Bengaluru

The making of a Grandmaster

Girish Koushik at his residence in Bengaluru.

Girish Koushik at his residence in Bengaluru.   | Photo Credit: Shreedutta Chidananda

Girish sacrificed a career in chess in favour of academics. But unlike most cases, his story didn’t end there

Girish Koushik has taken the path less travelled but he would not have it any other way. Only a few sportspersons are able to marry success on the sporting field with academic achievement, simply because of the commitment both areas demand. They reach a crossroads in their life when they have to choose between one or the other and there is often no going back. Seven years ago, when he was regarded as one of the most talented players in the country, Girish sacrificed a career in chess in favour of academics, at which he duly excelled. But unlike most cases, his story didn’t end there.

Earlier this month, the 21-year-old from Mysuru returned from his enforced break from the game to become India’s 63rd – and Karnataka’s third – Grandmaster. Earning the high title requires a player to accumulate 2,500 Elo rating points and complete three ‘norms’ (which can be achieved at certain tournaments that meet the world chess federation’s strict criteria). This is an arduous task and takes players years to achieve, during which time participation in high-quality tournaments overseas is often essential.

Pursuit abandoned

Girish had completed his first GM norm as far back as 2011, but he had abandoned his pursuit of chess at the highest level (even if he took part in a couple of tournaments occasionally) a year after. But in May this year, on the night of his final engineering paper, Girish left for Europe, to compete in three tournaments in quick succession. He held an Elo rating of 2,444 and one GM norm when he flew out; he would return a month later with the task complete, having finished fourth, first and third in the three events.

“It is a dream come true for us,” says Arun Kumar, his father. “He had hardly prepared for these tournaments, but the fact that he was able to perform even after so many years is remarkable.”

Girish had burst onto the scene as a bit of a child prodigy in 2006, when he won the World U-10 Chess Championship in Georgia. He followed that up with the Asian U-12, 14 and 16 titles, and a silver medal at the World U-16 Championship. Great things had been predicted for Girish, but the lack of substantial sponsorships meant he had a decision to make. “I had to choose academics, because without adequate financial support I couldn’t devote myself to chess,” he says. “Initially, I felt a little sad. Because if I had carried on, I could’ve become grandmaster in a couple of years. But now I feel I made a great decision. I would never have been an engineer otherwise.”

Girish has just completed his Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Communication with flying colours from the city’s R.V. College of Engineering. He now has an offer of employment from a global tech firm and expects to start work soon. “When I quit chess, many players who were below me went on to become grandmasters. But now I can say I have two careers and they can’t. I can always improve as a chess player again if I work hard,” he says.

Girish is now at another crossroads in his life. If he is to make progress as a chess player, a top coach would have to be a priority, as would participation in tournaments overseas. Both of which require financial backing. “I have dreams of reaching an Elo rating of 2,650, but that will be very hard,” he says. “I also have plans of studying abroad. Whatever happens, I want to play more chess.”

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Printable version | Feb 29, 2020 7:06:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/the-making-of-a-grandmaster/article28237463.ece

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