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Samay Raina decides to quit stand-up comedy and will now pursue professional chess

by Sagar Shah - 01/04/2021

Although chess has become an integral part of Samay Raina's life, he is still very prominently known as a stand-up comedian! Chess was just for the pandemic - that's what all of us thought! Once things open up, Samay would quit chess and get back to his life of stand-up comedy. However, we couldn't have been more wrong. After winning the COB All Stars, Samay Raina has made one of the biggest decisions of his life till date. He is quitting stand-up comedy and plans to become a full-time chess professional. His aim? To become the first GM from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Read on to know what spurred this decision and what the world of comedy has to say about this.

My aim to be the first GM from Jammu and Kashmir

Tears rolled down his eyes as he put his head in his hands and did not lift it for the next couple of minutes. 50,000 people were watching it LIVE. Samay Raina had won the COB All Stars. It was an event where eight of the best stand-up comedians tried to fight for the prize of becoming the champion and taking home Rs.3 lakh. After a grueling finals with Biswa Kalyan Rath, when we asked Samay, what this victory meant to him, he replied, "This means everything to me. You have no idea how difficult this was for me." Samay also went on to add, "This victory means a lot more to me than Comicstaan." Samay Raina, a 23-year-old stand-up comedian, came into prominence because of winning Comicstaan (season 2) a web-series aired on Amazon Prime. And here he was telling the world that COB All stars victory was a much more life defining moment for him than Comicstaan!

The finals of Comedians on Board All Stars along with Samay's interview after the victory

The event ended on 30th of March and Samay took exactly 1 day to make the biggest decision of his life. Yes! He has decided to quit stand-up comedy and pursue a full-fledged career in chess. Speaking to ChessBase India Samay said, "Chess has given me a completely different identity in the last one year. Exactly 1 year ago on 23rd of March 2020, I began streaming chess on my channel. I never thought I would reach where I have. Without putting up a single stand-up comedy video I have over 600,000 followers on my YouTube channel. I have thousands of members who pay a monthly fee to access my content. My discord has over 75,000 members! It is purely through chess." Samay further elaborates, "This thought of quitting comedy and pursuing a chess career was in my mind since the last six months. But I was always a bit worried about whether I had it in me to become a professional chess player. It was only when I won the COB All Stars that this decision became crystal clear. That feeling I had after winning the tournament cannot be explained in words."

Samay's reaction of disbelief after winning the COB All Stars tournament

"Another thing that really made me firm on the decision is when I saw Agadmator's video on Magnus Carlsen retiring from chess. If Magnus is not going to defend his crown anymore, this gives other talented players a chance to achieve their dream of conquering the world. It's true that there are many others like Caruana, Giri, Ding Liren, Nepo, who are in the queue and likely to become the next World Champion. But I haven't worked like a professional till date and so it is not 100% clear what I can achieve if I give everything that I have."

 

Since December Samay has also started some stand-up performances across different cities in India. "There have been moments on the stage where I have finished my act and the crowd is in splits and they have enjoyed my jokes thoroughly, and all I can think of is what should be my plan in the Falkbeer Counter Gambit in the King's Gambit. The high that I received from stand-up comedy has been replaced by chess and so this decision might come as a shock to many, but for me it was a natural one. I want to become the first grandmaster from the state of Jammu and Kashmir."

The huge crowds of stand-up comedy no longer attract Samay

Samay's chess talents were seen the day he beat IM Sagar Shah with a queen sacrifice in a 10-minute game. Over the duration of a year, he has beaten players like IM Tania Sachdev, IM Soumya Swaminathan, Amruta Mokal, WIM Divya Deshmukh, and many others. Here's Samay's win over IM Sagar Shah:

 

Samay Raina vs Sagar Shah

Your queen is attacked on c2. What should you do? White to play and win!
IM Sagar Shah analyzes Samay's first win over an IM

While the chess world can rejoice at this news, the world of comedy is in a state of shock. Gunjan Arya, the CEO of OML, the company that manages Samay, said, "We at OML put our artists interest above everything else. They should feel passionately about something and our job is to hold their hand and find them more opportunities and help them prosper. Samay's decision comes as a big surprise to me and my entire team, but I am sure he has thought about it well. We will speak with him in the days to come about his terms of engagement and how to continue our association." Tanmay Bhat, the man who brought Samay into the world of streaming says, "Samay has achieved so much in the last year, that sometimes we just forget that he is just 23 years old. This is a very impulsive decision and I hope he is able to back it up with good performances on the road ahead. As always I will have his back."

