Parimarjan in Paris – portrait of a young super-talent

by ChessBase
9/11/2009 – In continuation of our Paris Championship report we follow the successful chess career of a young Indian grandmaster. Parimarjan Negi participated at his first tournament when he was four, and became a grandmaster at 13, the second youngest in chess history. Now 16, his freshest victory was at the recent Politiken Cup in Denmark. Diana Mihajlova spent a day in Paris with Parimarjan.

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Parimarjan in Paris – portrait of a young super-talent

By Diana Mihajlova

We are used to make pictorial descriptions of locations where tournaments take place and that way bring closer to readers the atmosphere and geography of these, often touristy, but to most of us little known locations. But when a tournament is held in Paris, the capital of capitals, whose tourist spots are most recognisable world icons, wouldn’t a pictorial report look a bit blasé?

I come round this dilemma with the help of a charming young grandmaster from India. On one afternoon trotting around Paris Parimarjan Negi is posing by and successfully stealing the spotlight from some of the most famous Paris landmarks. Throughout, our conversation steered alternately from French history and architecture to his remarkable chess career. I am bringing this somewhat different kind of report: Parimarjan + Paree (French pronunciation for Paris). 

At the Paris Championship last July, Parimarjan played in the FIDE section and scored 6/10. This was just one point behind the winner, GM Kazhgaleyev Murtas  from Kazakhstan, but in a strong competition of more than 30 titled players, it ranked him only 8th in a group of six other players with the same number of points.

“It was a nice tournament. Starting the games at seven p.m., though, might be a bit too late. But then once the game starts it’s all the same. Having a lot of time in the afternoon could be a good thing. But I would think to start at four or five p.m. would be ideal.’

But his was the prize and the trophy for Best Young Player

At 16 years of age, Parimarjan is a grandmaster with a current rating of 2590. Born 9 February 1993, his first great success in chess came at an astonishing age of four. In 2002 he won the under-10 Asian Championship.

Tournaments followed, at first mainly in India, where he would confirm his talent time and again. “First time that I went out of India was at the British Championship in 2000. I could play a lot of categories – under 11, 10, 9, 8 – because I was only seven.  My first International Open tournament was in 2003 in Bad Wiessee in Germany when I made my first IM norm.” He was ten and flying rapidly in the realm of chess.  

Soon he made three GM norms, in a mere six months span: the first one in Hastings, January 2006; the second just a couple of weeks later in the same month at the Parsvnath International Open in his hometown, Delhi; and the final norm in July the same year at the Chelyabinsk Region Superfinal Championship at Satka in Russia. And if we consider that he has got his first official FIDE rating only in 2002 when he was nine (starting with Elo 2061), it means that he needed only four years to reach the pinnacle in a chess career!  He was 13 at the time and the world’s youngest grandmaster, the second youngest in history. With ever younger grandmasters on the chess circuit that accolade has passed on to another phenomenon, GM Anish Giri (15) from the Netherlands. But Parimarjan remains youngest Indian GM, currently and ever. He broke the previous record of Pentala Harikrishna (GM at 15), who broke Viswanathan Anand's (GM at 18).

11-year-old Parimarjan at the 2005 Wijk aan Zee tournament

After his GM title, which meant a formal confirmation of his extraordinary chess talent, his travelling expeditions at prestigious tournaments around the world (he already played twice at the Wijk aan Zee) started rolling. “Yeah, I travel a lot and it is very nice, but I could not say which place I am most impressed with. During a tournament, it is difficult to explore around. You need extra days for sightseeing.”

That is what Parimarjan and his father J.B. Singh decided to do on this occasion. They extended their stay for a couple of days, which would enable him to be better acquainted with this fascinating city. Actually, it was also a practical filling in of time before his next European tournament that was starting just few days later – the Politiken Cup in Kopengahen, 18-26 July.

Our tourist escapade happened on not just an ordinary day, but on the 14th July, France’s national holiday when Paris and French people around the world celebrate the Storming of the Bastille and the victory of democracy over ‘l’ancien régime’ (the old regime). Most of the monuments we visit are associated with this glorious day in the French history.

