Delhi youngster Bhavik Ahuja wins World Open Amateur Chess Championship 2022, winning $750
The World Open Amateur Chess Championship is a tournament for amateurs to showcase their strengths on a world platform. Bhavik Ahuja from Delhi was a participant, and he won the event in fabulous fashion scoring an unbeaten 5/6 and winning 750 USD. How did he plan his events? What was his preparation for these tournaments? We conducted a short interview with Bhavik, where he shares his experience in playing the World open amateur and Prague open 2022.
Aditya Sur Roy (ASR): The entire experience sounds amazing. Why don’t you tell us how did you plan this event?
Bhavik Ahuja(BA): Personally, I have always believed in balancing chess with academics. Thus, I always play tournaments when I have holidays going on so that I don’t miss school. Since my 10th-grade boards had ended in March this year, I had planned to participate in several tournaments during the summer holidays and was practicing for the same. I got selected for an economics summer program at Yale University from 20-26th June, thus it was an obvious choice to play some tournaments in the United States before coming back to Delhi. My ultimate goal is to become a titled player by crossing the 2200 Elo mark which has a pretty high weightage in college applications as well, so playing several tournaments during these holidays was essential.
Last year, when I was 14, I traveled alone to Serbia to play 3 tournaments in Novi Sad, so I decided to go alone for a few tournaments before playing World Open. I really wanted to play in the Maharashtra GM tournament, but I was unable to get an entry for the same as a FIDE rating of 2000+ was the eligibility criteria (I was 1907 at the time). Thus I decided to play the Prague Open in the Czech Republic from 10-17th June.
There was an issue though- I had applied for a Schengen visa on 26th May, so it was really hard to get it back before 10th June. It didn’t seem like I was going to get it and I was kind of distraught that both Maharashtra GM and Prague Open couldn’t work out, and caught a severe throat infection and high fever around the 8th of June. But as they say, where there is a will there is a way! On 9th June at 9 Pm I received my visa, and I took a flight to Prague at 4:15 am on 10th June- alone- while having a fever of 101 at the time! I managed to reach the venue just 30 minutes before the round, and the tournament went well.
On the 18th I took a solo flight to the US where I stayed with my aunt and uncle for a day in New York before taking a train to Yale on the 20th. On 26th my mother and sister picked me up from Yale and then I finally went to Sheraton Downtown, Philadelphia, where I participated in the World Open Amateur and Annual World Open 2022 chess tournaments.
ASR: Planning for such an event can be overwhelming. What were your preparations for the event?
BA: Before this event, I worked a lot on my openings with both white and black. With white, I did a comprehensive chess24 course by Jon Ludwig Hammer on all openings with white starting with 1.e4. With black, I learned a few new openings with the ChessBase opening encyclopedia and did a chessable course. For endgames I used an extremely efficient free resource by the youtube channel ‘Chess Geek’ that has videos for all of the positions in the ‘100 endgames you must know’ book by Jesus de la Villa. I have always believed that calculation is the key in classical chess, and thus I did a lot of positions on chess.com and lichess and solved most of the puzzles in the Woodpecker method book by Hans Tikkanen. Lastly, I played a lot of online blitz and bullet games, which eventually helped improve my positional understanding and pattern recognition skills by learning from my mistakes. I haven’t taken any formal chess coaching since January 2018, so I believe in self-studying and doing courses to improve my game.
ASR: What importance do these events have? Can you talk about your performance?
BA: My performance in these events was kind of unexpected for me! In Prague Open, I managed to increase 156 FIDE rating points, scoring 5/9 against all 2100+ opponents. I had some insane games in that tournament, especially the 116-move 6-hour long game against FM Mladek Richard, which ended in a 50-move draw in a rook + bishop vs rook endgame (I was on the defending side with immense time pressure and didn’t know how to draw the position theoretically but was able to hold the game!)
The World Open Amateur was a significant milestone for me, as I managed to score an unbeaten 5/6 to come first in the event, winning 750 dollars (Rs. 60,000) in the process! This was the highest prize I’d ever won, and the tournament really boosted my confidence. In the Annual World Open, I managed to increase some more FIDE rating points, taking my live rating to 2114! The last month was extremely important for me as I managed to surge ahead in my goal to cross 2200 FIDE, and scored a memorable victory in the process as well.
Bhavik's victory against the top seed of the world open amateur, NM Roger Martin
ASR: How was your total experience and why should others participate in this?
BA: The US has an entirely different culture to that in India or even Europe for that matter. US chess not only operates differently but has a different rating system as well. To begin with, the pairings come out only 30 minutes before every match! Thus, players basically have no time to prepare openings against their opponents. Moreover, you have to carry your own board and clock to play the match! The organizers don’t provide them like in pretty much all other countries, which sort of makes you take care of stuff that you usually take for granted. This came as a big shocker for me! Additionally, all tournaments have two rounds every day, even in the open section, unlike in all other GM tournaments across the world- stamina really is the key in the US! I also participated in some blitz events which had an interesting feature of delay in the time control instead of increment, essentially meaning that if for example, the time control is 3|2, instead of getting 2 extra seconds after every move, the players would not lose any time for 2 seconds but not get any increment when playing with delay.
