8-year-old Ashwath Kaushik becomes the youngest ever to beat a GM in classical chess

by Tina Popli
2/28/2024 – In a world where experience is often said to take the lead, young prodigies are proving it wrong. An 8-year-old boy defeated a grandmaster in classical chess — he is the youngest ever to achieve this feat! This victory over GM Jacek Stopa from Poland marked a significant highlight of the Burgdorfer Stadthaus Open in Switzerland. Tina Popli writes about Ashwath’s remarkable feat and his journey so far. | Photo: David Llada

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Who is Ashwath Kaushik?

Ashwath Kaushik, born in India, moved to Singapore when he was just a little over a year old and has grown up in Singapore. He began his chess journey by learning the rules at the age of 4 years and 4 months. He initially started through the ChessKids app and various YouTube videos. He quickly grasped the rules and soon started outplaying family and friends. He was very good at jigsaw and Lego, and that’s when his parents thought chess may be worth trying. His parents then, recognizing his talent and realizing their chess knowledge limitations, soon got him a coach to guide him further.

This is what Ashwath has to say about his victory:

I am excited and proud at beating my first GM. I had come close a year back at the end of a long game but missed a winning chance, to draw finally. I was looking forward to breaking this record, and was really happy I could achieve it.

Ashwath’s father added:

I am very happy as this was his long-time aim, to test himself against top players. This is just the start of a long journey, and hope he continues to work hard, and to enjoy his chess.

While most 8-year-olds are preoccupied with their school activities and homework, Ashwath Kaushik stands apart as a prodigy. It is interesting to know that he dedicates about 2 hours on weekdays and over 6-7 hours on weekends to chess, balancing both his school time and chess commitment at such a young age, which is just phenomenal!

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath Kaushik levitating at the 10th edition of the Sunway Sitges International Chess Festival 2023 | Photo: David Llada

What does Ashwath’s daily chess routine look like?

He spends about two hours after he gets back from school engaging in puzzle rush/racer runs, 1-2 online rapid games, some puzzles from chess books, and classes with one of his coaches for some of the days during the weekdays. He also actively follows ongoing GM Tournaments. During the weekends he spends 6-7 hours across coaching (both individual and at the Singapore Chess Federation’s National Training Programme) and some on-the-board training games. Each month, his parents aim to have him play 1-2 strong open events, which often involve foreign travel.

Kaushik Sriram, Ashwath’s father, said:

Over the years, he has religiously been solving hundreds of puzzles without fail every week, all without using the board, which has contributed to his strong tactical awareness and calculation. In fact, for a chess mad kid, the chessboard is pretty unused at home as he is very much a computer kid, with most of his classes also being online from very young.

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath Kaushik | Photo: Carleton Lim

For Ashwath, chess is more than just a game — he finds beauty in the sacrifices made, the tactics and other brilliancies more than the result. He looks forward to playing tough opponents, especially titled players, and plays until the end or at least until a technical draw as he keeps a no-draw policy.

Ashwath’s victory also reflects the commendable support from his family, friends and coaches.

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath Kaushik at the 22nd Burgdorger Stadthaus Open 2024

GM Kevin Goh Wei Ming, CEO of the Singapore Chess Federation, noted:

I believe the unwavering support from the family was absolutely essential to Ashwath’s success. Also, we always believe that it takes a village, and all of Ashwath’s private coaches have played a high important role and we cannot thank them enough.

His achievement has been nothing short of sensational, making news on not just our local outlets but also CNN, BBC, Associated Press, CBS and many others. The SCF is proud of him and while not putting too much pressure on the boy, expects him to be a future star in global chess.

GM Stany G A, who recently started coaching Ashwath, also shared some insights:

I feel he’s a gifted boy, and he loves the game. So there is talent and interest already. Kudos to his parents, especially his dad, Mr. Sriram Kaushik, for supporting him with training and consistently taking him to quality tournaments. I feel all these combinations contributed to his success.

How does he manage his studies/school along with chess?

Dedicating time for chess and at the same time not compromising on school/studies is not more than a juggle. But youngsters like Ashwath manage both fields with all the support coming in from family, school and coaches.

Over the last six months or so, his parents have tried to buy a lot of chess books, as he thoroughly enjoys reading and solving positions from them. Additionally, they’ve strategically planned their holidays around specific tournaments to ensure he maximizes his playing opportunities. It’s also nice to see that his school also extends their support by granting him leave and encouraging him for his tournaments.

Ashwath’s father said:

Balancing school and chess is challenging as we are keen for him to have a dual focus, and not to give up academics completely. He is in accelerated track across most subjects, so weekdays are pretty packed trying to squeeze what’s possible. A lot of the chess focus then shifts to weekends and holidays. The good part, of course, is that he started so early at chess, and luckily has great coaches — quality of chess time has compensated for much lesser time for chess compared to many other countries.

Ashwath believes in a lot of online resources and platforms, immerses himself in online tools while also finding joy in solving positions from traditional chess books. His mother mostly accompanies him for his tournaments after taking a career break and wears multiple hats, serving as both his mental coach and manager, while his younger brother patiently supports him from home until he can join the tournaments himself.