We started with one of the most recognizable structures in the world, and a global symbol of Paris, The Eiffel Tower. Parimarjan stands on the outlook platform called Trocadéro, which is at any time of the year swarming with tourists. From here one can get the best, full view of the Tower. At 324 m high, it is the tallest structure in Paris. Built in 1887–1889 it bears the name of its maker, the French structural engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, who specialized in steel and iron designs (his main commercial works were railway bridges). Probably a less known fact is that the internal structure of another world famous monument – the Statue of Liberty in New York – is also a work of Gustave Eiffel. The Statue was a gift from France to the American nation as a token of friendship, presented on the centennial of the signing of the American Declaration of Independence (1886). 

Parimarjan with his father J.B. Singh at the Bastille Day parade

Near the Eiffel Tower, a parade of modern armoured vehicles marks the celebrations of the Bastille Day. Parimarjan and his father J.B. Singh joined numerous other tourists, some of whom, helped by the solders, climbed up the tanks for a photograph in memory of the most important uprising in the French history. With much more primitive arms, on this day in 1789, the revolutionaries sized the Bastille prison, which was a symbol of the corrupt system run by the monarchy. King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette were sent to the guillotine, and the monarchy was forever abolished. These events lead to the French Revolution (1789-1799), which would establish France as a republic, with progressive democratic changes outlined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

The Arc de Triomphe (Triumph Arch) stands in the centre of the Place de l'Étoile at the western end of the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées [pronounced shan-say-lee-zay]. It glorifies yet another era of the French history. Emperor Napoléon commissioned its construction after the victory at Austerlitz in 1806. When he died in 1840, his remains, drawn by sixteen horses, passed under the Arch. A Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies underneath the Arch with an eternal flame next to it, to commemorate the dead of both world wars. The arch has become a symbol of French patriotism. On 14th July, the military parade leaves from the Arch and proceeds down the Champs-Élysées.

The Champs-Élysées, as seen from the Arc de Triomphe

We reached the Arc de Triomphe at the time when many tourists were patiently waiting for the start of the rekindling of the flame. Parimarjan was at first curious, but, with the down-to-earthiness of a chess player he lost interest when I pointed to him out that the ritual has taken place traditionally every single day for almost a century. He made comparison to the Changing of the Royal Guards in London and decided we had better things to do.

Neither was he particularly attracted by the splendour of the Champs-Elysées. He was happy to discover a McDonalds that had sneaked amid chic cafés and restaurants to grace the most glamorous avenue in the world; we retired inside for some fries, ketchup and chess-talk.

I often meet parents who are accompanying their young prodigies at tournaments around the globe and who, naturally, turn into their ‘managers’, planning carefully the playing schedules and trips. Amazingly, J.B. Singh, talks about Parimarjan’s very tight tournaments’ schedule, mentioning dates of flights, tournaments duration, training sessions, school days back home …without ever consulting a diary. He keeps his son’s entire program in his perfect memory. Every now and then he would endearingly say: “Then from … to… he will spend time with his mother; and eat well”. Which is often for only few precious days.

J.B. works as an air-traffic controller, but he manages to juggle his work duties and accompanies his son to most of his international tournaments. Parimarjan’s mother is an executive in the Life Insurance Corporation of India and she accompanies him at shorter tournaments and mainly within India.

Parimarjan at the Politiken Cup

After Paris Parimarjan headed for the Politiken Cup in Copenhagen; then followed two weeks training; two weeks school back in India in August; ten days at the Kolkata Open. After this follow four days at home; three weeks to Spain, with four days play at the Spanish league and two weeks training; one week in October at home before  the World Junior Championship in Argentina; then home for a day  before the Asian Indoor Games in Vietnam, then the World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, in November, for which he is hopeful he has qualified (but it still needs to be confirmed).

Playing a blindfold simultaneous exhibition at thirteen

Thanks to his tremendous success, Parimarjan’s active chess career is being helped by private and state sponsorships. That eases his participation at many international tournaments, where more often than not he is among the winners. In June 2008 he won the strong Philadelphia International Open Tournament with a score of 7/9.

