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Soundarya Pradhan creates history by winning Silver at World Juniors 2018

by Sagar Shah - 02/09/2018

The Indian blind and visually impaired chess is on the rise. Odisha's Soundarya Kumar Pradhan won the silver medal at the World Juniors for the blind 2018 that was held at Solec Zdroj from 14th to the 23rd of August 2018. The boy from Odisha created history in Indian blind chess by finishing second. From a small village in Boden, Soundarya has come a long way to become one of the strongest visually impaired juniors in the world. Aryan Joshi had a fine event and scored 5.5/9 to finish sixth. In this article, Sagar Shah, the coach of the team, tells you the success story. Read on and be inspired.

Soundarya Pradhan with the silver medal around his neck, the trophy in his hand the Indian flag behind him! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The above picture captured by Amruta Mokal at the end of the World Juniors 2018 in Solec Zdroj, Poland, can bring a sense of pride in just about any Indian who sees the image. 100% visually challenged Soundarya Pradhan won the silver medal at the World Junior Championship for the blind 2018, thereby creating history. Darpan Inani had won the bronze medal in 2013. Soundarya bettered it with the silver and became only the second Indian player in the history of World Junior visually challenged chess to have won a medal for India. Soundarya scored 7.0/9 and made a strong finish by scoring three points in the last three rounds.

Final rankings after round 9:

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4  TB5 RpKrtg+/-
CZAJKOWSKI AdamPOL22327,544,548,560,03197920-8,4
SOUNDARYA Kumar PradhanIND18087,044,548,560,0219292029,2
CMEICHSTAEDT MirkoGER21906,544,546,550,03184320-25,8
ERMAKOV MaksimRUS15836,045,045,060,0318234092,4
MITROVIC StefanSRB16595,546,551,050,0118192029,0
ARYAN B JoshiIND16235,545,047,540,0217444047,2
SPIONKOWSKI FabianPOL12795,037,039,050,0215854097,6
DIAZ DE LA GUIA LuisESP17185,037,039,040,02159020-21,8
GARANIN DanilRUS15654,539,039,040,02150520-13,0
JOHANSSON William 2007SWE14484,538,038,040,0315884044,4
MENDEZ MANTURANO Miguel EduardoESP17744,537,537,540,02145920-44,4
JOHANSSON Tage 2001SWE17294,537,537,540,02152740-77,2
STASKEVICIUTE DarijaLTU14794,043,045,540,031576406,0
TARANENKO PolinaRUS14054,030,030,040,021411400,0
AMBROSINO TheoFRA12973,034,034,030,021356405,6
PERGAR LovroCRO14832,034,534,520,02123740-122,4
TRYJANSKA EmiliaPOL10452,032,532,520,0113134016,8
ATTERBERG DavidSWE00,033,535,500,00681

The gold medal was won Adam Czajkowski, silver by Soundarya Pradhan and bronze by Mirko Eichstaedt | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Soundarya receives the silver medal from IBCA Secretary Christine Beutelhoff | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A proud moment for Indian chess - the silver medalist Soundarya Pradhan receives his trophy from the IBCA President Charudatta Jadhav | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Soundarya lifts his trophy on his shoulders! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The road to the silver medal:

We covered Soundarya's results until the fifth round in the previous report. The Indian was on 3.5/5. In the sixth round he drew his game against Stefan Mitrovic. On 4.0/6, things didn't look so bright for Soundarya. The leader of the tournament Mirko Eichstaedt (2190) was on 5.0/6, a full one point ahead of him. But Soundarya had the opportunity to change the standings as he was the one playing against Mirko. We prepared for the game seriously, but more than the chess moves it was the mental strength that helped Soundarya win the game. Even before the game began he was confident that he could beat his opponent who was rated nearly 400 points above him. "I have beaten him before and I see no reason why I cannot beat him again." Soundarya went to the board and played one of the finest games of his chess career.

Soundarya explains his win over Mirko Eichstaedt and how watching games of Petrosian helped him before the game!

Soundarya's eighth round victory was pretty easy. He just played normal chess and beat his younger opponent. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The ninth and the all crucial round. A win would most probably ensure the silver medal for Soundarya. He was on 6.0/8. Adam Czajkowski was on 6.5/8 and the chances of him losing were pretty low against Tage Johansson (1729). Mirko Eichstaedt was also on 6.0/8, but his tiebreak was worse than Soundarya's.

The last round handshake between Daniil Garanin from Russia (white) and Soundarya Pradhan

Health wise Soundarya was already not feeling so great. But he is a fighter. He takes every situation as a learning experience. "If I can play well when my health is not good, then I would be able to improve my level of play!" was his approach. Soundarya was jittery in the last game and this was seen in his play. He was completely better out of the opening, but then botched it up with some poor moves. Garanin returned the favour and Soundarya won his game!

