Life of a young chess player
"Chess is not just a sport or a hobby for me. It has become a part of my life, my routine, my everything. When I see the 64 squares in front of me I forget everything. I do not want to stop here. I love this game, I can give my entire life to this no matter how much hard work goes into it." These are the words of Avathanshu Bhat, who writes passionately, in this artice, about his chess journey. And did we tell you his age? The boy is just eleven years old and is the youngest author ever to have written an article for the ChessBase newspage.
I never imagined that chess was going to be part of my life when my mother opened a chess board gifted by somebody to me on my fourth birthday. She knew little chess and was able to teach me how to play. But that interest didn’t last for long as most of the time we ended up in messing up the place with pieces scattered all over the house.
A chess sir who taught me in kindergarten told my parents that I was doing well in the game. He even gave me a CD for practice. My parents ignored it. They thought it was just a marketing trick. The CD went straight to scrap, and the chess pieces were back in their pack.
Bobby Fischer teaches Chess was the book that really got me interested in the game. My father had bought it for me and we would sit down and try to solve the book. I worked so intensely with the book that it lasted only for a day with all the positions worked out.
My mother enrolled me for a small chess club called Lighthouse, where I began to learn even more about this wonderful game. Around then my mom was wondering about a tournament in Mulund organised by Mr. Vaze. My coach Pushkraj advised me not to play as I was still too much of a beginner. But my mother thought that it would be a great experience.
That was when I first tasted the reality of how gruelling it was to be a chess player. Yes, the coach was right. The venue was jam-packed with kids running around, anxious parents peeping through the glass window to look at their kids’ game, the security guards trying to chase them away and the arbiters inside disciplining the kids and people struggling to secure the chairs. Nevertheless, when I got one of my first certificates for scoring 3.0/7, it was all that was needed to make my day. Maybe the passion for chess inside me was budding.
My mother was the first one to figure out my love for the game of chess and thought it would be best to put me in an academy. She soon found some good chess players going to a training centre in Thane. It was a tough decision to enroll me there as it consumed up money, time and energy. Powai (the place where I stay) to Thane is almost 18 kilometres away from my home. But my parents decided it was worth the risk and thus began our Powai-Thane-Powai ordeal.
Those classes, held under Abhijit Joshi, were great fun. I think that was when I started taking chess seriously. We used to drive all the way almost every day, and I played games under dim light, mosquitos everywhere, being so hot and sweaty, with the fans sometimes not working. But I never complained. Whether it was hot, cold, raining or I was sick or I had exams, I would always be there at 6.30 p.m. sharp. Sometimes I would go to a camp in the morning, rush home, take a small break of half an hour to one hour and then immediately rush for the evening class. I would be very tired when I came back. But still I never gave up and continued going to the Thane classes for a year and a half.
In between I played State U-7 (Aurangabad), Nationals U-7 (Pondicherry), Sangli and Jalgaon. In simple words my chess grind had just begun! Success was far from me, yet, I was not bothered about the outcome. I still cherish those memories. In fact, I remember some of the games, such as the first round of Nationals U-7 where I was up a queen for a rook and was completely winning. When my opponent threatened a back rank mate, I pushed my a-pawn instead of the 'h' and duly got checkmated! What days they were!
My parents thought we needed to take my passion further and then we found IM Sagar Shah. This was the turning point in my chess career. Unfortunately, Sagar thought that I would be too much of a beginner for his Saturday classes, though he did say I could go to Amruta Mokal (A WIM-elect, and a chess photographer), his fiancée at that point, and now his wife. Of course, in three months’ time, I was promoted to his class!
Amruta Mokal and Sagar Shah are the coolest people I know. They are not just coaches, but my family. We as a team work upon chess: we share wins, losses, miseries, victories. Staying in their house for almost six to seven hours, having lunch together, exchanging stories, cracking jokes are all the things that make the class fun.
Punctuality, right mannerism, perseverance and honesty are some of the qualities that I have learned along with chess from them. And that just winning doesn’t make you a champion, being a good human being comes as a responsibility. They took me under their wings the way I am, not bothered about my flaws.
IM Prathamesh Mokal is one more pillar supporting my strength. From Pune, he has been my mentor and nurtures my passion. A true gentleman with an impeccable language and great composure as a coach.
So in these five years journey with chess, what have I gained? No, I am not a state or a national champion. My name has not appeared in TV or newspaper. But I am proud to be what I am. I am exposed to a lot of realities in life, probably more than many of the kids of my age have had. I have travelled to many places – national and international for chess. I made new friends during my trips. I have met lot of people who have devoted themselves to chess. I have tasted the bitterness of a loss and the sweetness of a win. This beautiful game has given me an identity which we have built through all these years for me and my family.
Chess is not just a sport or a hobby for me. It has become a part of my life, my routine, my everything. Yes, I miss my father terribly when I go for tournaments (usually my mother accompanies me). I miss my school, teachers and classmates. I also sometimes miss going to the lobby to play with my friends, videogames, sleepovers and birthday parties. But when I see the 64 squares in front of me I forget everything. I do not want to stop here. I love this game; I love the people around me. I can give my entire life to this no matter how much hard work goes into it. Of course I always have a beautiful family, loving coaches and my school to support me.
I would like to pose you with a rook endgame, which was one of the best calculations I have done in my chess career till date. It is White to play and win. The answer to this position is given in the video given below. But don't click on the play button until you have calculated right until the very end.
Avathanshu Bhat vs Bharath Amale, Jalgaon 2015
I would like to end this article with a quote from one of the movies I saw a few years ago:
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think!”
- Winnie the Pooh from Winnie the Pooh movie
About the Author
Avathanshu Bhat is a 11-year-old chess player from Mumbai. Apart from being a chess fanatic, he is a voracious reader and his favourite books include Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Lord of the rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and the complete adventures of Feluda by Satyajit Ray. He loves Daniel King and enjoys his Power Play DVDs very much. He maintains his own blog.