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Chess: An Indian origin Australian International Master on his journey since switching federations

Chess: An Indian origin Australian International Master on his journey since switching federations

Devanshi Rathi

Published: 3 March 2019 4:28 AM GMT
Rishi Sardana is an International Master who recently clinched the notable IIFL Wealth Mumbai International Grandmasters Chess Tournament. He did remarkably well, racing ahead of many other superior Grandmasters, and secured a superb victory. Although he has Australian citizenship, the master is based out of New Delhi and currently studies at the prestigious Sri Ram College of Commerce. In this interview, we delve deeper into his fine victory and his training regimes along with a bunch of other exciting information for aspiring chess players. So, now, on to the questions.
  1.   Congrats on your victory at the IIFLW Mumbai Chess International. How do you feel?
Thank you so much! It feels surreal, and it’s given me a much needed surge of confidence after a bout of shaky and inconsistent performances in the past few months. What made this more special was that I finally achieved my first GM norm after a few frustrating misses. Overall, the perfect start to 2019.
  1.   Tell us more about the tournament. Did you think that you would win it before going into the event? How did you prepare before and during the championship? Did you have anyone help you in the preparations?
I started out seeded 30th in an extremely unforgiving field of strong grandmasters and ambitious, hungry youngsters. Winning the tournament seemed like a long shot before the event, and it didn’t seem clear until the very end that I’d come out on top. Before the event I had limited time to prepare so my primary agenda was to iron out a few specific and recurring weaknesses from my last couple of tournaments, and to make sure my calculations were sufficiently quick and accurate. I wasn’t really working with anyone prior to the event, but I had a few very good books catching some dust on the bookshelf, so I decided that it was time to put them to good use. I did some fascinating positions from books like
Perfect Your Chess, Domination in 2454 endgames
, and a few databases that I had on my laptop. The difference was fairly visible, and I was able to stretch my imagination and go deeper into positions in a manner that I couldn’t do in the tournaments prior to Mumbai. 3.I think we saw you in an Indian GM Open after a short break. Can you tell us why you chose to play the IIFL Wealth and the Delhi Open tournaments? What are your next events and how do you plan what tournaments to participate in? I’d been hearing great things about the IIFL tournament since the past couple of years but somehow never really got the chance to play. A few striking features of this edition that drew me to it were the rating cutoff, which most organizers seem to be doing away with lately, and the single round per day schedule, another rarity in Indian events. The organizers knew exactly what the players wanted, and needless to say they delivered. As far as Delhi is concerned, it’s always been a notch above other Indian events in terms of the strength of the playing field (with its massive, hard to ignore prize fund), and it’s great fun playing there. As I’m currently based out of Delhi, it made it all the more convenient for me to play. My tournament choices are usually based on my general availability, the relative strength of the event, and, of course, the location along with the playing conditions. In the coming months, I’ll probably play Dubai and Sharjah, two extremely strong connecting Swiss events, known to be great hunting grounds for norms.
  1. Currently, you’re an Indian origin but Australian International Master. Can you tell us this story? How did you get into the game, change federations, and if you would play for Australia in the prestigious team events?
I was born in Australia to Indian parents, and spent the first few years of my life and schooling over there. We all came back to India in around 2006, and a couple of years later I discovered chess at school. I wasn’t too fascinated to begin with and was more of an outdoor kid. As a matter of fact, I distinctly remember being very restless in my first class at a local chess club.  However, after spending a few weeks over there, I started to get the hang of things, and there was no turning back from there. Initially, it was my competitive streak and the sensation of victory that attracted me towards the game, though eventually my appreciation for the game and its wealth of ideas grew, thanks to some amazing guidance. The change in federations happened in around 2012 due to certain regulations disallowing foreign nationals from representing India in events such as World Youth, World junior etc.  The Australian federation has been amazingly supportive and helpful, and it would be an honor to represent them in various team events, given the opportunity to do so.
  1. You’re also a student at the well known Sri Ram College of Commerce. How has your experience been as a student and an international player? How do you balance both these activities? How is the chess culture at your university, one has heard about some fine players representing this college.
Sri Ram is an extremely vibrant place, and my experience as a student has been fascinating. It has some of the brightest, and most talented people in the country, academically or otherwise. Chess is no exception to that, and our college has always been known to have a super strong chess team, which does consistently well at Inter college events. The balancing act of college and competitive chess is by no means easy. The course that I’m doing (economics) does require due time and attention. However, the university and its faculty have always been fairly conducive towards sports in general, so that has made things easier.
  1. What are your most recent goals, and how are you working towards achieving them?
My most immediate goal is to become a Grandmaster as soon as possible. It’s something that’s kind of been looming over my head since a fairly long time, and it would be good to get that out of the way. I do strongly believe that these things come automatically as long as you enjoy the process and keep working on your practical strength, so that’s what I plan to continue doing.
  1. What advice would you give to other players who also aim to improve at chess if not win the biggest tournaments?
Nowadays, the ability to be versatile, switch gears and surprise the opponent is becoming extremely important for anybody who wants to go a long way.  My advice would be to explore and experiment as a player, because chess has a lot to offer that way. The amount of ideas and patterns one can pick up just by playing different kinds of positions helps in becoming a more complete player.
  1. Can you take us through some of your most favorite moments from your career until now?
I’ve had several memorable moments as a chess player, and jumping from one milestone to the next has been an extremely gratifying process. A few of several things that spring to my mind are my first victory against a grandmaster, winning a silver medal at Nationals and completing my IM title. However, getting my maiden GM norm at the IIFL from Vishy Anand himself undoubtedly takes the cake when it comes to memorable moments.
  1. What do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies that you pursue?
I really enjoy good music, and I’m a vocalist at the music club in college. Apart from that, I always enjoy a good book or a game of football, whenever I get the time.
  1. You have recently been picked to play in the Delhi Dynamite team from the PRO Chess League. What are your ideas on this league and the team? How do you feel on playing with/against some of the strongest GMs in the world as a part of this league?
I think this league is an amazing concept, which has opened up a whole new plethora of possibilities for chess players and the growth of chess in general. The format is interesting, more spectator friendly, and it seems like a lot of fun. More importantly, it’s broken down the dividing wall between the chess elite of 2750+, who typically confine themselves to round robin super tournaments, and the rest of the chess world. Personally, I’m extremely excited to be a part of this and play alongside and against the best in the business, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to represent.
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