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CBIJ #06: The inside stories about India's two most talented youngsters - Raunak and Leon

by Avathanshu Bhat - 05/06/2018

CBIJ (ChessBase India Juniors) part 6 brings to you the progress in the Indian Junior world. Leon Mendonca, a talented 12 year old has seen his rating fluctuate over 600 Elo points in the last three months! From a rating of nearly 2300, Leon slipped to 1986. Just a couple of weeks ago he is back to 2200+. We talk to him about how he maintains his composure through all of this. Raunak Sadhwani became an IM at the age of 12 years and five months and five days, which adds another junior to the possible list of becoming India's youngest GM! We have wonderful answers submitted to us about what do players prefer - cash prize or trophy? Last but not the least, do read about one of the most underrated professions in the world of chess!

Raunak Sadhwani

Everyone say hello to the latest IM, Raunak Sadhwani! He was had all three norms and was just nine Elo points away from the title of IM. He won a crucial game against a Romanian GM to secure the title. Raunak's life off the board is just as interesting as the games he plays! When I first saw him in the Nationals U-9 in 2014, I didn't think about him much. On the last day of that tournament, I saw that Praggnanandhaa who was also playing the tournament, wasn't the one who came first. I remember thinking, "who could it possibly be?". Then I found it was none other than Raunak Sadhwani, the same boy who I had not noticed until then!

Raunak Sadhwani and Rakshitta Ravi became the under-9 national champions. As the date in the background suggests, this happened four years ago! | Photo: MGRTV

The way he had been playing as if the only thing remaining in eyesight was the board in front. I remember another of his tournaments, the 2016 Nationals U-11 in Raipur, where he started off in a blistering manner. Unfortunately, it didn't continue the same way until the end. However, at the end of the tournament during the prize Distribution, he was happily playing football outside in the grass and dirt with some other boys. His cheeriness is something rather special to witness. He continues to amaze me to this day in ways like these, and many more. Here are somethings about Raunak which highlight his daily life!

Ever-smiling, ever-winning! | Photo: John Saunders

10. He was 8 when first started playing chess with his father


9. He loves to eat anything that's non-veg and grilled


8. Motivational movies like Dangal and Mary Kom are what keep Raunak Motivated!


7. Cartoons such as 'Bandbudh aur Budbak' are Raunak's favorite de-stressers!


6. His favorite song is 'India wale' from Happy New Year.

5. Prefers to hang out with IMs Prithu Gupta and Nihal Sarin


4. His earliest memory is of taking great interest in the flags of the world and coloring all of them!


3. Says Raunak, "I am glad with my success. This IM title gives me a lot of Self Belief and Confidence. But I want more now, no stopping. I will work harder now - My next aim is to become Grandmaster soon and represent my country in prestigious International Events."


2. Parents speak: "Seeing the biggest success of our son we are feeling superb; It's a wonderful feeling. He truly deserves this prestigious title. His hard work has paid off. We are proud of him and very much sure that he will make it big in years to come."


We also congratulate him on his splendid achievement and wish him great success for future endeavors.

1. His best game is against GM Alexander Fier!

Leon Mendonca:

What is he reading?!! | Photo: Leon Mendonca's archives

Leon Mendonca, a 2286 rated Goan boy, who's passion is chess, and skillful with the violin. He has been having a rather interesting rating graph: He was at a peak rating of 2286 in August 2017. Unfortunately in February he lost 300 points and fell back to 1900. Then he struck up some tremendous chess recently and has once again increased 200 and is back on track! In the following  interview, Leon talks about how he managed to pick up right where he left off.

Avathanshu Bhat(AB): Your rating graph is something rather extraordinary: you were at a peak rating of 2286. Then things didn't go well in February. And yet here you are, recently just at the Kolkata open with a 200 points jump. Tell me, where can we get some of that?

Leon Mendonca (LM): With the current k40 factor, these ups and dips in the Elo rating are expected. End of the day you percolate corresponding to your strength. Well nothing comes for free (except your mother's love ha,ha,ha.)..... it is working sincerely with the right coach and material.


AB: What was it like for you when you lost 300 points back in February? Things definitely didn't seem to be looking great.

LM: Honestly I don't give rating points much importance. The drastic loss was due to a combination of the hectic schedule of tournaments (IIFL- both categories followed by the Delhi GM Open) and coincidentally the fact that I was going through a "Time Pressure struggle phase" which I believe most chess players go through.

So...many...prizes! | Photo: Leon Mendonca's archives

AB: What is it that you think helped you climb back up? Was it a mental resolve, a new line or opening or something else altogether?

LM: As my coach said "It is you and you alone that can help yourself " so it is more of a mental resolve that is helping me. The process is slow but my conscious efforts before and during each game are in a way paying off.


AB: What was it about chess in the first place that attracted your attention?

LM: Well, I must admit that to date I get cheap thrills in trying to beat my elder sister Beverly in whatever be the challenge. So I owe it to her who actually introduced chess into our family.


AB: Who would you say has played the most significant role in your chess journey so far?

LM: Undoubtedly God has blessed me with everything especially my loving, caring and self-sacrificing family, my coaches, sponsors, friends and well wishers too.

Always so cheerful! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

AB: Where did you get your best result? What about the worst?

LM: I will always consider my first huge achievement of winning the bronze at the World  Youth Under 8 event in Durban, South Africa as *Special*. I have had not one but many bad tournaments at the National age categories as I have many a times slipped to the 4th or 5th position due to my  buch-holz.


