How a lot of right ingredients came together for P Iniyan as he becomes India’s 61st chess Grandmaster

In Erode, from where Iniyan hails, there was hardly any chess culture. A lot of things had to fall in place for the 16-year-old boy to achieve the highest title in chess.

Sagar Shah March 07, 2019 15:38:23 IST
How a lot of right ingredients came together for P Iniyan as he becomes India’s 61st chess Grandmaster
  • In Erode, from where Iniyan hails, there was hardly any chess culture. A lot of things had to fall in place for the 16-year-old boy to achieve the highest title in chess.

  • In his first FIDE rated tournament itself, Iniyan got the best youngest player award. In April 2009, at the age of six, he got the rating of 1535.

  • Iniyan’s story is inspiring and at the same time makes us believe that with the right support and hard work, you can move mountains.

Panneerselvam always believed that self-confidence is the most important quality that a sportsperson must possess. This is what he tried to inculcate in his son Iniyan, who recently became India’s 61st Grandmaster (GM). “I was a district level cricketer and currently train the under-15 team in my district. I don’t understand chess at a high level, but I ensured that I imbibed all the qualities in my son that will help him to be a successful sportsperson,” says Pannerselvam, after his son became India’s latest GM.

It is well known that Tamil Nadu has created a lot of Grandmasters in Indian chess. Right from India’s first International Master Manuel Aaron and first GM Viswanathan Anand to India’s latest sensations R Praggnanandhaa and Gukesh D, all of them come from Chennai. That’s because the city has good chess coaches, regular tournaments, schools and sponsors ready to support young talents. But in Erode, from where Iniyan hails, there was hardly any chess culture. A lot of things had to fall in place for the 16-year-old boy to achieve the highest title in chess.

The beginning

Iniyan started playing chess at the age of five. His father tutored him about the basics of the game. About a year later, when he was six, he went to Thirumurugan who was coaching in his home-town of Erode. In his first FIDE rated tournament itself, Iniyan got the best youngest player award. In April 2009, at the age of six, he got the rating of 1535. With good performances at under-7 state and nationals (in both the tournaments he finished second), Iniyan qualified for Asian and World Youth under-8.

For further development, Iniyan met Senthilvel, father of IM S Nitin. Senthil agreed to train Iniyan. However, it was one and a half hour travel each way for the boy and his mother from Erode to Senthil's house. They undertook this journey thrice every week. This hard work didn’t go in vain as Iniyan managed to win a silver medal at the Commonwealth Championships under-8. He later went on to win the bronze medal at the World under-8 championship in Greece in 2010.

Finding the right trainer

How a lot of right ingredients came together for P Iniyan as he becomes Indias 61st chess Grandmaster

P Iniyan became the National Sub Junior Champion at the age of 13. Image Courtesy: RR Vasudevan

When Iniyan won the Tamil State under-9 in dominating style (10.5/11), his parents made the decision to approach Visweswaran to work with the boy. Visweswaran, who trains strong players like GM Adhiban and GM Vishnu Prasanna, agreed to train Iniyan. Work with Visweswaran began to bear fruits as Iniyan moved up from strength to strength. Speaking to Firstpost, Iniyan said, “Visweswaran sir has been coaching me for the past six years. He is one of the biggest reasons that I have made it this far.”

When the Anand-Carlsen World Championship match was held in Chennai in 2013 two players from Tamil Nadu made it big. One was 13-year-old Aravindh Chithambaram who won the Grandmaster Open ahead of many GMs, and the other was Iniyan who won the below 2100 category event with a score of 9.0/9. Starting the tournament as the 41st seed and winning the event was a big success. This was followed by winning the National Sub-Junior Chess Championship at the age of 13.

The New challenge

After surpassing the rating barrier of 2200, Iniyan had a new challenge on hands. He had to start working towards achieving his IM title by reaching a rating Elo of 2400 and also making three IM norms. For this, he had to start playing in norm tournaments. Playing in norm tournaments meant that Iniyan had to participate in tournaments outside India. Food, accommodation, travel, chess training, all of this was becoming very expensive. Iniyan’s father works in the highways department and mother is a home-maker. While Iniyan’s excellent performances at chess tournaments was a source of great joy for the family, how to make the ends meet was a constant question.

