Meet Mumbai's seven-year-old chess wizard Jaivardhan Raj

Dec 09, 2018, 08:50 IST | Anju Maskeri

Mumbai's seven-year-old chess wizard Jaivardhan Raj on uttering chess moves in his sleep and why he likes 'strategising' and being in control of the board

Meet Mumbai's seven-year-old chess wizard Jaivardhan Raj
Jaivardhan Raj with mother

It's past sunset and seven-year-old Jaivardhan Raj is already groggy. He speaks in a slow drawl, ponders on each question, and provides answers that are on point. That he is exceptionally smart is something we realise within minutes of the conversation, which is peppered with terms such as "strategising", "inaccuracy" and "forfeit".

"He even utters chess moves in his sleep," laughs mother Anubha. Initially, it scared the daylights out of her, admits the Juhu resident. "Frankly, we have never pressured him into playing the game or winning. On the contrary, we tell him, 'Arre, ab bas kar. Take a break, and let's go on a vacation,' but he refuses to do so because he doesn't want to miss out on his chess coaching. It's pure passion," she says.

Raj is the current number one Indian chess player in the U-7 category and ranks seventh in Asia. He has won gold at all four Maharasthra chess tournaments — classical, rapid, blitz, schools — from 2017-18. He also recently bagged a silver at the National Chess Championship 2018, and will now officially represent India at all international tournaments.

Jaivardhan Raj. Pic/Sameer Markande
Jaivardhan Raj. Pic/Sameer Markande

But, he recently lost to an Uzbek kid from at the Western Asian Chess Tournament. For someone perpetually on a winning streak, what does it feel like to lose, we ask. "I feel a little bad," says Raj, who learnt the game as part of his hobby class in Juhu. It was one of the many activities that his parents had signed him up for to compensate for their "no gadget" policy. An intense child, in his mother's words, it's possibly this trait that made him take a shine to chess,
she feels.

Raj's day usually begins at 6 am, and is followed by yoga and strength training thrice a week. While he does play some amount of football, he has never been into outdoor sports. "I don't like to run, but I like to cycle," he says. What he enjoys about chess is the process of "devising a strategy and being in control of the board". His role models include the late Russian genius Mikhail Tal, who was nicknamed the "Magician from Riga" and American chess grandmaster Robert James Fischer.

For Raj, putting up a good fight against competent players entails hours of hard work, and a good amount of sacrifice. The family admits they haven't been on a holiday in a long time due to his choc-o-bloc tournaments. While on tournaments, the series can extend for days. "It requires tremendous patience, because a single game can go up to five hours. It's exhausting," she says. But what drives him, she says, are the trophies. "When nobody is looking, he will sit quietly rearrange them, and on weekends, he sits and religiously cleans them," she laughs.

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