Start chess in your late teens and become a grandmaster?

by Sagar Shah
6/5/2020 – Today, young kids are becoming very strong very early and some even become grandmasters at the age of twelve and thirteen. They take to chess like a fledgling bird learning to fly. But can you start a serious chess career at the ripe old age of seventeen? Yes, you can, says one player, who managed just that. Let Shivananda tell you how this worked. Maybe you can do the same?!

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An excerpt from an interview with IM B.S. Shivananda:

Tanmay Srinath: You started relatively late in your life to take chess seriously but you still came close to becoming a GM. This contradicts Anand who said: "Grandmaster at a young age or nothing." How did you you become so strong?

B.S. Shivananda: Anand is my favourite player – I started playing chess because of him. In fact, our names sound similar – Vishy Anand and Shiv Anand! (smiles). However, on this point I want to disagree with Anand – to achieve something in life, age should never be a hurdle. If you are motivated enough, age becomes just a number. I did start relatively late at 16-17, but by then I was already a decent player – my initial rating was 2220. Starting late didn’t affect me – I always feel young in my mind. This is a question that has been hurled at me several times - "You started chess late in your career. Do you think you can become a GM?" or "Can on improve one's game at an advanced age?" It has not been an issue for me.

Shivananda playing in the U-25 age group after his late start with chess

Read the full interview with B.S Shivananda on ChessBase India by Tanmay Srinath

How easy is it to become a GM after starting out chess late?

By IM Sagar Shah

How should we approach this question? Young kids are the ones who improve at chess quite effortlessly and quickly, so it might be a good idea to see what is it that they do right.

1. I believe the most important thing that separates a young kid from someone in his late teenages or twenties is the lack of responsibilities and the single-minded focus with which you can pursue chess. A young kid is not worried after a game of chess about finishing his work. He is not socially obligated to be present at family functions or gatherings. He (or she) can stay back at home and work on his game while his parents ensure the best possible environment for him. For a person who has already hit his twenties or thirties, you cannot get such support from people around you. Most of the time you have a burden to find yourself a job or to earn a living and take care of your family or people dependent upon you.

2. Another quality which I admire in youngsters is the lack of fear of failure. Yes, you often see them crying after a game that they have lost, but most of the times they simply brush it off and are back on the chess board to beat their opponent in the next round. The ability to fail without fear is something that helps young kids learn new concepts much faster.

If you think about it closely you will realize that point 2 is actually quite a lot dependent on point 1. Imagine you are a 1.d4 player and you realize that it would really help you if you shifted your opening to 1.e4. All of you chess players know what a herculean task it is to change your opening repertoire. Yet, when someone advises a ten-year-old to do it, he more often than not goes to his next event, happily tries it, loses a few games, and before you know he is already getting good at 1.e4. When an older individual is asked to do the same thing, he begins to think about factors beyond the chess board. "Right now I have only four tournaments lined up before college begins, and I have to reach 2000 Elo, so let me play it safe and stick with 1.d4." or "The first prize at the next Open is ... If I win it I will be able to support my family with that income, so let me play what I know, we can experiment in less important events."

Shivananda in the interview says, "In the three years after my fathers death I worked for 10-12 hours every day, and didn’t attend any functions or parties. I would mainly practise on my own, with a computer, using a board and playing both the sides. With chess books as my companion I eventually became stronger. Even after I became a 2400+ player I continued to train this way because of higher ambitions. I was able to isolate myself and live in a situation which was conducive for chess learning and growth."


If you too can do the same, then becoming a strong player, even a GM at just about any age should not be an impossible task.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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