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When Arjun Erigaisi took on 8 opponents in his first ever blindfold simul

by Sagar Shah - 13/07/2023

What happens after a company sponsors a chess player? How does it find value in the sponsorship? This article puts down the story of Arjun Erigaisi and QuantBox. QuantBox is a High Frequency Trading company, which has made one of the biggest sponsorship deals in the history of Indian chess with Arjun - US$ 1.5 million for 5 years. 5th of July 2023 was the first time that Arjun met the members of QuantBox at their Bangalore office. While there is a lot that happened in the day and all of it is portrayed in the article below, what stood out was Arjun's blindfold simul. Playing it for the first time in his life, Arjun took on 8 opponents! How did the youngster fare? Read on to find out.

Arjun Erigaisi visits the QuantBox office

Recently after the Global Chess League ended, I made my way to Bangalore for an event of Arjun Erigaisi at QuantBox. QuantBox is the company that has sponsored an amount of US$1.5 million (Rs.12.4 crores) for Arjun's chess career for next 5 years. The amount comes to roughly Rs.2.5 crores per year. This is perhaps the highest ever sponsorship deal in the history of Indian chess. What I knew about QuantBox before my visit is the fact the it is into High Frequency Trading and its founder Prashant Singh is an avid chess fan. But nothing more than that. I was very curious to see what this event would be all about. Arjun and his team (MGD1-his management firm and coach GM Srinath Narayanan) were going to be present there.

On reaching Bangalore I met Arjun, his team and friends. (from left to right): Sagar Shah, Manu Gurtu, Divya Gurtu, Sreekar Channapragada, Arjun Erigaisi, Srinath Narayanan, Prachura P. and Rakesh Kulkarni

Arjun at the entrance of the QuantBox office

On 5th of July 2023 morning, we went to the QuantBox office. What I saw there simply blew my mind. Generally when a company sponsors a sports player they are very particular about the deliverables. A simul, Q&A, interaction with employees, publicity etc. Everything is perfectly planned. But here at QuantBox, everyone was chilled out. The first thing we did was sit down in the conference room and discuss about the future of Indian chess. Meanwhile Arjun sneaked out to the adjoining room and started playing foosball and table tennis.

A few of the QuantBox employees gathered and together with them Arjun started playing Foosball

Doubles Table Tennis with IM Rakesh Kulkarni and Arjun Erigaisi

The average age of the employees at QuantBox is roughly 23-25 years. Most of the youngsters are fresh graduates from IIT and are brilliant minds. After all High Frequency Trading is a complex endeavour and you need the best minds to build your algorithms. Arjun instantly gelled with all the team members. In fact he even went for lunch with the team of interns rather than the management team of QuantBox!

QuantBox has an entire room dedicated to relaxation and that is where Arjun spent most of his time!

Prashant Singh, the managing director and founder of QuantBox, was relaxed as he showed us around the office and told us about the chess connect at the company. Almost every employee knew how to play chess and in fact one of the interview rounds also had a chess question. Prashant is an avid chess lover and used to play chess as a youngster. He still plays the game, but now whenever he has some time from his work. He explains to us what High Frequency Trading is and how it is similar to chess. HFT is all about creating a good model that will make thousands of trades in a few seconds. Whether you will make a profit or not depends upon the Algorithm that you have written. There is no manual intervention. Prashant gave us the analogy of building the chess engine. How, algorithms are written to make the most powerful chess engine and they ensure the best moves are found all the time!

Look at the interest on their faces!

The Dream Team - Manu and Sreekar (MGD1), Arjun Erigaisi, Srinath Narayanan and Prashant Singh

It was wonderful to know that Prashant is an avid follower of ChessBase India!

Dear friend and a big chess supporter Ashwin Subramanian, who lives in Bangalore, paid a visit to the QuantBox office with his daughter Anjana

Arjun gave the QuantBox team a tricky chess problem to solve which he had found on Twitter. Of course, they were all hooked. If you too want to give it a go, the question is given below:

Somewhere around 4 p.m. Arjun's planned simul was about to begin. When Arjun got to know that it was a simul with 8 players and the highest Elo rated player was around 1400 (online), he decided to make it challenging for himself. "I will play a blindfold simul", said Arjun! But you have never done a blindfold simul before. Don't you think playing 8 players would be tough? We all were a bit worried for him. "I would like to try it" - a typical Arjun response. And as the simul began, the youngster made a huge mistake. He told Srinath to play 1.d4 on all boards. Now when you are giving a blindfold simul, it is extremely important to have a hook for each board in your mind. Arjun could have used the openings as a hook - 1.e4 for board 1, 1.d4 for board 2, 1.c4 for Board 3 and so on. But because he played 1.d4 on all boards, after 4 moves it suddenly became very confusing. On some boards it was Nf6 e6, on some board e6 d5 c6, on some boards Nf6 d5. Suddenly Arjun could no longer keep a track of what was happening where. He asked for a lifeline, so that he could get up and see the positions one time. As Arjun kept looking at all the positions again and again, we all got a bit nervous. We asked him if he wanted to convert it into a normal simul. But Arjun wanted to go on. He figured a way to find a hook for each of the boards around move 10 and from then on it was smooth sailing. He won all the games without any difficulties.

The setup of the Arjun simul. Arjun sat facing the opposite side to where the players were. He faced 8 opponents and called our the moves, while GM Srinath Narayanan played the moves on the board.

The players needed all the cheer they could get from their team mates!

Each board soon had a player with his team of advisors build up as the simul progressed!

Not so easy to beat the world no.30 player!

Later when Prashant was asked what is the quality of Arjun that he likes the most - it was this incident that he recounted. Arjun was in a spot of bother when he didn't remember the positions. But he did not flip out. In fact, he found a solution to the problem (taking a notebook and pen and noting down the important aspects of the position) and implemented it. Arjun with what he did on the day had inspired everyone including myself with his grit and never say die spirit.

Arjun receives a special gift from Prashant for his efforts

It always helps to have a rock solid support like Srinath!

Here are the 8 games below each in replayable format:

The entire simul captured on video!

Arjun analyzing the games with the players without a chess board at the end of the simul!

The notebook and the few words that saved the day for Arjun!

After the simul ended Arjun stood up on a podium and in front of around 40 employees of QuantBox gave an impromptu thank you speech. Everyone cheered for him and wished him the best in his bid to become the best in the world. I could literally sense that these 40 team members of QuantBox were now going to follow each and every tournament that Arjun would play!

The entire day of Arjun at QuantBox is summarized in this vlog
5 mins to Prashant vs 30 seconds for Arjun! A very exciting battle!

For dinner everyone met at a very chilled out place called Koramangala Social. Arjun enjoyed himself with his newly made friends at QuantBox.

The environment was very chilled out and Arjun spent a lot of time speaking with everyone in the QuantBox team

A memorable selfie by the entire team

We asked Prashant if there was one message he would like to give Arjun, what would it be. Prashant said, "I just want Arjun to be the way that he is!" What a beautiful relationship between Arjun and QuantBox I could see developing in front of my eyes. More than deliverables, there was trust and love. We often spend so much time in paperwork and contracts, but so little time in building bonds. I am sure that after this interaction everyone at QuantBox loves Arjun and Arjun would love to promote QuantBox at every given opportunity! As someone who loves to see the chess ecosystem growing, this was truly a wonderful experience!

Interview with Prashant Singh, the Managing Director and Founder of QuantBox

Find Arjun!

Great company = great memories! Our final selfie at Bangalore

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