Nihal Sarin from Thrissur, Kerala started playing chess when he was just six years old. His grandfather had taught him the basic concepts and, a year later, Nihil mastered chess and won the U-25 tournament that took place in Thrissur.
Now 13 years old, Nihal has a series of citations to his name - second youngest International Master (IM) from India, third youngest IM in the world, world's best U-14 player, and world second in U-18. Talking about how he was coached, Nihal's first coach EP Nirmal told Scroll,
I wanted to coach him differently. I didn’t want to be the kind of guy who drills children in opening theory to show the parents that their child is learning something. Nihal’s parents were supportive, they wanted him to have fun and that helped a lot but after getting the basic concepts sorted, I started getting Nihal to play on the internet.
Nihal tried his hand at a few sports unsuccessfully, before he started with chess. Within a short time after taking up chess, he showed a natural flair for the game. So it was hardly surprising to his parents, as even as a child, Nihal was interested in learning and remembering things without being asked to, one of the traits of chess masters in general. For instance, he could recall the names and flags of 190 countries when he was just three.
When Nihal started attending formal coaching classes for chess, he would stay in the class much longer than other kids. In the past four years, he has played around 11,000 games of chess online.
What makes Nihal stand apart is that he is a quick learner who learns from his past mistakes. He was one of the youngest participants in the World Youth Chess Olympiad that took place in December 2017. Apart from helping the Indian team to become a runner-up, he also won a gold medal in the game. Talking about his experience to Sportstar, he said,
It felt great to win the individual medal, which came as a complete surprise. This was my first ever team championship and it was a nice experience. I met some strong players. I am glad that I could contribute to my team's victory.
Every chess player needs three International Master Norms to win the Grandmaster title; Nihal has won all three and is on the way to becoming a Grandmaster.
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