AB: What do you do when you aren't working on chess?

LM: Well I enjoy playing soccer, badminton, watching movies, playing the violin and of course playing the fool....ha,ha.


AB: What things do you think are made easy thanks to chess? What inconveniences do you face due to the same?

LM:  Well one can always relate to life through chess as both have their shares of ups and downs. Chess has definitely helped in defining me as a person. I owe my identity, self respect, attitude and character to name a few to chess. Inconveniences most definitely are the sacrifices of my entire family and in a way loss of my childhood.

Meeting one's idol is always exciting...especially when its Garry Kasparov! | Photo: Leon Mendonca's archives

AB: What is your plan for the next tournaments which you will play?

LM: No plans! Just enjoy chess. I started off round one at the Bhubaneshwar Open 2018 by getting a walkover just like around 15 other players including top players on board 1 and 3. I personally think this is unacceptable, similar to the manipulated byes that many players face at the last round. Some stringent penalties need to be implemented!


Unfortunately I will be forced to withdraw towards the end as I will be travelling to Sochi in Russia by this month end to participate in the " International Schools Team event " followed by the "Alekhine Memorial" in Voronezh, Russia.


AB: Great to hear Leon! We wish you all the best for your  upcoming tournament spree!

Leon Mendonca's interview at the Kolkata International GM 2018 after he gained over 100 Elo points


LAST WEEK: We had asked people as to what do they prefer - trophies or cash prize? Some wonderful write-ups were sent to us by our readers. The winners will be announced in the next article. Do take a look at the candidates here:


Devanshi Rathi: I feel that I prefer trophies over cash prizes. Cash prizes are quickly used up but trophies stay with you for a long time. That feeling of lifting a gigantic trophy makes me feel elated and it seems as if I have won the UEFA Champions league trophy or something. Moreover, it gives a real sense of accomplishment. Besides, there are other ways to earn cash by doing a job and appearing for events. However, there is no way that you can earn a trophy if it is not winning a tournament.


Konatham Snehil: I would prefer trophies over cash. Because cash is not a thing which will stay with us for a long time. But trophies are so memorable like my grandfather would show his trophies during his childhood. I personally feel very happy when I get a trophy it may be small or big but reminds you all your life about the thing you achieved.


Arutharan2600: I would like to win a trophy much more than a cash prize. Because I think cash prizes only creates temporary happiness. But trophies are not like that. When you grow up you can turn to look at the past and enjoy the greatest and happiest moments of the past. And when you grow older you can even show them to your grandchildren!


Tanima Chattopadhya: I like cash prizes over trophies as with them I can buy news books or even accessories like ChessBase India T shirt or Premium Membership but with trophies they 'just' create inner satisfaction but they don't pave the way for future. Though Cash prizes finish quickly but in long run , they stay with us. What I do is keep the envelopes which I keep as my "trophies". Last time I got a prize at Keshabananda Das Memorial tournament and bought ChessBase Premium Membership . By the way I like cash prizes.

Editors' Pick:

Players...Please...Start your games! | Photo: Priyadarshan Banjan

Who would you say has the most important role at a tournament? The players? Maybe the organizers. What about the parents? The venue? The answer, of course, would be all of the above. However, there is one set of people though which we have missed, whose job is to literally watch over chess, and who I think are generally underappreciated. You guessed it! The arbiters! They are obviously more than just spectators with special privileges. Like the players, arbiters too have to be alert and vigilant for anything that happens. In a hall with so many people, they have be on their toes if they are required by any one of them. Their tensest moments are to decide which player is right during an argument. Most are easy and can easily be read out of the rule book. But what do you do when one player accuses the other of touching his piece and the other says he didn't?


We asked IA Vasanth BH a few questions, these are his replies!


What is your most memorable experience with little kids in a tournament?

In Asian Schools U-5 Delhi! The kids from different parts didn't know the language, so it was challenging to communicate with them!

What advice would you give to little kids?

"That it is just a game, there is no need to panic. Play the game normally, and you will have a good game. Unfortunately, it is not happening because of pressure from coaches and parents. The kids are not able to play their best. The player should play like they always do, irrespective of how big the tournament or championship is.


I think that these men deserve to earn just as much recognition as the players, not to mention credit. We love and respect them for the hardwork they put into their role in the chess world.

It was a wonderful gesture by the organizers of World Youth Olympiad 2017 in Gujarat, when they felicitated the arbiters just before the start of a round | Photo: Amruta Mokal

So here is today's question: What is your best experience with an arbiter? Please leave your answers in the comments section below! The best answers get to win a coupon from ChessBase India!

About the author:

Avathanshu Bhat has been writing about chess for well over a year now. He has published innumerable articles on ChessBase India and his reports have been well received by the audience. He is the editor-in-chief of ChessBase India Juniors. His main intention is to bring the best junior players of our country into the limelight with his writings. Here is some of the work he has done in the past:


Life of a young chess player

Joy of losing

G. Akash wins the Grand Hyderabad affair

10-year-old boy's deep calculation (50,000+ hits on Youtube)

12-year-old chessentrepreneur Avathanshu Bhat

Chess species classified

Hemant Sharma becomes International Master

Colours of Black and White

Champion from Chudamani - IM Sidhant Mohapatra

Blindfold simul by Timur Gareyev

A letter from 2050

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