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Offbeat

Checkmite: Abhimanyu Mishra, 9, is youngest US chess master ever, and he loves to ‘crush’ opponents

Abhimanyu claimed the title once held by Bobby Fischer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:48pm

The knights, bishops, and queens were wiped from the board.

“Checkmate,” said nine-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra as he moved on to the next of his eight opponents. Mishra rubbed his temples, leaned closer to the red-and-white board, and slid a piece across the surface before swiftly pressing the timer.

The room was silent on a recent morning as adults tapped on their phones on the sidelines. Every kid’s fate seemed sealed: They were bound to lose to Mishra, the youngest chess master in the US. One-by-one, his contenders bowed out and rushed off to their parents to replay the move that cemented their downfall.

Finally, Mishra was the last player standing. The simultaneous exhibition at the Kings and Queens Chess Academy in Piscataway was over. And Mishra emerged victorious – again.

In April, at age 9 years, 2 months and 17 days old, Mishra snagged the title of youngest ever US chess master during a tournament at the South Jersey Innovation Centre that is home to the South Jersey Chess Club. He’s also the highest rated nine-year-old player in the world.

“I was excited … I was hoping it was going to happen, and I ended up winning the game,” he said of beating a record once held by Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who famously beat Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky in the 1972 World Chess Championship.

Mishra, has come a long way since his parents first introduced him to chess when he was two years old. His father, Hemant, played the game in college for fun, and decided to teach it to his son. Mishra was playing chess on an iPad shortly after learning to walk. By age five, he was winning games against the computer. And two years later, Mishra surpassed his father’s skill level.

“We didn’t know what he was capable of then,” said Mishra’s mother, Swati Sharma. “He works really hard … but he still has a lot more he wants to achieve.”

When he was six, Mishra began training at the Kings and Queens Chess Academy. Immediately, coaches Magesh Panchanathan and his wife Anuprita Patil knew the young boy had the drive to succeed.

“We could tell by his age and how he was playing that he was special,” Panchanathan, 34, said.

Mishra went to public school in kindergarten, but seeing his gift, his parents decided to enrol him in the private Seashore Day Camp and School in Long Branch, New Jersey. There, he attends classes two days a week. He spends his free time at home practising chess eight hours daily on ChessBase, expensive software that lets users analyse historic chess matches.

The young prodigy has an aggressive style and “will to win” similar to basketball star Michael Jordan, said Dov Gorman, managing director of the South Jersey Innovation Centere, where Mishra faces off against opponents sometimes triple his age.

Like those much older than he, Mishra is able to make quick calculations in his head, visualise moves, and sustain pressure, Gorman said.

“Handling the pressure in tournaments is hard,” he said. “How do you outsmart smart people?”

Mishra’s competitive nature keeps him focused. To win, he needs complete concentration and quiet. Those chatting in the background during a match risk being shushed by the nine-year-old.

Now, Mishra wants to become the youngest international master – and he has about a year-and-a-half to grab the title. The current record-holder is Indian grandmaster Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, who took the crown in 2016 at 10 years and 10 months old.

“I still have a long way to go … But I love the way the pieces move,” Mishra said. “And I can crush my opponent without really hurting them.”