Soundarya won his game, scored 7.0/9. Adam Czajkowski also won his game and took home the gold medal. Mirko Eichstaedt drew his last round and with 6.5/9 had to settle for bronze. Soundarya took home silver which was a wonderful achievement by the young boy. I would like to bring to your attention a small incident that happened at the start of the last round.

That's IM Yuri Meshkov from Russia helping Soundarya with the ear phone for the clock | Photo: Sagar Shah

Soundarya was playing a Russian player in the last round. When the braille clock was setup it was found that Soundarya didn't have the ear phones to listen to the time on the clock. I rushed to the room to bring the ear phones. When I returned I saw the scene in the above picture. The coach of the Russian team, the legendary visually impaired player IM Yuri Meshkov was also searching for ear phones for Soundarya and had found it before me. He was untangling the wire and then gave it to Soundarya. That's the level of camaraderie and helpful attitude that blind players have towards each other. Yes, Yuri was from Russia and his student was playing Soundarya. But they all considered themselves friends of each other. They all help each other and in the true sense I saw the words of FIDE's motto being practiced: Gens Una Sumus (We are one Family). 

The closing ceremony of the World Juniors 2018 for the blind and visually impaired

From a boy who hailed from a small village of Boden, Soundarya travelled to Poland and won the silver medal for his country. As a youngster Soundarya used to hear the sound of an airplane going over his house and would think to himself, when would the day come when he could travel in one himself. Soundarya and his brother Prachurya are the perfect examples that in this age of information technology anything is possible. In spite of both of them being 100% blind, they have achieved so much. Soundarya has an Elo of around 1850 now. He cracked the extremely difficult examination to get into NIT and is now studying computer science in Jamshedpur. Prachurya has an Elo of 1653 and has passed the IPCC examination for Chartered Accountancy! He is an excellent writer and has written articles for ChessBase India in the past. Think about it - both of them come from a village that had no internet connection. It was because of them that internet was brought in the village. The boys used Skype and other applications to interact with people all over the world and polished not only their chess skills, but also English speaking, physics, computer science, accountancy and much more! It's a tale of inspiration and the parents and family deserve the biggest of congratulations.

The Pradhan family - Soundarya, Prachurya (right) and their parents | Photo: Sagar Shah
Soundarya's interview after the tournament ended

The perfect attitude of Aryan Joshi:

The above interview (after Soundarya won the silver medal) was conducted by Aryan Joshi who was Soundarya's competitor at the tournament. In fact Aryan played quite well and finished sixth. He also beat Soundarya in the second round and everyone thought it would be the boy from Mumbai who would come back with the medal. It was not to be. Aryan lost steam in the second half of the tournament and missed the podium. But what was truly inspiring was the way in which he conducted himself. He was the happiest person when his friend and room mate won the silver medal. Aryan helped Soundarya during the event, motivated him and even interviewed him after the tournament was over. This showed what a great attitude the lad had. No jealousy. No feeling of being left out. With a positive attitude like this, it goes without saying that Aryan will progress in a big way.

Soundarya and Aryan enjoying an analysis session. Aryan is not 100% blind, but in bright light he cannot see a thing! That explains why he has placed a hand over his eyes and is trying hard to think blindfold. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

When Soundarya finished his last round game and won it against Daniil Garanin, Aryan rushed to the playing hall and accompanied Soundarya with a big smile on his face! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

When Soundarya was going to get the medal, Aryan escorted him by clapping and feeling proud that his fellow Indian had achieved truly special. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

From all the years I have been in the world of chess, I have realized one important thing - attitude comes first and later the skills. Aryan skills as a chess player are not in doubt. He is a strong player and has to weed out some of his chess related weaknesses. But thanks to his positive approach and attitude, I have no doubt that the boy will go a long way in his chess career.

Aryan with his sixth place certificate | Photo: Amruta Mokal

My experience as a coach:

I started working with the blind players of India from February 2018 onwards. Six months later Soundarya won the silver medal at the World Junior Championship for the blind. This is not an achievement from my end. The boys were already very talented. They played good chess and they all had their strengths. A lot of strong coaches had worked hard with them in the past. My task was to ensure that they do not commit the same mistakes again and again. I tried to infuse them with confidence and making sure that they would fight hard and give their best in each and every game. "It doesn't matter if you are fighting for the top spot or playing on the last board, all that you have to do is keep making the best moves", was one of my quotes that I kept repeating all the time.


I am not a full-fledged trainer and I do not have any intentions to become one. I worked with the blind team because I truly believed that they needed someone to make sure that their talent is not wasted. Darpan Inani (I have yet to work with him), Kishan Gangolli, Soundarya Pradhan, Aryan Joshi, Ashvin Makwana, K. Marimuthu, Subhendu Kumar Patra, Yudhajeet De and a few others are some of the biggest talents of Indian blind chess. They are young, they are talented and they are capable. If we help them now, I am sure that if we help them now by giving them more opportunities we will be able to create IMs and GMs in the next five years.

