'I might not pursue chess after school’: International Master Kushager Krishnater
Seeing his father playing chess, Kushager Krishnater, then a six-year-old boy, started developing a liking towards the game. Soon, he started playing the game with him and later in his school. Observing his interest, his parents enrolled him for coaching classes and thus began his journey. Ten years later, he is an International Master (Elo rating 2410).
We met Kushager last month at his home in Thane, an immediate neighbour of Mumbai city, which is full of trophies and medals that he won over the years from his participation in numerous tournaments across the city, country and the world. In a candid chat, the 17-year-old International Master spoke to us about his love for the game while shedding light on how much it costs to pursue chess professionally and lack of government's support for the players. Excerpts:
Q: Do you remember your first introduction to chess?
My father used to play chess as a hobby. I used to sit down with him and watch him play and somewhere, I developed an interest in the game. I was about six-year-old then.
Q: From playing chess at home to taking it up professionally is a huge leap. Who helped you navigate it?
A year later, I started playing it in school under the guidance of coach Amardeep Bartakke and seeing my interest, my parents enrolled me for private classes with him outside school. He was my coach for about eight years and guided me and my parents about the game and various tournaments in which I could participate. Over the years, I also learnt from Arun Vaidya, Rakesh Kulkarni and Akash Thakur and they helped me move forward in the game. Since last year, Farukh Amonatov from Russia has been guiding me. He conducts online coaching classes and also visits India for chess camps.
Q: What is it about this game that appeals to you?
It is a game of uncertainty. You could be losing but if your opponent makes one mistake, it may turn in your favour. The player with more concentration wins so the effort you put in gives the result. Besides, I just enjoy playing chess.
Q: Please take us through some of the landmark events in your chess career?
I have been playing for 10 years now. The first one would be when I won the School Games Federation of India (SGFI) finals in 2016. Second would be when I came third in the Commonwealth Junior Championship (Under 20) in 2018. And, third, when I got my first International Master (IM) norm at Montenegro in Dec 2018. To become an IM, you need three norms - I got my second norm in Greece in 2018 and third in Spain in December last year - and your rating should cross 2400, which happened last month.
Q: And, tell us about your most memorable game.
The match against Eduardas Rozentalis (Grandmaster) from Lithuania in Greece which got me my second IM nomination was really interesting. I won against him as black. He is the highest-rated player I've ever beaten in the game. His rating was 2569 then. It was a dynamic game. For about 3 hours, it was balanced but he got under pressure and missed some tactics. Basically, I played well in a territory which isn't my strong point.
Q: You are 17, how do you manage school and the game?
I travel intermittently, like 15 days in a row and then a break and then go on another schedule. I play about 10-12 tournaments in a year, which rounds up to three months of playing and two months of practice. So, for five months, I am outside my house. On a regular day, I practice for about six hours a day. Luckily, my school is very supportive and I dedicate one month entirely towards my studies before exams. Thankfully, chess helps in improving your IQ, which in turn help you with academics.
Q: In the world of chess, who do you admire the most?
Viswanathan Anand has always been an idol for every chess player but right now, I believe Nihal Sarin (A chess prodigy, Nihal achieved the title of Grandmaster at age 14) is progressing well. Internationally, I admire Daniil Dubov (Grandmaster) from Russia a lot. Interestingly, Russia has always been at the top of the game but in the younger generation, India and Iran are clearly on the top.
Q: Do you think there is a difference in the environment between India and other countries?
Yes, in India, the competition is much stronger. The lower-rated players are also very strong. For instance, Indian players with a rating of 2100 or 2200 are stronger than players from Europe with 2300 rating. The reason is that Indians go for fewer tournaments and thus their ratings remain low.
The government and the infrastructure aren't enough though. Until last year, there was a cash incentive of 1 lakh alongside Shiv Chhatrapati Award from the government of Maharashtra for every International Master from the state but now they have revised the policies wherein each International Master will have to apply for it and there is no guarantee whether they will be awarded or not. The Central government gives Rs 1.5 lakh but it’s peanuts against the cost of playing the tournaments.
Q: What is the cost of these tournaments?
People usually combine two-three tournaments so that it costs them low and even then, it costs around Rs 2 lakh if you go by yourself. If you go by yourself, you also have to take care of your food and laundry alongside focusing on the game. And, if you go with parents or guardians to look after you, the cost doubles. It goes up to Rs 6 lakh a year just to participate in the tournaments. Besides, there is coaching, which is no less expensive - strong players charge about Rs 4000 an hour. If you calculate, you'd be paying Rs 4 lakh a year if you're taking classes for two hours a week.
Q: How do you think the scenario can be made better?
The government’s support is inadequate. They need to make changes in the chess federation at state as well as national level - sometimes, their policies do not support players. Besides, there is a dire need for sponsorship or incentives for players since there are many strong players who can't pursue chess because of the lack of funds. The government hasn't really supported Grandmasters as well, who are more likely to have more expenses as when you grow older, you have to worry about your family as well.
Q: What's next for you?
I am now aiming for the title of Grandmaster (GM) for which I need three GM nominations. My next tournament is in April in Greece where there will be only 10 players and I hope to win a GM norm there.
But, in the long run, I don't know if I will continue my career in chess. It entirely depends on my rating. There isn't enough scope below 2600 in chess. And, at present, I can pursue both education and chess but going forward, there is going to be a dilemma because my father has already spent a lot on chess and sooner or later, I should be able to provide not just for myself but also for my family.