At 16 his chess activity already looks like a full time profession. What about school?

Parimarjan is a student at the Amity International School (Saket) in Delhi. The school supports and takes pride in his chess successes and Parimarjan does not disappoint – in spite of his long absences, he passes his exams with excellent results. He is as keen on study as he is on chess, and he talks with an obvious enthusiasm about learning, books and the importance of academic formation in his life.

J.B. Singh says: “He is very mature for his age. Very well read. He loves reading. Few people, certainly few chess players, have read as many novels as he has. His teachers say he is much ahead of all other kids. He can write very good compositions on any topic. When he is home – then it is more school, less chess. He will always keep up with chess but we have decided that he should also go to a good University.”

Everything in his head: Parimarjan's father J.B. Singh

Parimarjan agrees with his father: “I don’t think I would ever abandon chess, but neither would I abandon my studies. So far, my plan is not to be only a professional chess player. I feel I will always do something aside. But I have not thought much about what that would be. Even to finish school seems quite some time ahead.”

From this year, he can take a more specialised orientation at school, and his choice is Economics, Math and Psychology. “I am intrigued by psychology. Particularly chess psychology, but even in general I find it a very interesting subject.”

What about your own play? Do you keep calm during a game?

“I don’t feel nervous. I try to remain calm, but, of course it is not always possible.”

Have you experienced a happiest moment in you career?  

“Not yet!” But then, after a short reflection: “Okay, probably when I drew with Kuzubov in Hastings in 2006. I was lost, but I somehow saved the game, and this draw brought me the first GM norm.” Hasting will probably be the most memorable tournament for Parimarjan so far. He was twelve years old. His 6/10 include three victories against GMs Lalic, Hebden and Erenburg. “Also some random games can make me very happy. I get elated after games that provide some unexpected turn. When I win complicated games I feel great for quite some time afterwards.”

When you do not play tournaments do you miss chess?

“No because I have training in the meantime. My rating still needs to go up. Now I am close to 2600, but to go to 2650, or further…? I hope it will not be too hard for me but I don’t know since I haven’t done it yet.”

Parimarjan gives great importance to regular training. He usually combines his international trips to tournaments with extended training sessions, with trainers that are geographically placed conveniently close to a particular tournament. After Paris and Politiken in Denmark he stopped in Brussels for a couple of weeks training with GM Vladimir Chuchelov. While in Spain, playing at the Spanish League, he will have two weeks training with GM Elizbar Ubilava, who has been working with Negi since 2006. “Ubi” is a former Anand second and the coach of the Indian Olympiad team. Parimarjan has also spent time in Athens for training sessions with GM Nigel Short.

Parimarjan with his trainer GM Elizbar Ubilava, back in early 2007

Parimarjan only on occasions plays through the games of old masters from chess history. He prefers to concentrate on contemporary games and masters. “Anand has been my idol ever since I started playing. I met him briefly in Corus. But we did not talk much.”

No one in Parimarjan’s family plays chess. He thankfully acknowledges a friend of his father’s who entertained him with a game of chess when he was a four-year-old kid – and inadvertently inspired a future grandmaster. 

In a phone call to J.B. Singh, Mr Ravindra M. Dongre, Vice President of All India Chess Federation and the Commonwealth Chess Association’s Deputy President let us know that he happened to be just one ‘metro’ stop away further down on the Champs-Elysee. We waited for him to join us and headed together towards the Place de la Concorde.

Parimarjan and Mr Dongre are on the square that during the French Revolution was a scene of some bloody events. In 1792, a guillotine was installed at its center and in a time span of only a couple of years, 1119 people were beheaded, among them King Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette. 

Today the Place de la Concorde is an elegant square dominated by the Obelisk of Luxor, also known as Cleopatra’s Needle. The obelisk is 3300 years old and decorated with hieroglyphics depicting the reign of the pharaoh Ramses II. It was given as a gift to France by the Egyptian nation in 1829. Starting from the Nile riverbanks it reached the Place de la Concorde after three years of travelling.


