Aravindh Chithambaram: The Gem of a Person
MPL National Senior Open 2022 is slated to start this Friday 25th February. Now is the best time to get to know India's first triple crown National champion, Aravindh Chithambaram. In the year 2019, he became National champion in all three formats - Classical, Rapid and Blitz. Aravindh is a very quiet person who generally keeps to himself. He only played seven otb tournaments last year including the FIDE World Cup 2021. In the year 2020, he was part of the Gold medal winning Indian team at the first FIDE Online Olympiad. We might be familiar with the playing style of Aravindh, in this article we get to know about the person who has accomplished a lot in chess and many more to come. Photo: Amruta Mokal
One of India’s most talented chess players!
In the middle of 2019, a teenager from Chennai achieved a feat that hadn’t been accomplished before in Indian chess. By winning the National Senior Rapid & Blitz titles, he became the first Indian ever to hold the crown of National champion in all three formats of the sport. Today, that teenager is ranked a little outside the top 100 in the chess world and has an ELO rating of 2611. The young man who achieved this special feat as a teenager is Grandmaster Aravindh Chithambaram. He is currently one of the strongest chess players in India and his story is one of hard work and dedication to the craft despite difficult circumstances.
When Aravindh was young, he would ask his grandfather to play cricket with him and cricket was probably his first sporting love. But his grandfather wouldn’t be able to take the physical stress of outdoor sport at his age and so he decided to teach Aravindh the basic chess moves. Aravindh was attracted by the way the pieces moved and since then the chess bug has stuck.
The grandmaster from Tamil Nadu recollects, “After my grandpa taught me some basic rules, one of my relatives asked me to play a tournament in Madurai. So, I just gave it a try.” During the course of the tournament, Aravindh realised that the rules of the games had undergone changes since his grandfather’s time and therefore, he wanted to learn more about the game. At the event, he met coach Prasad who helped him learn the basics of the sport.
With the support of his new coach, Aravindh started winning tournaments at the state level and to further his skill he started training under coach Ghouse Kamardeen. While working with coach Kamardeen, Aravindh achieved the mind-blowing feat of winning the National u19 championship when he was just 12 years old. The young boy was showing prodigious talent and now wanted to take his game to the next level.
GM R B Ramesh
At a tournament in Brazil, Aravindh’s mother approached GM R B Ramesh to ask if he could help train the future Grandmaster. This was the beginning of a partnership that still continues to this day.
Aravindh tells me, “So, the thing was, when I attended, the first class (with GM Ramesh), I slept during the class, and it was just one of the funniest moments.” For all the students reading this, when a teacher scolds you for sleeping in class next time, you can tell them this tale. That class proved to be the first of many thousands of sessions with GM Ramesh.
“I love working with Ramesh sir and we don't only go through chess, we also go through some general topics which gives me more knowledge.” Aravindh adds that coach Ramesh has played a major role in shaping his character and making him a better person.
Aravindh is not the only Grandmaster who has been coached by GM Ramesh. Coach Ramesh also works with GM Praggnanandhaa, GM Murali Karthikeyan and WGM Vaishali R amongst others. Aravindh is very close friends with both Prag and Karthikeyan and also trains with them regularly.
The Pillars of Support
At a very young age, the Indian talent had to endure the loss of a parent. Aravindh’s father passed away when he was a toddler and since then his mother and her parents have formed the backbone of support in his life. “My mother has been with me, throughout my career. In whatever I do or achieve, full credit (goes) to her. She has done more than what a mom can do.” The young GM tapers off and says that he doesn’t have the words to describe all the things that his mother has done for him.
Aravindh’s family knew that he had the potential to be a great chess player and they were ready to provide whatever was needed for him to pursue the sport. When GM Ramesh agreed to coach Aravindh his family had to move to Chennai and without giving it a second thought his grandparents and mother moved to the city to help him achieve his dream. Today it’s been a decade since Aravindh first came to Chennai and he continues to live and train in the city.
The India No. 7 studied in Velammal Higher Secondary school and the school didn’t charge him any tuition fees during the course of his education. They even helped him financially when he needed assistance to play tournaments. Aside from chess, the institution used to give him special coaching so that he could excel in his exams. Not only had he found a great coach in Chennai, he had also found a great school that ensured his academic and sporting successes were both taken care of. In his own words, “Full thanks to them.”
Today, Aravindh has just finished his graduation in Tamizh literature and is waiting for the results for his final exams. He hopes that the degree will help him land a job soon, something that will aid him to achieve financial stability.
One of Aravindh’s memories from chess comes from a match which he lost. “I literally hate to lose a game but at one point, I was very happy (to lose). This was when I played against Magnus (Carlsen) in the second round of the Qatar Masters in 2014. I was really excited to play against him, and this was irrespective of the result. After the game, I was even ‘unconscious’ for a while. It was a proper fanboy moment. I was just roaming here and there after the match and did not know what to do.”
Aravindh has a really memorable tournament when he won the Chennai Open in 2013. He was just a FIDE Master at the time, and he stunned everyone when he beat four grandmasters on the way to his title. He had a tournament performance rating of 2728 which was around 400 Elo points more than his rating at the time. Aravindh had finished first in a tournament that saw participation from players such as GM Vidit Gujrathi, GM Sethuraman and GM Ivan Popov.
Aravindh earned his first GM norm through this tournament, and he did this even before he had any IM norms. The grandmaster also remembers the tournament for another reason. “The World Championship was going on alongside this tournament and we would finish the game and go directly to Hyatt Residency to watch Magnus and Anand play.” Thus, it was a very special few days for the youngster.
