Surrounded by the young and the old, India’s youngest national chess champion G. Akash wears a look of incredulity with a faint smile. People jostle to shake his hands and talk with him for a minute or two and the 16-year-old obliges politely. It almost seems as if the Chennai boy is yet to comprehend the level of success he has achieved at such a tender age.
For the record, Akash is now an International Master and will represent India at the World Cup. Looking back at his victorious campaign at the Tata 50th National premier chess championship, the 16-year-old says, “Getting the IM norm was my initial target at the championships and I had earned it by the time I finished the 7th round. After the 11th match (there were 13 matches in all), I was pretty confident of winning the title since the leader M. R. Venkatesh lost a point in that round.”
The 11th round was indeed the turning point of the championships and controversial too as Venkatesh was forced to concede defeat after arriving four minutes late for his match. In the next round, Akash scored a victory over him to place himself within almost touching distance of the trophy.
While this victory has suddenly catapulted him into prominence, Akash is aware that tougher tests lie ahead and is cautiously optimistic about his future. The shy Chennai boy is presently in XI standard and studies at the Jawahar Higher Secondary School. Akash began playing chess as a 10-year-old with his father and soon joined a camp at school which presented him the opportunities to participate in different competitions.
The Chennai boy played his first tournament at the T. Nagar Chess Academy and later went on to be mentored by his present coach, GM R. B. Ramesh. Ramesh has had a considerable influence on Akash and it was on his insistence that the Jawahar HSS student began to do some elliptical exercises in order to improve his concentration. However, when asked whether such preparation gives him an edge over others, Akash replies in the negative with innocent nonchalance.
Accompanied by his mother for most outstation tournaments, Akash and his parents will now face different challenges as the teenager prepares to play international tournaments. Not surprisingly, Akash idolises Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who is currently the world’s top chess player at the age of 21. The Chennai lad is conscious of the fact that from now every move of his, on and off the table, will be carefully scrutinised and says, “I know I am expected to behave responsibly in public now but I don’t think I’ll have to change much as a person.”
Apart from chess, Akash likes to play badminton and listen to rap music. The teenager also takes considerable interest in tennis since his parents are fans of the sport and rates Andy Murray as his favourite player. The Scot had to undergo a major struggle before claiming his first grand slam title earlier this year, unlike Akash. However, much needs to be done before both of them secure a permanent place for themselves in the big league.
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