We reached Louvre, the famous museum. It displays about 35,000 works of art, among them the world-famous Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. The Louvre is   immense, and was a Royal Palace throughout the history. During the Revolution it housed the King’s art collection. In 1789, the Revolutionary Committee opened its doors for the first time and made its collection available for viewing to the public.

Parimargan Negi with Diana Mihajlova

In 1989 a Glass Pyramid was erected in the elegant courtyard of the Louvre. Designed by American Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei, the pyramid has a square base with each side 35 meters long. It is covered by almost 700 panes of glass, steel rods and cable. At the time of its construction, it was met with fierce opposition from traditionalists who thought that such modernism is offensive next to one of the finest baroque architectures and disturbs the balance of the old Louvre courtyard. However, endorsed by the then President Mitterrand, it stands as a model of harmonious fusion of past and future.

The Glass Pyramid allows the sunlight to come in on the underground floor of Louvre through a smaller, internal, reversed pyramid. 

Parimarjan and WGM Nisha Mohota had not planned a meeting in the courtyard of Louvre in Paris. But as we were mingling among the many visitors we noticed somebody’s arms waving through the crowds, and there emerged Nisha clicking happily, surprised to have found us here. Paris is such a small place! Nisha joined our little party and soon, from her magic bag, produced a delicious Indian speciality bread khakra – that was very welcome on our well-deserved break after a long afternoon hopping around Paris’ monuments.

Kharkha feast: Parimarjan, Nisha Mohota, AICF President Ravindra M. Dongre, J.B. Singh

Relaxing by the fountain in front of the famous museum Mr Dongre explained how Anand’s fame and success must have contributed to the Indian Chess Federation’s booming activity and generous support of its players: “It was already coming, but with Anand it took greater speed. Players themselves became more ambitious and focused. The Federation is very active arranging all sorts of tournaments – open, GM, for boys, for girls – lots of children have joined. Because of Government support we could afford to bring in many foreign coaches. Anand is an obvious role model to many players but we also have GM Koneru Humpy as a role model to girls, and Negi to boys.”

After a joyful break and pleasant chess gossip where, obviously, Anand would pop up with a due admiration, we decided to part and gather some energy before the main event of the celebrations – the fireworks around the Eiffel Tower that were scheduled for much later in the evening.

Before then Paris’ streets were ornate with paraphernalia in memory of the great Revolution that gave the world the famous slogan: Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité! – Liberty, equality, fraternity (brotherhood) – and served as a precursor to international human and civil rights. I felt that these two officers in festive mood, donning the traditional uniform of the days of the Bastille, would not mind my request to pose with one of the world’s youngest chess grand masters. They actually expressed their admiration and congratulations and were happy to oblige.

Batu, as I have learned it is Parimarjan’s pet name, within his family, with his determination and ambition as a chess player and friendliness and quiet charm as a person, has already made a remarkable achievement. We are certain that we will hear more in the future about our young warrior on another type of a battlefield – that of the chessboard.

It did not take long before the last statement came true. Just when I thought I had finished my story Parimarjan + Paree and was about to dispatch it for publication, I got the following news: GM Parimarjan Negi won Politiken Cup 2009!

Parimarjan at the Politiken Cup 2009 on the night of the prize
giving ceremony (Photo: the Organiser)

At this strong Copenhagen tournament Parimarjan was battling with GMs Vladimir Malakhov, 2707, Peter Heine Nielsen, 2680,  Sergei Tiviakov, 2674 (last year’s winner and former European Champion), Gabriel Sargissian, 2667, Alexey Dreev, 2660, Evgeny Postny, 2647, Boris Avruk, 2641, Yuri Kuzubov, 2635, Emanuel Berg, 2610, Tiger Hillarp-Persson, 2596 and Evgeny Agrest, 2590 – in order of their rating and coming right before him on the start list. He scored 8½/10 and won on a tie-break dispatching GM Boris Avrukh to the second place with also 8½ points. GM Vladimir Malakhov was third with 8 points.

After Politiken Parimarjan went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to win the 6th IGB Dato' Arthur Tan Malaysia Open in late August 2009. Congratulations, Batu!

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