The Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis has partnered with the Kasparov Chess Foundation on a five-year grant program to help develop chess prodigies from across the United States. Normally five young talents are invited for a two-day evaluation session with Garry Kasparov. How does that feel? We ask Akshat Chandra, who was one of the candidates.
It was a bitterly chilly December morning as I headed down the streets of New York City. The gray, opaque clouds were staring down, and the whistling wind was incessantly slashing across my face. But I was still in high spirits, as I was headed to a chess evaluation session conducted by Garry Kasparov, the 13th World Champion and one of the greatest players of all time. This evaluation session is part of the “Young Stars – Team USA” program, sponsored by the Kasparov Chess Foundation (KCF) and the Chess Club & Scholastic Center of Saint Louis (CCSCSL) since 2012. A group of young and promising chess players are assessed and evaluated by Garry himself, along with KCF President and FIDE Senior Trainer Michael Khodarkovsky.
The five players invited to this session were:
- Ashritha Eswaran
- Jennifer Yu
- Samuel Sevian
- Kayden Troff
- Akshat Chandra
Jennifer, the 2014 World Youth U-12 Girls champion, and Ashritha, who played in the US Women’s Championship 2014, were attending this evaluation for the first time. Meanwhile, Kayden and Samuel were seasoned veterans, and have been part of these sessions since the program’s inception. This was the second time I was attending a KCF session, almost a year after my first visit. I was no longer a rookie, and was hoping to make a stronger impression this time so I could be accepted into the individual training program, which provides coaching and sponsored tournament trips. One of the coaching team’s most prominent trainer is GM Alexander Chernin, who has worked with many promising youngsters, and has been training Kayden and Samuel since 2012.
I reached the session’s venue, a giant conference room in a law firm located in mid-town Manhattan. A short while later, Garry paced into the room. You could instantly feel his striking aura. He took his seat at the maple-colored conference table, and acknowledged us.
Now, it was time for him to go through our games. Before the session, we were asked to annotate six games, although there is usually not sufficient time to see them all. “The journalist!” Garry smiled, knowing me from my ChessBase articles. “Let’s start with his games first.”
Akshat Chandra at the New York session with Garry Kasparov and Michael Khodarkovsky
I eagerly took my seat next to Garry, and began to show the games I had prepared for him. They were against GMs with an average rating of 2650, as I felt those games would be most instructive. During the presentation I noticed the “chess instinct” which Garry had harnessed over his illustrious career. He was constantly coming up with accurate thoughts and ideas, and his first instinct turned out to be right nearly all the time! He was even aware of the latest developments in modern theory. You wouldn’t be able to tell that he retired nearly ten years ago!
Another remarkable trait of Garry’s is his prodigious memory. Throughout the session, he would suddenly go quiet and close his eyes. No, he wasn’t sleeping! Instead, he was deep in thought, and his mind was whirring, trying to recall a particular game played several years ago which was similar to the position on-hand. Here is an example.
1.e4 e5 2.f3 c6 3.b5 f6 4.d3 c5 5.c3 0-0 6.xc6?
The final game I showed Garry was against the Ukranian prodigy GM Illya Nyzhnyk. This game was truly amazing, as unbeknownst to Illya and I, we played out the exact Carlsen-Gelfand game from the 2013 Candidates for exactly 30 moves! Of course, Garry remembered that game from the Candidates, and promptly said “This is Magnus’ game!”
Akshat Chandra, who in four years and ten months, went from FIDE 1548 to 2489 rating,
a gain of 941 points. Perhaps the world’s fastest rise with the traditional K-factor
Over the next day and a half, we all finished presenting our games to Garry. Each time Garry would start-off by inquiring about our progress in 2014 in terms of rating gain, and an update on the tournaments we played.
Jennifer Yu, 2014 World Youth Champion U12, is a 12-year old from Virginia
Ashritha Eswaran, 14, from California was the youngest invited player at the US Women Championship 2014
Samuel Sevian, who recently became the youngest Grandmaster in US, is a 14-year old from Massachusetts and winner of World Youth U12 in 2012
Kayden Troff, who is from Utah, became a Grandmaster at 16, and won the World Youth U14 in 2012 and is the current US Junior Champion
The post-lunch session of the second day is reserved for a key component of KCF’s evaluation – solving study compositions. This evaluation plays a large part in determining our abilities in Garry’s mind. The onus was now on me to qualify for KCF’s specialized training, and so I had to deliver on the studies. I recalled how I had struggled to solve them last time, as it was the first time I was even attempting to solve a study. As Garry explained then, it helps build precision. He gave each one of us a separate study to solve. The evaluation in this section is based on success in solving the study, time taken, and number of meaningful hints that were provided.
Garry giving out the studies to the players
After a few minutes, I had the study figured out and noted it down on my pad. I walked over to Garry, who went through the sequence and told me I was correct. That felt good! He then left the room, while Michael remained with us to keep our time and check our answers. Michael then gave me the second study to work on. This one was much harder. After some thought, I found the critical move, after which everything fell into place. I went over to Michael, who approved of my solution. He then told me to wait, as the two studies I worked on were all Garry had intended for me to solve. I went back to my seat feeling pleased, as I had done a good job on both the studies.
Garry returned to the room after a while, and Michael informed him that I had solved the studies. To me, Garry seemed surprised! Overall, I think everyone put in a great effort on the studies.
Additionally, I was asked by Frederic Friedel to give Garry a tutorial on some of the new and powerful features of CB13, like the Cloud Databases. Kasparov knew about this and was eager to learn (from me!), but unfortunately, we could not find the time. So that will have to wait until the next session.
Thanks to the sponsors KCF and CCSCSL for providing an opportunity to us youngsters to review our games with a chess legend!
Below are three of the studies. Enjoy!
White to play and win
White to play and win
White to play and win
His evaluation: “Very sharp”. Garry is not a man of many words – this is high praise.