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CHESS: An interview with Nihal Sarin

6/20/2017 "I had the pleasure of first meeting Nihal in Stockholm at the end of last year,"
writes John-Paul Wallace. "He looked even younger than his tender age of 12, but it was
immediately clear that he was a powerful chess player. A few days after this event I conducted a
Skype interview with Nihal. As I think you will see, he is a very humble young man and
undoubtedly he has a fantastic future ahead of him. I wish him all the best!" Interview in the June
issue of CHESS Magazine.

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Interview: Nihal Sarin


The 12-year-old Indian star journeyed straight on from the Fagernes International to the
Reykjavik Open where John-Paul Wallace caught up with him

I had the pleasure of first meeting Nihal in Stockholm at the end of last year. He looked even
younger than his tender age of 12, but it was immediately clear that he was a powerful chess
player. Recently in the Fagernes GM tournament he gained, apparently without great effort, his
first grandmaster norm.

A few days after this event I conducted a Skype interview with Nihal, who was already in
Reykjavik ready for his next event. His father, who is very friendly and relaxed, was happy to be
in the background and let Nihal do the talking I have the impression that he is able to support
his son in a very easy going manner.
As I think you will see, Nihal is a very humble young man and undoubtedly he has a fantastic
future ahead of him. I wish him all the best!

John-Paul Wallace: First of all, congratulations on your GM norm in Norway, but tell me, who
got you into chess, right at the beginning?

Nihal Sarin: I started at the age of five when my grandfather taught me chess.

Did you join a club and so develop your talent?

I had a coach Matthew Joseph but I didnt join a club; I just started playing tournaments
when I was around 7.

Presumably youve represented India in the world junior tournaments?

Yes, my first world junior was in 2013 and I have played several times since then. In 2014 I even
managed to win the Under-10 Championship!

Does that mean you still go to school or are you fully dedicated to chess?

Yes, I go to school. I dont yet have a regular routine for chess study.

And when you study, do you mostly use the computer, or a board and pieces?

Mainly books, but without the board, just reading.

Please let us know what some of your favourite books and players are!

Well, that is a difficult question! Carlsen, Aronian, Kramnik and, oh, there are many other good
players. I dont have one favourite, although there is Anand of course.

Have you met Anand?

I have seen him, but I havent talked to him yet.

I am sure you will in the future! In the UK there are lots of young kids trying to improve their
game. What advice would you give them to improve?

Well, I mainly just read books and sometimes I worked with the computer to check some
openings.

Do you have a regular coach at the moment?

During tournaments, yes Dimitry Komarov from the Ukraine. He gives me advice and plans.

And with opening prep?


Oh, yes!

Was it Komarovs idea to play this line against Postnys Semi-Slav?

Hmm. Well, I had looked at this line before. The g4 idea is interesting. I thought I got into
trouble, but luckily my queen was not getting trapped.

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Anand, Vachier Lagrave,


1.e4 782,732 54% 2422
Kramnik, Caruana
Karjakin, Aronian,
1.d4 640,023 55% 2439
Carlsen, So
So, Kramnik, Caruana,
1.Nf3 183,974 55% 2438
Giri
Giri, So, Kramnik,
1.c4 123,516 56% 2440
Piorun
1.g3 15,044 55% 2426 Vachier Lagrave
1.b3 6,643 52% 2412 Vachier Lagrave
1.f4 4,138 45% 2369
1.Nc3 2,387 48% 2383 Carlsen
1.b4 1,051 44% 2362
1.d3 437 46% 2353
1.e3 434 44% 2366
1.a3 390 47% 2376
1.c3 175 47% 2380
1.g4 108 37% 2366
1.h3 70 32% 2331
1.h4 27 44% 2313
1.a4 14 46% 2432
1.Nh3 12 58% 2357
1.f3 7 21% 2351
1.Na3 5 70% 2388

This is certainly an interesting system. I guess you know Kovalenko is playing it a lot?
With white? Yes. It can be a solid line too, if Black doesnt play ...e5 and both sides just castle.

It was a big achievement to beat Postny. Were you nervous when you were playing him?

