Fearless prodigy Nihal Sarin can only get better from here

Nihal Sarin during a World Junior Chess Championship match in Pune on October 7, 2014. STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

As India turns 70, we celebrate Eight For Eighty - the eight sportspersons who we feel will carry the torch for the next decade.

The story so far

Turning an International Master at 12 years and 8 months (exactly the same age that reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen achieved the title), the third youngest in the world, Nihal Sarin went on to achieve his first Grandmaster norm in a month's time - at the Fagernes International Open, Norway, in April this year.

Even as a six-year-old, Nihal showed signs of possessing an extraordinary memory and razor-sharp mind. "He could rattle off all tables from 1 to 16 and identify flags of almost 180 countries," Nihal's father Sarin Abdulsalam tells ESPN. His earliest drive to master the sport was finding a way to beat his maternal grandfather, who introduced him to chess during school vacation before Nihal joined for first standard classes.

Nihal went on to win the Asian U-10 rapid and blitz titles, as well as the World U-10 blitz before being crowned the U-10 Classical World champion in September 2014. Only the fourth IM from Kerala, Nihal had a few chances to hold World No. 1 Carlsen to a draw in the PRO (Professional Rapid Online) Chess League in February this year before he ran out of time.

The future

A Grandmaster title to start with, which he's two norms away from. It's probably the least of his aspirations, though. "If you ask Nihal what his ambition is, he'd probably say it's becoming a decent player," his manager Priyadarshan Banjan says, laughing. Until a few years ago, Nihal found himself running into stamina issues when it came to long, sapping games. As a way to build on his endurance, he took to badminton and the results are showing. A quick learner, his maturity, undaunted approach regardless of his opponent's stature, and willingness to adapt makes him a dangerously unpredictable player. With age and talent on his side, Nihal's future can be everything he wants it to be.


"Nihal is a very talented prodigy with an impressive understanding of chess. Of course, a very promising future lies ahead of him but he needs time and space to come into his own."

--Viswanathan Anand, five-time world champion