Wunderkind who wants to beat Carlsen
From the outside, Nivaan Khandadia is just like another six-year-old child.
It's a monumental task for his parents to keep him stationed at one place while he runs around in an open space. Even after the enormous challenge is met thanks to a couple of stern words, Nivaan turns upside down on his couch, pulls his father's shoulder as he gets restless during the course of a conversation in an empty cafe. But somewhere in between all of that, Nivaan finds the time and the place to slip away. It isn't until a couple of minutes that everyone realises his absence. He is spotted soon, sitting quietly on an empty couch in another corner, eyes firmly placed on a tablet.
Must be watching a cartoon, right? Or entertaining himself with a game of Angry Birds, maybe?
Nay, Nivaan is playing chess.
From a fidgety boy who'd even put batsman Steve Smith to shame, Nivaan almost transforms himself into a monk deep into his meditation process.
That, in a nutshell, is the fascinating tale of Nivaan, a six-year-old wunderkind who became the youngest rated chess player in India when the latest FIDE rating list was released by the World Chess Federation on May 1.
With a rating of 1137 Elo points, the Pune boy is ranked 10th in the world in his age group. Nivaan was the youngest Indian to take part in the recently-concluded World School Chess Championship in Albania, where he scored four points in nine rounds in the U-7 category.
The senior KG student of Vibgyor High School in Pune might be too young to understand the meaning and context of the phrase, but chess is Nivaan's calling.
A calling that began at the age of four-and-a-half, when his father Rathin — himself a chess buff — asked Nivaan to play a game with him after seeing his son getting bored of playing all other board games at home.
Nivaan took to the game like fish to water, and a couple of days later, beat his father sitting across the board.
"Over the next 10-15 days, the sport really grew on him, and chess became his passion," Rathin recalls. "Since then, everything became chess for him. From the time he woke up till the time he went to bed, he would want to play chess."
Rathin then enrolled his son into a few local tournaments in Pune, where Nivaan showed plenty of promise.
However, the Eureka moment came in a national tournament in Sangli last year, when his father realised chess was something more for Nivaan than just a hobby.
"He was playing in Sangli last September, where he was five-and-a-half. He was competing with a nine-year-old, and that game went to a theoretical draw after a battle of almost three hours. Many coaches left their pupils' matches to come and see what was happening there, how a five-and-a-half year old was giving a nine-year-old a run for his money," Rathin says.
"That's when we realised that there's something different about him, and from thereon, we decided to not treat chess as a hobby for him anymore," he adds.
One of the coaches present in Sangli was Nagesh Guttula, CEO of the South Mumbai Chess Academy, which has now taken Nivaan under its wings.
"After that tournament, I went to his house to play a game of chess with him. I was really impressed with the patience and temperament he showed for a boy of his age. I knew this kid was special. He is a different child," Guttula says.
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