Prithu Gupta- IM title and one GM Norm at the age of 13!
If you are a beginner who has started off with a rating of 1187, where would you see yourself in 4-5 years’ time? Maybe with a decent rating of 1500-1600. Some may be particularly good and come at 1850-1900. But nobody ever saw it coming when 13-year old Delhi boy Prithu Gupta achieved his IM title and a GM norm in the same time period. Prithu pulled this off in the recent Gibraltar Masters 2018. What started off as a hobby is now the journey to becoming a world-class player! Read on to find out more about how the Delhi lad came to rank third in India after Pragg and Nihal!
Prithu was born on 8th March 2004. He became an IM on 31st of January 2018. That's 13 years 10 months and 23 days! There have been quite a few kids who have achieved the IM title before this age - in India itself we have Pragg who became one at the age of 10 years and 10 months, Nihal at the age of 12 years and 8 months, but both of them started playing chess when they were very young, somewhere around the age of six years. Prithu's achievement is special because he started playing chess when he was 9 years old! To achieve the IM title within five years shows some great talent and grasping power.
After achieving this phenomenal feat, we caught up with Prithu and spoke to him about his chess journey in general and also his performance at Gibraltar Masters 2018.
What has your journey been like?
My chess journey has been full of excitement and joy. When I started playing chess in 2013, I just wanted to pursue it as a hobby playing some tournaments occasionally in my home-town of Delhi. But somehow getting a rating of just 1187 after playing 2 rated tournaments was enough to motivate me to take chess seriously. What began as a hobby transformed itself into a strong passion in a short period of time. I was able to increase a considerable number of Elo points in the following year (559 points to be precise) after which the year 2015 didn't go so well for me. But in the time period between 2016 -2018 January, I had a successful run during which I gained 570 ELO points and 2 IM norms. The journey has not only taught me how to take success and failure in the same stride but the people I met on the way and the places I went to, introduced me to a different world out there.
How will you celebrate your victory?
I am yet to celebrate with my family because of my upcoming school exams but being at the Gala Dinner of the closing ceremony of Gibraltar Masters with the players I have idolized was a big celebration in itself.
This was a constant increase in rating for you. But most other players become stagnant at some point. What is the secret behind this?
The main secret behind the constant increase in rating was getting the right mentors and being taught by the right teachers at the right time. I've been blessed with the best teachers ever and I will forever remain grateful to them. The other secret I would say was my own hard work and inquisitiveness and hunger to keep on learning whatever I saw on the boards around me, or whatever I was taught.
Who have been your coaches? How have they helped you mentally?
I have been blessed by a great set of coaches who have not only taught me about the game but given me lessons which will help me throughout my life. The main Indian coaches I work with now are IM Roktim Bondopadhyay, IM Somak Palit and GM Saptarshi Roy Choudhary. I have also worked with 2 international coaches who have been greatly instrumental in my growth (they would prefer to stay in anonymity).
My chess learning started with Manav Saxena in 2013, followed by Prasenjit Dutta who taught me the fine nuances of the game till July, 2015. Under Prasenjit sir's tutelage, I learnt how to believe in myself and face any opponent without fear. Just when I started stagnating a little, IM Akshat Khamparia taught me for a few months. Akshat sir has always been my guiding angel. My parents have sought his advice from time to time. Niklesh Jain sir also gave me some very good opening ideas at that time. Then came GM Saptarshi Roy Chowdhary who introduced me to a different world of chess altogether. He taught me how to work myself even when there's no one to help me with the help of books and databases. He and Santu Mondel together took me to new heights.
I started with IM Somak Palit as well and with Somak sir, Saptarshi sir and Santu sir and I very soon crossed the 2000 rating barrier and reached 2200 plus rating by July 2016. My first trip to Europe (my first international tournament was Pardubice open 2016) opened my eyes to a whole new world of chess which I was longing to explore. There we met IM Girish Kaushik who later helped me for a few months too and still plays with me sometimes.