Yes, or at least I got into time trouble very quickly.

But you managed to stay calm even when you got into time trouble?

Once I played the 40th move it was fine. It was good to make that without losing the advantage.
It was hard, the time situation was...

Putting you under pressure?

Yes.

Postny certainly plays fast. At which moment did you think that you were going to beat him?

I think after I played f4 maybe. That was a very lucky idea.

It was a great move. How, though, were you feeling earlier when your queen was on b7?

Terrible!

You thought you might be losing?

Yes, but I became a bit more confident when he tried to make a draw with ...Rb8-c8. Then I
thought I could take the draw and I was quite afraid to play on, but I didnt see a clear way to
trap the queen even after taking the third pawn on a6, which was greedy, but...

It looked too greedy?

Well, risky for both sides!

It was a good move according to the computer, but for human beings it looks really scary!

Yes, thats true.

How did you manage to get your confidence, because many people if they are playing a strong
GM rated 200 points higher than them like Postny would take the chance to take the draw. So
how did you get this confidence to fight?

Well, I got some confidence when he tried to make a draw.

You realised he was a bit worried?


Yeah, and he looked a bit worried too. And I was really happy that the queen was not getting
trapped so easily.

In the last round was it your opponent, Alon Greenfeld, that offered the draw?

Yes.

And you needed a draw to make the GM norm?

Yes, I needed a draw [said with a smile and sense of relief].

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Position not in LiveBook

I was a bit surprised he offered a draw. I thought he was going to try and win, but maybe he was
nervous playing against a talented 12-year-old?

I dont know. After the game he told me that thathe was happy to give me a draw.

Do you set yourself goals, like I want this rating by this time or I want to get this many points
in this tournament?

No, I just play.

That must take the pressure off. Does anyone give you advice, like your father or your coach, or
did you figure these things out on your own?

I dont know. I just try and play. It would be hard to play if you are thinking of ratings all the
time.

Indeed! Do you have a chance to be the youngest GM in the world?

I think I am too old already to break Karjakins record.

Just three days after Fagernes you are about to play again. Does that mean you dont get tired
being so young?
Im fine and even straight after Fagernes I was fine, because it was a good tournament. I was
very happy to have that draw in the last round; I thought I would suffer and lose, especially
seeing my knight on g1.

Yes, I was also worried about that knight! What about other tournaments do you normally get
tired or depressed after a painful defeat?

Well, for a bit of time maybe.

A couple of hours or a couple of days? Sometimes it takes me a couple of weeks!

I think I take some minutes...

Now I am jealous and my wife, Astrid, is laughing, because she knows if I lose a painful game
maybe I am suffering for two weeks.

Well, I have lost some games as well. Against Kovalenko I nearly made a draw, but blundered
and lost after a long fight. Then I was clearly depressed.

Those situations are certainly tough.

Also against Naiditsch I maybe had a draw, but blundered again. OK, I missed a nice tactic, but
somehow I did not get too depressed.

Are you a strong blitz player as well?

I dont know. I have not played many blitz tournaments.

Many thanks. Ill be cheering you on in Reykjavik and and your future tournaments!

The one thing that had me puzzled after this interview was: how is this youngster so good? It
seems like he hardly studies chess! On the other hand, looking in the database Nihal played 67
games in 2016, which is more like eight international events per year, a reasonable amount, if far
less than Magnus played at around the same age. [Note: If investigated slightly deeper, many of
the tournament games were not recorded, so the number stands at approx. 100 games]. However,
like Magnus, Nihal appears to be very much a natural talent who is able to improve through
casual study. He is certainly a name to very much keep an eye on!

The above interview was reproduced from Chess Magazine June/2017, with kind permission.
CHESS Magazine was established in 1935 by B.H. Wood who ran it for over fifty years. It is
published each month by the London Chess Centre and is edited by IM Richard Palliser and Matt
Read. The Executive Editor is Malcolm Pein, who organises the London Chess Classic.
CHESS is mailed to subscribers in over 50 countries. You can subscribe from Europe and Asia at
a specially discounted rate for first timers here, or from North America here.

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