The sponsor and the school

It could be safe to say that Iniyan’s journey towards GM title wouldn’t have been possible if in December 2015 Olirum Erodu Foundation would not have come forward as a sponsor to support Iniyan. It is a foundation which concentrates on heath management, water management and many other important things for the Erode district. At the same time creating world class sports players is also one of their missions. Says Iniyan, “They have spent heavily for me in the last few years. Because of their support alone I have managed to play in nearly 45 International GM norm tournaments outside India. I would like to thank them immensely for all their support.”

Iniyan studies in the Indian Public School, Erode. Seeing Iniyan’s passion and excellence in chess, the institution has helped the youngster tremendously by granting him leaves to play in tournaments and to excel at the sport. It has ensured that Iniyan hasn’t had to take any drastic steps of giving up education to focus on chess. Studies and chess have been moving together hand in hand due to school’s support.

The supportive family

Chess is a psychological sport. At the end of the day, if you feel good from within, you are able to show it through your moves on the board. In such a scenario, family support is of utmost importance. “My family has supported and encouraged me a lot. Especially in the past one year when I was several times close to the GM title but couldn't reach it for some reason. Without their support and sacrifice I would have not been able to reach this place. My sister Iniyakeerthi is currently in the sixth grade. My mother accompanies me to tournaments and Iniyakeerthi misses her a lot. But she never expresses that. Hiding her tears, she always wishes me the best. She prays for me all the time,” says Iniyan.

IM and GM norms

How a lot of right ingredients came together for P Iniyan as he becomes Indias 61st chess Grandmaster

The transition from an IM to a GM was quite seamless in Iniyan’s case. Image Courtesy: All India Chess Federation

An excellent coach in K Visweswaran, a supportive family, Indian Public School – a school that granted him leaves and Erodu Olirum, a sponsor who is ready to spend on Iniyan’s talent, when all of these right ingredients came together, it is bound to create magic. Iniyan achieved his first IM norm at the Barbera Del Valles Open, Spain in 2016. Next one was at the Lorca Open, Spain in December 2016. The third IM norm came at a closed Round Robin tournament in Italy. In 2017, Iniyan became the first IM from Erode. One episode of the boy’s mental strength stands out. Before Iniyan was about to leave for the Lorca Open, his laptop was stolen. A laptop is a must for an aspiring chess player. Without it, it is impossible to work seriously on chess. All of Iniyan’s games, the data about the players he had played, his plans, their weaknesses, his coach's inputs and his entire history from the age of seven was gone. Losing it was a big blow. But instead of letting this loss affect him, he came out stronger and achieved his second IM norm. That’s the stuff champions are made up of.

The transition from an IM to a GM was quite seamless in Iniyan’s case. It didn’t take him time to score his GM norms. The first GM norm came at the Montcada Open, Spain in 2017. The second norm was scored at the 34th Bobligen Open in Germany and the final norm was made Barbera Del Valles, Spain in 2018. By July 2018, Iniyan had completed all his norms. The next task was to reach an Elo of 2500. This took sometime for the boy as he would get close to 2500 Elo, only to slip back. On March 5th Iniyan beat GM Sergey Fedorchuk in the sixth round of the Noisiel Open in France and crossed the 2500 Elo mark. He thus became India’s 61st GM.

Future plans

“My aim is to cross 2600 Elo as soon as possible”, says Iniyan. When asked for an advice that he would like to give budding youngsters, Iniyan is very objective, “Although it is hard, not to focus on ratings, I think it is important in order to improve the standard of your game. I felt that I am playing better when in the last few tournaments I gave pressure to my opponents even if they are much higher rated than me.”

Iniyan’s story is inspiring and at the same time makes us believe that with the right support and hard work, you can move mountains.

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