From 17th July to 6th August 2021, Bhavik Ahuja, a 14-year-old boy from Delhi, India, travelled alone to Novi Sad, Serbia, to participate in 3 classical and 4 blitz international FIDE rated chess tournaments. He is India’s youngest male author for his book ‘The World of 64 Squares’, a Commonwealth medalist in chess and runs a foundation called Samvedna through which he has taught over 350 underprivileged children chess across 7 states of India. In this interview, Bhavik will be sharing his experiences in the tour to Serbia: this is a must read for all chess enthusiasts and prodigies looking to play tournaments in Europe due to their sparsity in India.
You can also check out his experiences in Serbia in the vlog made by him:
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Can you share the process behind how you decided to play international chess tournaments in Novi Sad, Serbia?
It all started back in March 2020. I was always a massive chess enthusiast and passionate player, hence being over-excited to participate in several FIDE rated tournaments in the summer holidays alongside my sister, accompanied by my mother. But sadly, that is when the coronavirus crept in. In the following year I had no coach, so I did several online courses, increased my lichess rating to 2500+ playing in excess of 20,000 games, published my own chess book- ‘The World of 64 Squares’, and through my foundation Samvedna, taught over 350 underprivileged children chess. In March 2021, things looked optimistic- our schools reopened and we finally thought that playing again over the board will be possible. But then, the second wave of COVID-19 struck, and our plans got ruined again. That is when Serbia comes into the picture. A special shout out to GM Sinisa Drazic to whom I sent tons and tons of mails between May to July. Without his co-ordination, travelling to Serbia would’ve been impossible.
You went in a 15 hour flight alone at the age of 14 to reach Serbia! Can you share the experience?
It has an intriguing story behind it actually! Due to the longevity of the trip, and the COVID restrictions, I was ready to stay alone, but was going with several chess players from Delhi in the flight to Novi Sad. However, then the gloomy date- 13th July 2021- occurs. I am all set to go to Novi Sad the day after tomorrow with Vishal sir, his students and their parents. But then a sad news creeps in: the Serbian government imposes a seven day quarantine on all passengers from India. This has a massive impact leading to absolute devastation. All my plans get cancelled while the rest of the Delhi players continue to go there, taking a massive risk because they can’t afford to lose out on the tournament. Thankfully though, when they reach there, they confirm that the municipality has allowed them to play the events without quarantine. Therefore, on the 17th, I took a solo flight all alone for the very first time, that too internationally, and go over there to participate in these events. That was an experience i will never forget.
I believe you encountered a burglar on your first night in Novi Sad! Please share details about the same.
This was by far the most intense moment of the trip! I woke up at 4:30 am every single day in Novi Sad to attend online school classes. I was staying in the Vojvodina hotel for the first seven days, which was five minutes away from where all the Delhi players were staying. On my very first night over there, I could not find a charger plug to charge all my devices so, I went to the receptionist’s desk to ask for help. She though declined saying there is no staff in the hotel. I was kind of surprised but then I was too tired, so i went off to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 am to attend the classes and that is when I heard someone screaming ‘ZIEV CHEN’. I could not believe it. It was 4:30 am and someone was outside my door in a hotel wherein there was no staff. I was freaking out, but then I heard him unlock the door with the keys. It was a manual door without electronic keys, and he actually opened it and went inside the
room. I was screaming and shouting, and suddenly he just left my room. I was excruciatingly surprised, but then later after my round, Vishal sir told me that he sent that guy to wake me up for online school. I could not believe it. He did not know that I was awake, and that guy literally freaked me out. Instances of that day still haunt me till today.
Could you give an insight on how the chess tournaments panned out.
In my first tournament FIDE rated tournament in Serbia – Third Saturday Scheveningen – I scored 5.5/7 in the classical portion, and beat Yash Jyoti Bir from West Bengal in the blitz tie breaks to clinch the 1st position. This was the first time that I won an international FIDE rated chess tournament. In the next tournament- The Vojvodina Open, B category- I came 5th place, defeating a Fide Master (FM) in the process. In the final classical tournament, I finished 3rd place. It was rather pissing off though, because had my last round opponent come, I had the possibility of crossing the 1900 FIDE rating barrier. In total, I increased 271 classical FIDE rating points. I also participated in 4 blitz FIDE rating tournaments, wherein I increased 279 FIDE rating points overall. I came 5th and 4th respectively in 2 of these tournaments, amongst several International Masters (IMs) and Grand Masters (GMs). Overall, I increased 569 FIDE rating points across formats – 271 in classical across 21 games and 279 in blitz with k20. This is still unbelievable for me.
Since this was the 1st travelling alone for you, what difficulties did you face?
To be honest, there were quite a few of them. To begin with, there was no food whatsoever. Every single day out of the 20 days that I stayed in Novi Sad, they served the exact same food, no changes at all! The only things available for vegetarians were bread and French fries, thus I survived by eating pizza in a pizza outlet called Carabic pizza, which was very near our hotel. But well, other than pizza, pasta and French fries, there was literally nothing else for vegetarians in this place. I actually don’t know how I survived! That’s just one difficulty though. Another massive issue was that there was only one charging plug available. Can you imagine, I survived 20 days with just one charging plug! Thank god that we do have thunderbolts in this world, otherwise I don’t think I would have made it alive by the end of this tour. Additionally, midway between the tournaments, my spectacles actually broke after the open tournament ended! Thank god I had a spare case with me, so they didn’t affect the matches. But that was also a massive blow which took place. Lastly, waking up at 4:30 AM every single day for online school classes due to the time gap, and managing both academics and preparation for the numerous matches simultaneously was rather challenging. I slept for less than 4 hours everyday! The weekends were truly a bliss to get to sleep for 8 hours 😅.
Would you like to give advice to other Indian chess players wanting to play FIDE rated tournaments?
Yes, definitely! In my opinion, there will be very limited FIDE rated tournaments in India before March 2022. While there are a few rapid ones, there are hardly any classical tournaments in this period. Hence, especially if you have a FIDE rating of above 1800, I would advise you to participate in open tournaments in Spain, or series of both closed and open tournaments in Serbia. Even in the limited FIDE rated tournaments in India, there are hardly any high rated players, therefore increasing rating is extremely tough. Furthermore, Serbia is cost-effective as well in comparison to other foreign tours.
You can check out Bhavik’s book, ‘The World of 64 Squares’ on Amazon. The link for the same is given below: