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Ashwath Kaushik: The eight-year-old chess wizard who upset Polish Grandmaster Jacek Stopa to script history

The grade three student, who moved from India to Singapore in 2017, became the youngest-ever chess player to defeat a Grandmaster in an established game. The schoolboy spends hours solving puzzles to gain valuable insights and achieve success in the competitive game

Published: Feb 22, 2024 11:21:40 AM IST
Updated: Feb 22, 2024 12:55:50 PM IST

Ashwath Kaushik: The eight-year-old chess wizard who upset Polish Grandmaster Jacek Stopa to script historyAshwath Kaushik became the youngest-ever chess player to defeat a Grandmaster in an established game. Image: Singapore Chess Federation/Family Album

From sucking on his favourite Juicy Drop candy which significantly led to a drop in his energy to playing chess for hours, Ashwath Kaushik learnt the hard way on how to become a classical chess sensation. On Sunday, the eight-year-old made history by becoming the youngest-ever chess player to defeat a Grandmaster in an established game.

While many eight-year-olds are still developing their cognitive abilities, Kaushik has already shown a remarkable aptitude for the taxing game without batting an eyelid by competing against players with high FIDE ratings. His latest achievement has taken the world by surprise.

After a gruelling three-hour match at the Burgdorfer Stadthaus-Open in Switzerland, Kaushik, a student in grade three, could not contain his happiness when he informed his mother Rohini Ramachandran that he had defeated Polish Grandmaster Jacek Stopa, 37.

Kevin Goh, CEO of the Singapore Chess Federation and a Grandmaster in Singapore, praised Kaushik, who is currently number 37,338 in the world on FIDE, the international chess federation. “A lot of stars need to be aligned. Dad is super supportive, boy is dedicated, school allows flexibility and, of course, he has natural talent. It remains to be seen how far he can go as interests can change as the boy gets older. Still, we are hopeful,” Goh said. “He needs a booster cushion to reach the other side of the board.”  

Kaushik, an Indian national who moved to Singapore with his family in 2017, is a global representative of the Republic. After defeating the player holding the highest chess title, Kaushik, who is eight years, six months, and 11 days old, now claims the top position on the unofficial list of youngest chess players.

Interestingly, just a few days before Kaushik’s accomplishment, Leonid Ivanovic set the previous record by beating Bulgarian Milko Popchev at the age of eight years, 11 months, and seven days.

Excitement filled Kaushik as he anticipated the opportunity to break Leonid's record when he learnt that he would be competing against a Grandmaster at the event scheduled between February 16 and 18.

"It's always an incredible feeling to beat the world's best in the business," says Kaushik, a student at Overseas Family School in Pasir Ris.

Interestingly, before facing Stopa, he had won his opening three games in the competition. "It's a classical contest, and I am very happy about the results," he adds. The intensity of the game grew as the two players exchanged words early on, and on the 13th move, Stopa offered a draw. However, Kaushik declined and, as the game neared its end, he capitalised on a mistake made by Stopa to secure the greatest victory of his young career.

Despite their elation, Kaushik and his family had little time to savour the victory as he had another match to play soon after. "We had a brief celebration after the game, but he had to immediately concentrate, so we didn't have much time,” says Rohini.

Kaushik was defeated by 23-year-old Englishman Harry Grieve in a recent match. Grieve had clinched the British Chess Championship in 2022. Kaushik finished the tournament in 12th place after being seeded 59th among 127 participants. The tourney was won by Germany’s Vitaly Kunin, who was awarded the title of Grandmaster in 2006 by FIDE.

Despite this setback, his family remains supportive and optimistic. "We will celebrate with the entire family once we return home," says Rohini, highlighting their strong bond.

Alongside his father, Kaushik's mother also played a crucial role in providing unwavering support as he pursued his chess aspirations.

Kaushik’s dedication to chess is evident as he spends two hours practising on weekdays, and six to seven hours on weekends, as confirmed by his father Sriram. "[It's] one of the proudest moments of my life," says Sriram. "Special thanks to Ashwath's true pillars and his long-term, and often long-suffering coaches who have put up with him for many years through thick and thin." He adds: “Puzzle solving certainly (is) at the core of his board success as well."  

"In October, I was asked if I could take on a promising young kid as a student. I helped the father get in touch with the excellent trainer GM Stany. Now the kid has broken the record for being the youngest ever to beat a Grandmaster in a classical game. Very proud of Tricky Stany from Trickystan," Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard said highly of Kaushik.

Also read: Explained: Gukesh topples Anand as top Indian chess player

Introduced to the game at the young age of four by his parents, Kaushik quickly surpassed their skills and even outplayed his grandparents. Recognising his unique thinking style, they enrolled him in chess lessons to further enhance his understanding of opening moves and tactics.

Kaushik’s family attests to his commitment to the game, with him playing for up to six hours at a stretch, posing a challenge to opponents of all ages. His recent victory over Stopa has garnered recognition and praise not only within his family but also in India—a country seen as a chess powerhouse.

“Ashwath's journey in chess is a testament to his dedication, skill and strategic thinking, making him a formidable opponent on the board in this demanding sport,” says Muhammad Umar, a chess lover.

In 2022, Kaushik won three gold medals at the Eastern Asian Youth Championship's Under-8 division at the age of six. He also showcased his talent by competing in the World Cadets Rapid Championships in Greece in 2021.

During a discussion with the Singapore media last year, Kaushik expressed his ambition to attain the title of Candidate Master, with the ultimate goal of becoming a Super Grandmaster. "The goal is to get to a 2,000+ ELO rating soon to get my Candidate Master title. And then become a Super Grandmaster (2,700+ rating) by playing attacking chess," he said.
Recently, he asserted that one of his chess objectives is to become a “world champion”. And he is also keen on introducing his four-year-old brother Atharv to the game.

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