I started playing chess when I was six years old. I was hyperactive and wouldn’t let my siblings study. So discovering the chessboard, I found it intriguing and asked my father to teach me the game. My parents were happy that I had found something to keep me busy. I started playing tournaments at age 8, but didn’t take it seriously till I was about 13. I had other hobbies too, but I soon became competitive about chess. Once I won the Asian junior championship at 15, there was no looking back.
Playing professional chess is a full-time job. With the internet, chess has become really advanced with newer strategies and attacks. So when I’m not training, I analyse the games of other top players, and watch videos of old matches. I also keep updating my openings, which is important to make a mark. At the moment, I admire Bobby Fischer among the older lot of players, and Magnus Carlsen among the young generation.
I’m not a morning person, so I wake up a little late and practice for about 2-3 hours on most days. Practice stretches to 6-7 hours when I’m playing a tournament. To keep my focus, I try to gym for a while before playing. I like to run to keep fit. When I’m letting off steam, I love reading, listening to music, watching movies and eating out.
My next big move is to make it to the Grandmaster league. For that, I need 80 more points. To do well in chess, you must have a deep love for the game. You can only reach the top if you enjoy it. And having a good memory goes a long way, because when you’re playing a match, you have only that much time to make your move. Parents also have a big role to play in whether you make a success of it—they help you to stay focused. If you decide to play professionally, you have to have a one-track mind.
Chess has changed a lot since I started out. When I started playing, most tournaments happened down south. I had to travel a lot for tournaments. In my school in Delhi, there were just 2-3 chess players. But now people realise there’s so much more than cricket in India. North India too has many tournaments now. Mothers come up to me at prize distribution events to say they got their girls into chess inspired by me. That feels good. Plus, with PCs and internet, kids are working much harder. They are training for the GM league at age 8-9 now. Your game has to be much stronger than 10 years ago. People are taking chess much more seriously and there are many upcoming, talented players in India. There’s more financial help too, with many corporates sponsoring tournaments.