 

Two people who have seen Samay's journey of both stand-up comedy and chess at close quarters are Abhishek Upmanyu and Anirban Dasgupta. Both of them had given Samay an opportunity to open for them when he was a young and upcoming comedian. Says Upmanyu, "Samay's talent as a stand-up comedian was immense. His presence on stage, the way he would weave his jokes, instantly identifying the energy in the room, these were some of his unbelievable skills. I remember when he opened for me in one of the shows in Pune, people were so enamoured by his jokes, I myself felt a little bit underconfident! (laughs). But what about his chess? Anirban says, "I myself have been trying to get better at chess for nearly a year now and I see that Samay is a complete natural at the sport. Although his current rating is 1600, he is close to 2000 Elo in chess strength. And this is after joking on stream, managing his OBS, planning entire streams." Biswa Kalyan Rath, another famous stand-up comedian who has put in thousands of hours into chess in this pandemic doesn't find Samay's decision surprising. "Chess is a beautiful game," says Biswa. "It takes more than a lifetime to master it. I myself would have loved to take such a decision. However, I have certain other responsibilities as well. Samay being young can take this decision. I will be watching his progress with great excitement." Vaibhav Sethia, the stand-up comedian who holds the distinction for most number of online games played in the lockdown, agrees with Biswa. "I too was thinking very seriously about quitting comedy and pursuing chess", says Vaibhav, "but I decided to play it safe. I may take decision based on how things go for Samay! Let's wait and watch."

An old photo of Samay's parents

Samay's parents were also shocked by this sudden decision by their son. "But this is nothing new for Samay", they exclaimed. "He did printing engineering and we were expecting him to get a stable job, that's when he chose stand-up comedy. Now when we thought he would stabilize in comedy, he has turned to chess! With Samay, you cannot be sure of anything! True to his name, he doesn't wait for anyone!"

 

Tania Sachdev, who trained Samay for COB All Stars, and Surya Ganguly who was Samay's trainer for COB 3 have words of high praise for their ward. Surya talks about Samay's on the board skills, while Tania enlightens us about his off the board tenacity. "I worked with Samay for close to a month for COB 3 and I was thoroughly impressed with the way he worked on chess. I have worked with several GMs and IMs in my life and I can tell you that if he decides to put all his time into chess, he is very certain to become a GM. That's because his intuition is tremendous. Give him any position and he zeroes in on the right move within seconds. How does he do it without any formal training? I am very surprised." Tania Sachdev shares one of her experiences of training Samay at COB All Stars. "Before his match against Joel Dsouza, I sent Samay all my files on the Bongcloud opening. It was huge and it was already approaching midnight. Samay had had a long day and so I told him to wake up the next day and go over it. Next day when I woke up at 8 a.m. and messaged Samay, I received an instant reply saying he had finished with the entire preparation. Apparently, he had used the last 8 hours to not only go over my notes, but had also added his own analysis to the Bongcloud Opening. Now this is a student, every teacher would be proud of!

Samay's dreams

Samay knows that chess improvement is not something that would happen overnight. "Until now I have been working with IM Sagar Shah and a few other trainers. Their approach has shown decent results. It's now time to shift to Vladimir Chuchelov." The well-known chess trainer who is settled in Eupen, Belgium, will begin his training with Samay after the Candidates. Chuchelov has been the trainer of world class players like Caruana, Radjabov, Giri, Vidit, Hou Yifan. "I have worked with many young talents and made them world class GMs by the age of 23 years. The fact that Samay is 23 already is a new challenge for me and I am excited to see how quickly he can progress. We will begin with my Strategic Balance course, which is a common standard for any of my students who want to get better at chess."

Samay also hasn't travelled outside India till date. He is very excited at the possibilities of travelling abroad. A few months ago on a stream Vidit had discussed about how having Samay by his side during events could keep him in good spirits during an event. Until now we have heard of chess players having seconds who help them at chess with chess analysis and opening preparation. With Samay, Vidit Gujrathi may find a second who keeps him in great psychological shape that can help him to take his game to the next level. "Vidit and I share great chemistry", says Samay. "I want him to become a World Champion in the years to come. As they say, you are known by the company you keep. I believe being around Vidit will ensure some of his brilliant chess skills will rub off on me as well."

What does this mean to the chess world?

We have seen in the past, how Samay has contributed positively to the Indian chess community. With Chess for Charity programs he has raised over 25 lakh rupees for the waste pickers' community, and relief for West Bengal and Assam flood victims. He and his Ambani OP members have contributed Rs 2 lakh to Coach Durgesh and another 2 lakh to young talent Sreeshwan Maralakshikari's growth. With his connections to well-known and famous personalities and brands, Samay's presence in the chess world can be a huge blessing. Mama Earth, one of the brands that Samay works with regularly, is already planning to start a campaign of planting 4000 tress for every single FIDE Elo point that Samay gains. Their aim is that by the time Samay becomes a grandmaster with an Elo of 2500, the world will have 1 million trees! Newton School is also thinking very seriously about introducing chess as a subject of training and many other brands have shown interest to invest in chess because of Raina's decision. 

 

Although Samay has made a big impact in the world of chess in the last year, he is very down to earth about his achievements, "I am very happy to be associated with such a royal and positive sport. I have spent over a year with the chess community and I have found them to be immensely wonderful people. I am so excited to begin this new phase of my life! I don't know where it will lead me to? Maybe I will become a GM, maybe Vidit's second, maybe I will become a full-time streamer, maybe a chess organizer. Whatever it is chess will feature prominently in my life!"

What are your thoughts on Samay's decision of quitting stand-up comedy and becoming a full-time chess professional? Let us know in the comments section below.