US has its own national rating – USCF – which is how all the tournaments are usually rated. Thus, most of my opponents were extremely underrated, as due to their playing fewer FIDE events, they had a USCF rating of 2300+, but a FIDE rating of only 2100 or so! Lastly, the prize fund is a lot higher as well with prizes for several different categories. Thus, even if you are very low rated, you have a high chance of winning an extremely high prize. To give an example, the u1400 section in the Annual World Open 2022 has a first prize of as much as 8000 dollars!! (I played the Open section in the Annual World Open as I was playing for rating instead of prizes, but you could opt to play in a category tournament and gain really high prizes even as a lower rated). Another advantage of playing these events is that if you are short on time and only have a few days to spare, you can play full 9 rounds in only 4 days, or 15 rounds in a week as I did!
ASR: What is your key takeaway from this event?
BA: These are some of the key takeaways from the event:
>Youngsters are of about the same strength across the world- much harder to play against them than slightly older players as they have better calculation skills and come prepared for the match.
>It is vital to be crystal clear with openings especially if you’re ever playing in the US or a blitz/rapid event as there is absolutely no time to revise openings once the pairings are out.
>Generally doing tactics right before the match is really helpful as it activates your brain before the game starts. I prefer doing a few runs of puzzle racer on lichess before the game as it takes only 1.5 minutes.
>As per the performance, increasing so much rating definitely is my key takeaway of course alongside winning such a prestigious tournament and high prize. I’ve never increased 156 points in a single tournament before!
ASR: Any advice for players planning to play in tournaments abroad?
BA: In my opinion, it is crucial to take care of a few points when planning out which tournaments to play. Firstly, it is always beneficial to play a cluster of events if you’ve done a lot of preparation beforehand. There are several reasons why you should do this. To start with, your base rating stays the same, so even if you increase a lot of ratings in the first tournament you play with the same base rating, so you have a lot higher chance of increasing tons of ratings at once. Moreover, you’re in good form so it is practical to utilize the same instead of having to prepare all over again for a tournament sometime later. Lastly, at least as it is for me and I guess other youngsters, I usually only get to play during holidays as otherwise, I’d have to miss school to play these events. Thus, by playing in a cluster I can easily focus on chess while playing the tournaments and fetch the needed results for the same by playing so many events and then shift my focus completely to academics till the next set of holidays come. Thus, it makes balancing chess and studies a lot easier.
Additionally, it is important to consider the scale of your rating change while planning the events. For all players below the age of 18 with a rating <2300 like me, we have a rating scale of k40, which means we can increase double the rating of those aged 18+ with k20. However, k40 only stays if you play <18 games in a month. If you play more your k starts decreasing. Thus, it is important to either play only 2 tournaments at once or plan the cluster of events in a way that your k doesn’t get impacted. An example of the same is how I planned my events, as both World Open Amateur and the Annual World Open 2022 took my base rating of 1907 into account as they started in June but their ratings are considered for the August list, so I was able to play 24 games in the same month with the same k factor and base rating! Lastly, in general, there are 2 main reasons for playing foreign events that one should keep in mind before planning out the tournaments. Either you’re playing to win an extremely high prize like in World Open category events, or you’re playing to potentially increase a lot of rating by being paired against much higher-rated players in most rounds, which isn’t possible in India if you have a rating of more than 1600.
ASR: Any issues that you faced?
BA: To begin with it was really stressful going to Prague alone as I got my visa just a few hours before my flight, and I had a high fever and throat infection at the time, so traveling alone in that state was definitely challenging. For other <18 players traveling alone for tournaments, I’d suggest carrying a signed consent form after which the authorities in the immigration or check-in can’t stop you from traveling/staying alone even if you are a minor.
Food is another issue when traveling in Europe, especially if you’re a vegetarian, thus I’d suggest carrying frozen Indian food as kettles are provided in all rooms. This was actually a new experience for me as in the beginning I didn’t know where to heat the frozen food, so I ended up making Shahi paneer inside a dustbin! In the US, I was with my mother and sister and there were a lot more food options, so I didn’t have to face the same issues. However, safety was a big concern, especially while living in the downtown areas in suburb areas like Philadelphia. 2 traumatizing incidents happened during my stay there, as first my mother’s purse got stolen overnight in between the tournament, and then on the 4th of July (American independence day), someone started shooting right outside the hotel in between the fireworks, causing deaths of 3 policemen!
ASR: Any additional help you received?
BA: I would like to thank Sankalp and his dad, Sanjay uncle for really helping me settle when I arrived in Prague on the 10th. They helped me a lot throughout the event, so a big thanks to them :)
ASR: Any future plans for tournaments? What’s your goal with chess?
BA: Not really… for now I’m focusing on my mid-term IB exams followed by the ACT exam on the 22nd of October. Post that I’m planning to play the Asian Continental in Delhi if I’m eligible and maybe National u15 as that is happening in Delhi as well. My goal is to become a titled chess player before writing my college applications next year.
Here are some of Bhavik's favorite games, annotated by himself: