Composed yet ruthless: Arjun Erigaisi

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
2/1/2022 – Last Saturday, Arjun Erigaisi won the Tata Steel Challengers tournament with a round to spare. Despite having secured tournament victory, the Indian collected one more win on Sunday, thus finishing the event with a remarkable 10½/13 score. We take a look at some of Arjun’s most successful performances, and reflect on the change of attitude that has worked so well for him. | Photo: Lennart Ootes – Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2022

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Increasingly confident

In August 2018, Arjun Erigaisi became India’s 54th chess grandmaster. A 6 out of 9 score at the Abu Dhabi Masters granted the then 14-year-old (he was 17 days away from turning 15) his third grandmaster norm. Remarkably, at the start of the year, he had yet to collect a single norm — he had not even obtained any IM norms!

Eight months was all the teenager needed to get the highest title a chess player can get. In an interview with Saishyam Srikanth, Arjun noted:

That’s my golden year so far. I scored all six norms and gained 200 ELO rating points in that year alone. I had absolutely no norms until 2017 December.

Many knew of Arjun’s talent much earlier than that, though, with two of his trainers identifying one small psychological weakness in the youngster’s attitude — a lack of confidence. Viktor Mikhalevski noted in October 2018 that when he started his work with Arjun, the Indian “was already a pretty strong player with good positional understanding and fast calculation, but was missing confidence”. Srinath Sarayanan, who continues to work with Arjun, coincided with his colleague in an interview from 2021.

Curiously, after the categorical victory in Wijk aan Zee, Srinath himself shared on Twitter that his pupil had very high hopes for the Tata Steel Challengers tournament.

Arjun was aiming for 10½! Curiously, he did not think it was obvious that he would win the event with that score. But talk about a confident approach: the 18-year-old knew he had what it takes to gain a ticket to next year’s main event! 

In a year’s time, we will see how the young man from Telangana fares against a few of the strongest players in the world, but for now we can attest that he is certainly capable of surmounting difficulties — of the psychological kind, in this case.

Arjun Erigaisi

Arjun with his sister Keerthana and their parents, Jyothi and Srinivas Rao

Beating fellow rising stars

Arjun ErigaisiOn his way to getting the GM title in 2018, Arjun had a remarkable performance at the World Youth U-16 Chess Olympiad. On board 1 for team India, he finished with an undefeated 7/9 score and a 2678 tournament performance rating. Moreover, he faced three fellow rising stars who are now household names for chess enthusiasts all over the world — Nodirbek Abdusattorov, Andrey Esipenko and Alireza Firouzja.

Arjun score 2½/3 points against these three opponents, beating Abdusattorov and Esipenko, and drawing Firouzja in the final round. Three and a half years later, Firouzja is the second highest-rated player in the world, Esipenko has joined the ‘2700 club’ and Abdusattorov has won the World Rapid Championship — the latter is slightly lower rated than Arjun in the live ratings list.

Perhaps some missed him due to his calm demeanour, but the Indian already showed that he was destined for great things a few years ago.

Find his wins over Abdusattorov and Esipenko in the replayer below, with annotations by Arjun himself and Sagar Shah.

 

Tata Steel success

The resounding success in Wijk aan Zee was not the first triumph achieved by Arjun in an event organized by Tata Steel. Only two months earlier, the Indian had stunned the chess world by winning the Tata Steel India Rapid tournament in Kolkata. Arjun finished a full point ahead of Levon Aronian, Praggnanandhaa and Vidit in a field that also included the likes of Sam Shankland and Le Quang Liem.

Arjun won the rapid section of the event despite losing to Pragg in the second round. Four consecutive wins followed, though, and he went into the final day of action in sole first place.

Much like in Wijk, Arjun kept things under control once he found himself atop the standings, as he drew his three final games to get first place — he was paired up again Aronian in the very last round, with the Armenian star (now representing United States) getting the white pieces while knowing that a win would allow him to catch the leader.

Aronian, in fact, got a clear advantage out of a Petroff Defence, but Arjun managed to keep his cool and make his opponent’s task as difficult as possible. The stubbornness paid off, as the game ended in a 47-move draw.

Go through a selection of Arjun’s games from the rapid event in the replayer below.

 

Levon Aronian, Arjun Erigaisi

A friendly post-mortem with Levon Aronian | Photo: Lennart Ootes

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.

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parselmouth parselmouth 2/2/2022 07:26
Extremely impressive. He'll get to play with the biggies next year. I like how he said he expected to win the tournament and he did with time to spare. I think praggnanandhaa also did well for his first tournament among the elite chessplayers. Beating Esipenko and Vidit was great. He had a good performance rating too.
claudius91820- claudius91820- 2/1/2022 04:55
il faut travailler et travailler encore!!
sivakumar R sivakumar R 2/1/2022 11:27
Congrats Arjun... I think this is very special for India (Conducting of an international tournament by an Indian corporation and an Indian winning in a section of it).
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