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Balancing chess and education - Sai Agni is Telangana's sixth IM

by Nongsha Angom - 12/03/2019

How does one become an International Master? For all of you who are unaware about the process - for an IM title you need to make three IM norms in three different tournaments. This basically means scoring a certain amount of points against titled and untitled players and you need to achieve a rating performance of over 2450. Once you have performed over 2450 in three tournaments against the required opposition (titled players, foreigners etc.) then you must raise your ELO to 2400. And then you have it! The letters IM in front of your name. But is it really so easy as it sounds? Read this article to know more about the latest IM of India, J. Sai Agni Jeevitesh, his struggles and his unflinching dedication to excel at chess and how he became the sixth IM from Telangana.

20-year-old J. Sai Agni Jeevitesh is India's latest IM. He hails from the city of Warangal, Telangana. Starting chess at the age of 9 years, Agni showed a lot of promise growing up. Here is what his mother has to say about his initial days:

"As I am a staunch divine lover, I love to travel to pilgrim centers accompanied by Agni. He showed interest in indoor games and we used to purchase the games suited for the indoor purpose. What started off as interest in the game of snakes and ladders on one side of the board, led to Agni's first acquaintance to the ROYAL GAME OF CHESS on the other side. This attracted him and identifying his curiosity and interest, we started hunting for chess trainers and decided to go about it professionally. We don’t have any sportspersons in our families. As you know. a mother plays vital role in the family in all aspects. The same happened with me and Agni. Balancing my official life, personal life, taking care of Agni, I am glad that he has managed to get his IM title. As a chess parent, patience, determination, motivation, self-discipline plays a vital role in shaping our future GrandMasters. Apart from me, my brothers and bhabhi have also taken care of him during Hyderabad visits."

Today I am here and whatever I am it is just because of her only! - J. Sai Agni Jeevitesh | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

J. Ravi Kumar, father of Agni is a professor, MD and he makes sure that Agni is provided the best surroundings to grow. | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

So the story goes like this - Right after crossing 2400 ELO in Feb 2017, Agni and his parents decided that it's now time to take a little break from chess as his 1st semester of BE exams were nearing. And yes it did pay off as Agni cleared his exams with flying colors. On the other hand, the break slowly increased in size and soon it was 6 months without any chess tournament. The year 2017 turned out to be a very tough one. In Agni's words "a very painful year" wherein on one side Agni was trying hard to achieve his norms and on the other, he was taking care of his academics. There is always something positive happening amidst all the negativity. Agni kept his calm through this tough phase and learned a lot about himself. He realized that it is not going to work like this and that he has to take some decisions.

Agni at the World Junior Championship, Pune, 2014 | Photo: Amruta Mokal

So what decisions/habits helped Agni? Well, 1,2,3 is what worked for him. Yes, three steps which he started implementing in his life and the results followed thereafter:

1. Started training under IM Swayams Mishra.

2. Started working on physical fitness which was neglected earlier.

3. Most importantly the mindset! He tried to keep the thought of norms away from his mind and started to concentrate on playing good games. His coach helped him to get a perfect mindset.

"A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you" - Bob Proctor, Agni and his mentor IM Swayams Mishra. | Agni's photo: Rujuta

Agni achieved his first IM norm at the GM Round Robin Third Saturday 75 - Novi Sad, Serbia on 15th April 2018 and his 2nd norm at the 19th ASEAN+ Age Group Chess Championships - Open under 20, Phillippines on 24th June 2018. That was also the tournament where he won the bronze medal as well. Both the norms were achieved before he started his coaching with Swayams and Agni himself did all the preparations. Thereafter Agni missed his final norm multiple times by the smallest of margins. He admitted that it was very frustrating and depressing at that point. IM Swayams Mishra decided to help him to overcome the phase he was going through. He began training him over Skype and Playchess and interestingly both of them have never met each other physically until now.

Agni with his final IM norm which he achieved at the IM Third Saturday 109 - Novi Sad, Serbia on 11th Feb 2019. | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

Here are four games which Agni handpicked himself and annotated for the readers of ChessBase India:

Zelcic Robert vs Sai Agni

Sai Agni vs Matinian, N.

Sai Agni vs Rossi, Aldo A

Sai Agni vs Sredojevic, Ivan

Currently, Agni is pursuing his B.E. (CSE) from Swathi Institute of Technology & Sciences, Hyderabad (Osmania University). On being asked which is more important to him and how does he balance his academics and chess, this is what he said:

"Definitely Chess! My long term goal is to become a GM. But for now, I have to improve my strength and knowledge. Balancing both is possible but trust me it is very very difficult, I am grateful to my college (Swathi Institute of Tech & Sciences, Hyderabad) as they are supporting me by giving me the permission to participate in tournaments and also with regards to my attendance."

Agni getting felicitated by the Vice Chancellor of Osmania University (He is also the first IM from the University). | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

In recent times we have seen a lot of youngsters quitting academics and turning into a full-time chess players, so we asked Agni about his thought on the same:

"I won't suggest quitting academics at all! Never ever do that! Continue both.But when, a situation arises like MBBS or Chess then it's better to take a serious decision of choosing only one! Instead of MBBS, if it was maybe B.Sc, then continuing chess and education is the correct approach in my opinion."

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood. - Agatha Christie | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

Besides winning Gold medal at the under-11 Asian School Chess Championships in Sri Lanka, 2010, Agni has also won multiple open tournaments across India. He was also the captain of the Indian Chess University team, which went to Brazil in 2018. India secured 5th place in that event. IM Swayams Mishra is Agni's current coach, but prior to that he worked with SVC Chakravarthi, A Sudarsan and IM CRG Krishna. "I would like to thank all of them for helping me achieve my IM title", says Sai Agni.

Team India that took part in the World University Chess Championship, Brazil, 2018! | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

Agni on the cover page of the Philipines Newsweek June edition, 2018 | Photo: J. Madhu Ravi

J. Madhu Ravi(MA, MBA, BPR, and JAIIB), the mother of Agni, contributed to this article. She is working as a Senior Associate Vice President- UTI Mutual Fund, Warangal, Telangana. Agni's father, Mr. J. Ravi Kumar is a Professor, MD.

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