In March 2017, I started training with IM Roktim Bondopadhyay. Roktim sir taught me how to challenge my own abilities. He not only taught me the core of positional chess but how to use analytical, tactical, positional skills and calculation to the best of my ability. Two sessions with him and with the cumulative skills that I had developed over the years, I was well on my way to make the 2 IM norms that I made back to back in Serbia and Prague. The two international coaches also I’ve trained with, have taught me unconditionally, given me so much knowledge and affection, making me believe that there are wonderful people also in this world. I'll forever be grateful to all my teachers and will hope to make them prouder someday.
What have you been forced to sacrifice for chess? Do you, at times, regret it?
I have had a normal upbringing since the beginning and nothing much changed even when I started playing chess. I didn't travel much at first due to which I wouldn't miss school. But since the last 2.5 years I have started to play more, which results in missing a few days of school. Due to this I have been forced to sacrifice a social life beyond chess such as hanging out with friends, visiting relatives etc. Sometimes I do regret it but then as they say, in order to achieve something, one has to make many sacrifices. Besides, I’m happiest when I have the chess board or my laptop in front of me.
In your brief interview in Gibraltar you said that you didn’t prepare much because of your exams. Yet you played fine games which don’t reveal lack of preparation. How are you balancing chess and studies so well?
I had a very decent preparation before going to play the Corsican Circuit in France in October end which probably compensated for my lack of preparation before Gibraltar. Managing chess and studies together is a balancing act I’ve been doing for the last 4 years. There have been times when I felt like flying to a place to play a particular tournament but I would be stranded at home, studying. Having said that, I feel education is very important and complements chess in every aspect. The fact that I can converse with one of my coaches in Spanish, gives me that extra bit of confidence. It was always chess and academics together.
Here is one of Prithu's favourite game from the Gibraltar Masters which he has annotated in great depth for the readers of ChessBase India. Checking his annotations reveals his great understanding of the game.
What new heights do you wish to attain? How much further are you ready to go?
I do not aspire to set very high goals as of now. I want to be slow and steady and keep on progressing step by step because if you have high ambitions at once and you aren't able to fulfil them, it is a terrible feeling which causes frustration and makes one lose focus.
You must have had lots of crazy and exciting chess games in the past. Which is your favourite to date and why?
Although I’ve had many good games, one which continues to be my all-time favourite was in the Rilton Cup in 2016 against a Finland player, Hallman Valo. Most kids would probably pick a game with a Grandmaster, but although my opponent was rated lower than me, I just loved the way I played that game.
A large number of Indian players idolize Anand as their inspiration. Are you among them or do you follow someone else?
Anand sir has always been my all-time favourite chess player because of the struggle he had to face in order to become world chess champion from a country which did not have a robust chess culture. Along with him I also idolize Vladimir Kramnik and love to see the games of Mikhail Botvinnik and Bobby Fischer. I have developed a very keen interest in positional play over the last few years and I feel that their extensive knowledge on positional chess is very enriching. I also like to study the games annotated by Stohl Igor and Mihail Marin very deeply.
Prithu has nearly scaled Maxime in height. Chess wise - 375 Elo more to go!
What are your interests and hobbies apart from chess?
I like to listen to music by Charlie Puth and Imagine Dragons. Amongst the classic Rock bands, I really like the Beatles. My favourite songs are "See you again" sung by Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa in the memory of Paul Walker and "Let it be" by the Beatles which I generally hum after losing a match. Apart from this I also like to watch movies. The recent movies which I really liked were "Dunkirk" based on World War II and Jumanji.
You are India no. 3 in U-14. You are only behind R Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin. How do you compare yourself to them?
I don't think there should be any comparison between the three of us since we are different individuals having different goals and preferences. One thing which we have in common, though, is our undying passion for chess.
You are sure to have inspired many people by your incredible performance. Any words of advice?
I am still in the learning phase myself and seek advice from my mentors from time to time. I don't think I am mature enough to give advice to anyone. All I can say is if one stays grounded, works quietly, respects others and stays true to his passion in life, no one can stop him from succeeding. My teachers and parents taught me this.
ChessBase India wishes Prithu the best in his chess career and may his journey from IM to GM be as swift as it was from an 1100 rated player to 2400!