The Indian talent is also a two-time national champion having won his first national title in 2018 and then having successfully defended his title in the following year. Aravindh tells me, “I enjoyed both those titles. The 2017 nationals was really hard and so was the 2016 one. I was close to winning both the tournaments, but I could not do it. Like in the last round, I would suffer a defeat, so it was really hard for me. So, winning the 2018 nationals was a big relief to me and was one of my favourite moments.”
Winning a title is challenging but defending it can be even harder sometimes. What did Aravindh do to motivate himself in the 2019 championship? “Actually, I did not want to (put pressure on myself) to play for title. Then, in the tournament hall they had showcased the trophies and I was really attracted to it. I really wanted to win the tournament for the Champion’s trophy. It was really huge and beautiful. So that was my aim and I played for that.” We see how even the smallest things like the trophy design can fuel an athlete’s desire to win.
One of Aravindh’s personal favourite titles at the age-group level came when he was part of the Indian team that won the gold medal at the World u16 Olympiad in 2014. Aravindh won 8 of the 9 games that he played and made a major contribution to the Indian victory. The tournament was also special for Aravindh for another reason. Both he and his close friend Murali Karthikeyan played for the Indian team and both of them became Grandmasters after this tournament. Finally, what added to the joy was that both players achieved this through the guidance of their coach, GM R B Ramesh who was the team captain at the event.
Pandemic and its impact
One positive impact of the pandemic for the young Indian talent has been that he gets to play high quality online chess, regularly. He notes, “Online chess has raised the level a lot. Now I'm used to playing against lots of strong players like Magnus (Carlsen). You know, it’s kind of a good experience to play against them. In the normal (pre-pandemic) days, I wouldn't be able to play with them often.”
During the pandemic, Aravindh was part of the team that won the Gold for India at the FIDE Online Olympiad. While he didn’t play much during the event because of the strength of the Indian team, he says that team events have helped him a lot throughout his career. He talks about how he was amazed by level of the opening preparation of players at these tournaments. Aravindh was of the opinion that his opening preparation was solid but then at these tournaments he realised that compared to the preparation of some players, his level of preparation was minuscule.
The pandemic has put a stop to Aravindh’s chances of playing over-the-board chess but that ended when he took part in the FIDE World Cup in Sochi, Russia.
Speaking about the World Cup (The interview was conducted before FIDE World Cup 2021), Aravindh says, “I just want the World Cup to happen. Other than that, I don't have any expectations at all. I was really surprised when they said there are no Nationals this year and then I got this chance (On account of being the reigning national champion). I am really looking forward to competing at the World Cup.”
Chess Style & Routine
What routine does Aravindh follow? Like many people in his age group, Aravindh says that he makes a routine, but doesn’t follow it. At tournaments though, this turns on its head and he ensures that he is focussed on his chess, spending many hours preparing for the games.
The Indian talent also takes naps lasting 20 or 25 minutes before his games, and this is something that helps him perform at his best over the board. Aside from his chess, Aravindh is a big cricket fan and also likes watching movies.
Aravindh’s response when asked about his playing style is, “When I was young, I was an attacking player and would go all in. I think even with the king on g1. I would play g4 or f4, so I was that kind of a player. But after that I completely changed my style. I became a more solid player and stopped getting into such dynamic positions.” As for areas of improvement, “I think I have to improve my calculations. My calculations are good, but I need to become better, maybe the best at it.”
Before Aravindh made the move to Chennai, he lived in Madurai for some years and he remembers that the Dolphin School where he studied, was very supportive of his baby-steps in the chess world. Throughout his career he has been able to find the right support at the right time and as always, he continues to have the backing of his mother. Having completed his degree now, Aravindh is looking forward to getting a job soon and dedicating more time to his chess.
Into the Future
Through his budding career, the India talent has had the fortune of getting financial support when he needed it. He was part of an ONGC scholarship scheme for about eight years and this helped him immensely in the early part of his career. Today, his main sponsors are the Murugappa group and Microsense Pvt. Ltd. “They have been very supportive. I was only an IM at the time (when Murugappa began sponsoring me) and with the help of their money I could play abroad and earn my GM norms. I'm always grateful to my sponsors.”
Now that he has completed his bachelor’s degree, Aravindh expects to land a job at one of India’s oil companies. The Covid-19 situation has meant that these plans have not yet been successful, but the Grandmaster has applied for a job and is confident that he’ll get one soon.
Just before the pandemic, Aravindh had a really successful outing at the Aeroflot Open. He finished the event with a score of 6.5/9 which resulted in a four-way tie for the first position. Based on the Tiebreaker scores, IM Aydin Suleymanli, GM Rinat Jumebayev and GM Rauf Mamedov took the podium spots. Speaking about the tournament, Aravindh says, “I actually lost my first game and usually (in situations like this) I get out of the playing mode and will collapse tactically. So (this time), I kept my chess mode on, and kept preparing a lot and worked even harder after the first round. That is what I really liked.”
“I want to show such a temperament in other tournaments as well. So yes, that tournament is really close to me because I worked hard for and during the tournament. I think, that is why I came fourth. Maybe if I had worked even harder, (I would’ve) finished in the top three, (maybe) even first place.”
With the pandemic, things have been difficult for Aravindh like many of his contemporaries. Here’s hoping that he can carry forward the form that he had shown last year into the World Cup. GM Aravindh Chithambaram is one of India’s best chess players and he has the ability to be one of the best in the world. With the continued support of those around him and through his hard work and dedication to the sport, Aravindh can achieve true greatness.
About the Author
Saishyam Srikanth is a journalism student who is currently studying in the final year of his bachelor’s programme at St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. He has been a sports fan from the time he can remember and one day, aspires to translate this love for sport into a career as a media professional.
Previous coverage of Aravindh on ChessBase India