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Victor Mikhalevski on India's 54th GM Arjun Erigaisi

by Sagar Shah - 29/10/2018

When you see him in person Arjun Erigaisi comes across as a humble, soft spoken, well mannered young boy. He speaks so less that it is easy to just miss him even when he is around. But when the youngster sits on the board and plays his moves, it is absolutely impossible to miss him. Indian chess is blessed with an amazing talent in the form of 15-year-old from Telangana Arjun Erigaisi. Arjun became a GM at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 12 days, which is faster than even the current World Championship challenger Fabiano Caruana. The amazing thing is that Arjun achieved his 3 IM norms and 3 GM norms within a span of eight months from January to August 2018! How did he do it? We ask his coach GM Victor Mikhalevski.

On 15th of August 2018, Arjun Erigaisi achieved his final GM norm at the Abu Dhabi Masters 2018 and became India's 54th GM. It is simply unbelievable that when I met him at the IIFLW Mumbai Open 2018 he didn't have a single IM or a GM norm. But he was already playing extremely strong chess and had a rating of above 2400. Seems like another one of those talents from South India I said to myself. On 3rd of January 2018, the AICF Secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan came to the event in Mumbai and I invited him to the commentary room. Before he left, I asked him the question of who does he think are the biggest talents in Indian chess apart from Nihal Sarin and R. Praggnanandhaa. 

Bharat Singh Chauhan's perfect prediction!
Interview with Arjun Erigaisi after the Chennai Open 2018

Within 8 months of making his first IM norm, Arjun completed not only all his three IM norms but also all his three GM norms as well and became India's 54th GM. Many people in the Indian chess circles have pointed towards the golden trio - the 52nd GM - Praggnanandhaa, 53rd GM - Nihal Sarin and 54th Arjun Erigaisi.

When Arjun became the GM he was the 32nd youngest GM in the world at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 14 days. You will see that World Championship Challenger Fabiano Caruana and one of the biggest talents in the world currently Jan-Krzystof Duda achieved the GM title slower than Arjun!

I first came to know about Arjun Erigaisi back in 2016 when I played the Aeroflot Open. With a rating of 2379 Arjun should have played in the B-group, but he decided to fight it out with the big boys in the A-group (Elo 2550 and above).

Arjun's mother makes sure that his son doesn't get hit by the Moscow cold!

What followed was a highly depressing event for the youngster:

This must have definitely be very hard on Arjun Erigaisi. At one point he was on 0.0/6 and got a bye!

But what mental toughness is required to face a GM in the eighth round and beat him! Arjun beat GM Debashis Das in the eighth round and showed that even if chess wise he was not yet up to the mark, psychologically he was already very strong. 

Look at that red worm at the top! It just kept climbing! Currently it is at 2531!

Interview with Viktor Mikhalevski

One of the persons who has been instrumental in Arjun becoming a grandmaster is his coach from USA - Victor Mikhalevski. After Arjun became a GM we contacted Victor and asked him about some of the secrets that made Arjun one of the most talented students he has ever trained!

The coach who made a huge difference - Victor Mikhalevski

Sagar Shah (SS): How did you get acquainted with Arjun and when did your work begin?

Victor Mikhalevski (VM): Arjun's father contacted me by e-mail if I remember well. They probably found my information online. It was a little less than two years ago.


SS: When Arjun came to you what was his rating and how did you assess his strength?

VM: Arjun was 2300+ player already, but he had some bad times, as his rating was going down and soon he found himself under 2300, although for a short period of time. Arjun was already a pretty strong player with good positional understanding and fast calculation, but was missing confidence.

Arjun began his work with Mikhalevski when he was rated somewhere around 2300 mark

SS: What are some of the improvements that you brought in his game? And what techniques did you use?

VM: We started working on his games and his confidence. I hope he improved in all parts of the game, including psychology. The only technique was a constant hard work, which he mostly did on his own. I just provided some guidance.


SS: Is he by far the most talented player you have seen till date?

VM: It would be incorrect towards other students to call Arjun the most talented student, but he is definitely one of the most talented and hard-working ones.


SS: When you speak with Arjun he comes across as a soft spoken, shy boy. But on the board he shows no fear. Is this something that you were able to ingrain in him?

VM: As I said above I hope that I helped with his confidence. So, now, indeed, he has no fear when he plays against higher-rated players. 

Be it GMs, IMs or amateur, Arjun always plays without too many emotions on the board!

SS: Can you recount any memorable incidents that you had with Arjun while training with him?

VM: I don't think we had any incidents, but it was curious when we stayed in the same hotel in Montevideo, Uruguay during the World Youth U-14 and had classes online or by phone!

SS: Everyone is in awe about the fact that Arjun could score his 6 norms (3 IM and 3 GM norms) in just 8 months. Does it surprise you?

VM: It didn't surprise me that he made all the norms, as I saw how strong he was during the classes. I knew it was just matter of time. The only thing, which could surprise is how fast he achieved the norms. It just demonstrated his determination. If he sets a goal he just sees nothing on the way. He has a character of a champion.


SS: What is Arjun's biggest strength as a chess player?

VM: He has a few, of course, but I would mention fast calculation and character.

Arjun's fast calculations have helped his hold his own against high class players

SS: Do you see him as one of the best player in the world in few years from now, perhaps World Champion?

VM: It's a little early to talk about best player in the world, but if he keeps working as he did before I see no reason why it can't be achievable.


SS: What are the most important things that talented players like Arjun must take care that their pace doesn't fizzle out and they can keep improving to the next level?

VM: They should keep working on their games and fix their weaknesses. It's a hard work, but it has to be done if one wants to constantly improve.


SS: Do you think working online is a hindrance over working in person?

VM: I met Arjun in person in Uruguay last year. Probably it's a little better to work in person, but I work with most of my students online and it didn't create any real problems.


SS: Thanks a lot for your time and effort in answering these questions in spite of the busy schedule. And thank you for training Arjun and making him such a strong player. Indian chess owes a lot to you.

VM: Thank you! It's a pleasure working with young talented players.

Books by Victor Mikhalevski

The ChessBase India shop has two books by Viktor Mikhalevski. You can get to your home at just Rs.999/-

Arjun is not just a great player but also a boy with a kind heart. He donated Rs.50,000 for the victims of Kerala floods.

Three of Arjun's most memorable games:

We asked Arjun to tell us about his most memorable games and he sent us three of them. These games are without (or with very little) annotations. We urge you to go over them carefully and form your own conclusions about Arjun's playing style.

Interviews with Arjun on ChessBase India:

Interview with Arjun after he he scored his first GM norm and crossed 2500 Elo
Arjun's win over Fakhrutdinov at the World Youth Olympiad 2017


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