5 Bd6 5. Na3 Na5 6. Be2 Be7 7. Nf3 e4 8. Ne5 O-O 9. O-O d6 10. Ng4 Nxg4 11. Bxg4 f5 12. Be2 d5 13. d3 c5 14. Qd2 Be6 15. Rad1 Nc6 16. dxe4 fxe4 17. Nb5 Bg5 18. Qe1 a6 19. Nc3 Bf6 20. Nxd5 Bxb2 21. Nf4 Qf6 22. Rd6 Be5 23. Rxe6 Qf5 24. f3 Bxf4 25. exf4 exf3 26. Bxf3 Nd4 27. Re7 Nxc2 28. Qe4 Qf6 29. Rxb7 Nd4 30. Qd5+ Kh8 31. Qe5 Qxe5 32. fxe5 Rf5 33. e6 g6 34. Bg4 Rxf1+ 35. Kxf1 h5 36. Bf3 Re8 37. e7 Nf5 38. Rb6 Kg7 39. Rxa6 Rxe7 40. Rb6 Re3 41. a4 Nd4 42. Bd5 Re5 43. Bc4 Nc2 44. Kf2 Ne3 45. Be2 Nd5 46. Rb7+ Kf6 47. a5 Nc3 48. Bf3 c4 49. a6 1-0

If you want to emulate Aravindh it might be a good idea to study the following Fritztrainer:

The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack

By Nigel Davies

The Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack with 1.b3 (or 1.Nf3 followed by 2.b3) is an opening system that has been rather neglected by the theoreticians but can prove deadly in the hands of the skilled tournament player. Leading exponents of this move have included both brilliant attacking players such as Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Albin Planinc and Artashes Minasian, as well as positional players like Tigran Petrosian, Mark Taimanov and Vladimir Bagirov. Even Bobby Fischer tried it in several games instead of his favourite 1.e4. And the greatest exponent of this system was the legendary Danish Grandmaster, Bent Larsen.

White’s set up emphasises flexibility, often adapting his position to what Black does in reply. This can prove quite lethal to opponents who like to play a single predictable set up as Black and even strong players can go badly astray when confronted by the unusual problems it poses. On this DVD Davies arms the viewer with insights into how to handle things and demonstrates how he thinks White should meet Black’s main defences. Using examples taken from the practice of leading exponents of this opening he explains the strategies clearly and concisely.

  • Video running time: 4 hours 40 minutes (English)
  • Level: Advanced, Tournament player
  • Delivery: Download, Post
  • Price: €27.90 – €23.45 without VAT (for Customers outside the EU); $25.82 (without VAT)
Order this Fritztrainer in the ChessBase Shop

Now all that remained was to take his rating above the often elusive (as many GM norm holders lament) 2500-mark. Aravindh was agonisingly close to get the monkey off his back, for when the September Rating list came out, he was rated 2496. Then came a string of tournaments on his home soil.

The many talents of Indian chess with Aravindh in the middle (below). To his left is
another Indian phenom, GM Murali Karthikeyan, who is in the same boat as Aravindh.

India is a land full of heavily underrated players – any foreign player would tell you that. Aravindh is a gem that shone brightly in the past couple of years, and part of the reason lies in the fact that he did his ‘chess schooling’ in the rough and tough arena of Indian chess. The country has a gigantic number of talented chess players going at each other’s throats, sadly in often sub optimally organized chess tournaments. Aravindh was visibly jaded by the months of foreign trips, heavy chess and strenuous travel, and he slipped to the 2480s.

Nevertheless, deserving as he is, his time was to come at the end of 2014. A year after the Indiegogo funding, Aravindh finally took his rating across the 2500-mark at the World Youth U-16 chess Olympiad – and proved his coach right: Aravindh had become a grandmaster within a year. At the time, many claimed that it had been a daring prediction by GM Ramesh; however, he maintains that it was his objective assessment of the boy’s talent. How accurate he was!

What next?

Unlike some of his peers, Aravindh hasn’t dropped out of education. He continues to study and recently cleared his tenth grade examinations with flying colours. Normally these exams are a demanding task, and as a consequence Aravindh could not play as frequently in the first half of 2015. After a modest showing at the Commonwealth Championship in New Delhi, he won the Indian National Juniors for the second time in his career. He finished playing the Asian Youth Championship in South Korea recently and his results were sub-par, to put it mildly.

All that said, it is safe to assume that Aravindh is just warming up for bigger events ahead – he is scheduled to participate in the World Youth Championship 2015, the strong Qatar Open, the Gibraltar Open (which will be headed by Aravindh’s more celebrated state-mate Vishy Anand). He is now sponsored by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India (ONGC), the premier oil company in the country, run by the Indian Government and the AMM Group. Now that his protégé has managed to attain the GM title, Ramesh is excited to see how far Aravindh’s wind blows.

“Aravindh has sponsorship that should be sufficient for 2015-16. Right now I feel he still has to explore new areas and discover more about himself, his strengths and weaknesses. His openings need lot of attention, now that he will be playing tougher opposition from here on. Finding the right balance between his need to pour fuel for his creativity and a theoretical approach is the challenge before us. I have suggested that he start working with better and stronger coaches from here on. He certainly deserves someone better than me now to take him beyond the 2700 level.

At a personal level, my aim for Aravindh is simple – I just want him to lead a happy life no matter what and do what he wants to do. Considering his talent in chess and the fact that he has become a GM at such young age, I secretly (not anymore!) wish he will be able to go as high as he can possibly go. That’s my personal wish as a coach.”

Chess Moves – a 2013 video about Aravindh Chithambaram

Previous articles

Indian prodigy wins Chennai Open
11/27/2013 – The 2013 Chennai Grandmaster Open, held in celebration of the Anand-Carlsen FIDE World Championship Match, was sensationally won by 14-year-old FM Aravindh Chithambaram of Chennai. With a performance rating of 2728, which dwarfs his current rating of 2335, it seems we have a new prodigy to track! Here is the illustrated report by WGM Soumya Swaminathan.

The next Anand? Aravindh a special Indian talent
1/5/2014 – During the Chennai World Championship match there was a grandmaster open. It was sensationally won by Aravindh Chithambaram, a 14-year-old FM with a 2335 FIDE rating. Aravindh had a performance rating of 2728 and gained 80 Elo points from this one tournament. One of the brightest Indian chess talents hails from a very modest family background and urgently needs funding for his chess career.

The little talent from India on the rise
4/13/2014 – A few months ago we reported on a remarkable Indian chess talent: 14-year-old Aravindh Chithambaram won the Chennai GM Open and achieved a first GM norm. As a special prize we provided him with ChessBase software, and promised more for each new norm. Now the lad has completed an international tour of tournaments and returned with a second GM norm. Big illustrated report.

Aravindh and Vaishali Indian Junior Champions
8/5/2015 – In its 45th edition the Indian Junior and Girls Chess Championship 2015 was open to the Indian juniors younger than nineteen years of age. The open section was won by GM Aravindh Chithambaram with 9.5/11, a full point ahead of the field, and the Girls section by R. Vaishali, with 8.5/11. Aravindh is fifteen and Vaishali is fourteen! She has annotated one of her games for us.

Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.


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