Enjoying in the Jacuzzi with Soundarya and Aryan after a job well done! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Enjoying a walk through the forest on the rest day | Photo: Amruta Mokal

For me their company reminds me of the maxim - "Impossible is nothing!" | Photo: Amruta Mokal

This success at the World Juniors would not have been possible without the following people and organizations:

1. AICFB - The All India Chess Federation for the Blind. This organization has worked tremendously hard over two decades now to bring order and structure to blind chess in India. From Charudatta Jadhav being the first rated blind player of India, the country now has over 200 rated blind players! Secretary Manish Thool, Treasurer Swapnil Shah work hard each day without any personal gain or benefit to make sure that blind chess prospers in the country.

2. All the people who contributed towards making National Premier 2018 happen. There was a crowd funding where ChessBase India collected nearly five lakh seventy five thousand rupees. We thank all the donors.

3. Dibyendu Barua and the team at Kolkata Open 2018 for not only giving them free entry but also accommodation and all the care that was required for them to focus on the event.

4. Sekhar Sahu and the team at KIIT Open 2018 in Bhubaneshwar for giving concessional entry and accommodation.

5. Vishy Anand for meeting the players before they left for Bulgaria, Vidit Gujrathi for being the ambassador of AICFB, and B. Adhiban for spending an hour teaching the intricacies of King's Indian Opening to the blind players. There are many other players like Prithu Gupta, Vedant Panesar, Raahil Mullick who spent time with the blind players in teaching them or playing practice games. A special mention must be made about Jaspreet Singh who has recorded 300 positions of chess tactics from scratch which was helpful for the training of the blind players.

Of course, I cannot thank enough the role of my wife and co-founder of ChessBase India Amruta Mokal, who has supported the blind chess in many ways. So many ways that it cannot be jotted down here! Majorly she ensured that all other work was taken care off so that I could focus on my training with the players.

I hope to continue my work with the Indian blind chess in the days to come, but I request you to join me in this endeavour and try your best to provide opportunities to these players in whatever way you can so that they keep progressing.

Women's World Championship:

Top three places at the Women's World Championship 2018 that was being simultaneously held along with the World Junior Championships was won by Lisenko Zsiltzova (centre), silver went to Teresa Debowska (right) and bronze for Anna Starcyzk (left)

Zsiltzova is a legend in blind chess. This was her sixth World Championship in all. And look at the way she won the title. She scored 8.5/9 and finished one and a half point ahead of the rest. It was a great success for the first Women's World Champion Teresa Debowska, who won the silver and the young Anna Stolarczyk scored 6.0/9 and took the third spot.

Rankings after round 9

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4  TB5 
WIMZsiltzova-Lisenko LubovUKR22078,543,547,080,04
FMDebowska TeresaPOL17607,045,046,060,04
WCMStolarczyk AnnaPOL19876,046,049,540,02
Chernichenko OlgaUKR19126,045,549,540,02
Karhati TatiINA05,546,049,040,02
Sanchez Ruiz Piedad EsmeraldaESP16875,044,048,040,01
Karsokaite IrenaLTU15415,041,542,540,01
Ariesta DebiINA05,040,544,530,02
Brahmana Aisah Wijayanti PutriINA05,039,543,030,01
Chernavskaia AlinaUKR05,037,541,010,00
Zarubinskaya IrinaUKR18184,546,049,040,02
Benkunskiene VioletaLTU15344,542,544,010,01
WCMValner ShafigaRUS16904,537,541,020,02
Perszewska KrystynaPOL14524,535,036,510,00
Malcer JoannaPOL15564,534,037,010,00
Jakimczuk AlicjaPOL13034,533,534,540,01
Lago Carballo CarmenESP13114,531,032,020,02
Kruk ClementineFRA13804,037,540,530,01
Spychala JosefaPOL14214,036,037,530,01
Horbalova IvanaSVK13434,034,035,020,01
Puspita TitaINA04,027,028,020,02
Golebiowska-Fryga BarbaraPOL13103,529,530,520,00
Mork KristinaSWE02,031,032,010,00
Sjoblom ElviraSWE01,534,536,000,00

Przemyslaw Warszewski, the tournament director and the Cross organization did a tremendous job in organizing the event. Their attention to detail can be seen from the fact that all the players were given lunch boxes on the night that they left for the next day when they would be travelling.

Video interviews with the winners:

Interview with the gold medal winner in Juniors Adam Czajkowski
Soundarya Pradhan shows his last round victory over Daniil Garanin that helped him win the silver medal
Interview with bronze medal winner Mirko Eichstaedt
Interview with Teresa Debowska, the first Women's World Champion and also the silver medallist at the event
Bronze medal winner Anna Stolarczyk speaks to ChessBase India

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