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath with his family | Photo: Carleton Lim

Under the guidance of an amazing set of coaches spanning over 2.5 to 3 years, Ashwath’s journey in chess has been nothing short of remarkable. From his initial mentor, FM Tigran Gyozalyan, to other esteemed figures like GM Ilja Zaragatski and WIM Tijana Mandura, each coach has played a vital role in shaping his skills. He has also started working with GM Stany from a few months.

There is also a very interesting story about how GM Stany G A connected with Ashwath. It was Jacob Aagaard who helped Ashwath connect with GM Stany, who mentioned:

Initially Mr. Sriram approached GM Jacob Aagaard to train his son, since Ashwath is a huge fan of his books, but due to personal reasons, Jacob couldn’t take the classes and referred them to me and that’s how I connected with Ashwath. Thanks to Jacob!

Moreover, Ashwath has benefited from the world-class training provided by the Singapore Chess Federation (SCF), led by the visionary GM Kevin Goh. With such esteemed guidance, Ashwath is on the verge of reaching even greater heights in his chess career.

Ashwath’s father noted:

He has been lucky to have been guided by great long-term coaches for over 2.5-3 years now, from FM Tigran Gyozalyan (his first coach), GM Ilja Zaragatski, WIM Tijana Mandura, FM Balaji G, and a few others on specific topics. SCF also provides world-class training as part of their National Training Programme, conceptualised by GM Kevin Goh.

Singapore Chess Federation’s role in nurturing talents

The Singapore Chess Federation (SCF) is the governing body for chess in Singapore, which promotes and develops the sport across the country.

They have a very experienced training director, GM/FST Thomas Luther, and they also work with GM Andrey Kvon, who has many years of training experience in Singapore and also was the main trainer of Tin Jingyao when he was very young. They also have WGM Aleksandra Obolentseva, who is known for her multiple podium finishes in various age group events.

Kevin Goh Wei Ming

GM Kevin Goh Wei Ming, CEO of SCF

Ashwath also attends one of their elite training programme, the National Training Programme, which aims to provide training for exceptional high-performing players.

In addition to the core chess training, it also places a strong emphasis on fostering important life skills among its participants. Recently, the federation established a dedicated chess library, promoting self-learning as a fundamental aspect of a player’s growth. SCF programmes focus on instilling values such as responsibility, independence, and teamwork, preparing players for success both on and off the board. Moreover, participants are encouraged to develop presentation skills and physical fitness through specialized modules within the training curriculum. Looking ahead, the SCF plans to introduce a fitness programme as an optional module within the National Training Programme (NTP), providing young players with the opportunity to enhance their physical well-being from an early age.

Kevin Goh Wei Ming explained:

One important factor that I wish to point out is that our belief is that we never turn away anyone who wishes to learn chess. As such, lessons on public holidays are optional, but available in general. We have kids visiting the SCF during the Lunar New Year and Christmas Day, for example.

The CEO of the Singapore Chess Federation shared some insights on Ashwath’s victory:

I think it is a remarkable achievement really. I believe Jacek Stopa was not at his best, and has not been an active player for a while, but I would not take anything away from Ashwath — he played well at his age, despite some flaws in the game which can only be expected. For example, I like the manoeuvres Nc3-d1, and Ra3. He also showed his aggressive side with his pawn advances, which although are a little dubious, were played with a lot of spirit!

Kevin also shared insights about how their regular Saturday training sessions look like:

We have a session of training games every Saturday, and for Ashwath, we curated his opponents to target his weaknesses.

Ashwath Kaushik

Eastern Asian 2023 in Hainan: Ashwath secured third position in the under-12 category

Kevin added:

IM Chan Peng Kong, a very experienced former national player known for his positional play, was invited to teach young Ashwath a lesson or two on strategic play just before he left for his European trip recently. The match ended 1-1. Even I played a training game, and chose the Sicilian Scheveningen as I felt that this complex system would be useful to build his understanding. I would like to credit our coaching team for putting together these fine details into our programme.

When asked about his ultimate goal in Chess, Ashwath expressed:

To become a super GM, and be known for aggressive attacking chess.

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath Kaushik | Photo: Carleton Lim

GM Stany recalled a moment and shared insights about their puzzle battles:

When I started working with him, I really had a doubt that he was using engines while telling the solutions because he would find them really fast and the problems were much stronger for his rating level, and once I started playing puzzle battles with him, that’s where my doubts were solved because in 3 minute puzzle battles he would consistently beat me. I would score around 40-42, and he would score around 45, and the funny thing is he would be disappointed after that because he says his best score was 52.

In the next few classes, he would give me 30-second odds on puzzle battles and still win. So I realized that he was very sharp when it comes to tactics and solving studies. Of course, there are many other areas where he needs to improve, and I am trying to help him with endgames right now. He has a great future ahead.

Ashwath Kaushik

Ashwath Kaushik with his best junior prize (under-12)

At such a young age, showing consistent achievements naturally shows us that age is merely just a number. We wish Ashwath a very bright future, and may he keep breaking such records in the world of chess.

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Tina is a recent graduate of Information Science and Engineering from Bengaluru. Passionate about chess and technology, she believes that a small step taken today can shape into something big tomorrow.
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