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Breaking News: India gets its 69th GM - Harshit Raja

by Sagar Shah - 04/08/2021

On 3rd of August 2021, Harshit Raja, the 20-year-old youngster from Pune Maharashtra, drew his game against Dennis Wagner at the Biel Masters Open 2021 and achieved his final GM norm with one round to spare. With this sparkling performance Harshit also managed to cross the rating barrier of 2500 and became India's 69th grandmaster! Harshit is a perfect example of how one can balance chess + academics, as he pursuing his dual degree in finance and economics from the University of Mizzou, USA. In this article we tell you all about the journey of Harshit, will special emphasis on Harshit's journey in last 2.5 years.

The patient road towards the GM title

Towards the end of 2019, Harshit Raja from Pune, Maharashtra, was an International Master with an Elo of 2447. However, two events in Spain changed a lot of things in his life! At the Elllobregat Open and the Sunway Sitges Open Harshit scored two back to back GM norms and reached a career high Elo of 2482.

Harshit receiving his 2nd GM norm at the Sunway Sitges Chess Festival 2019| Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

Harshit's first GM norm at the Elllobregat Open 2019

Harshit's second GM norm at the Sunway Sitges 2019

It seemed very likely that Harshit would become a GM very soon after such a powerful performance. However, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. Chess tournaments were cancelled all across the world. What happened next? Here's what Harshit had to say, "After my high school, I had taken a year to complete my grandmaster title and also decide where I would go to pursue my undergraduate studies. During this time, I managed to bag two grandmaster norms and a peak live rating of 2486. However, the former could not be completed due to the world-wide COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, I was also contacting universities to inquire about their Chess Teams and how they balance sports and education. After serious consideration, I decided Mizzou as my first choice since it not only boasts an amazing academic culture, but also the brand new chess team with GM Oparin G, GM Gordievsky, GM Repka C and WGM Tokhirjonova under the guidance of the strong and experienced trainer GM Cristian. It seemed like a great opportunity for me to develop my game and also maintain a healthy academic standing. I am absolutely excited to join Mizzou’s chess team and resume playing quality chess."


Harshit's first year at the University, which began in July 2020, had to be done from home as he couldn't travel to the USA due to the Covid-19 virus. He is pursuing a dual degree in finance and economics. As soon as things opened up earlier this year Harshit travelled to America and has been admirably balancing his chess and education. 

Harshit is now at the University of Mizzou pursuing a dual degree in Finance and Economics | Photo: University of Mizzou

The Mizzou team is quite strong with powerful names like GM Mikhail Antipov, WGM Gulrukhbegim Tokhirjonova, IM Olga Badelka, GM Christian Repka, GM Grigory Oparin

As soon as his summer vacations began in May 2021 and things were opening up Harshit decided to travel to Europe to play in multiple events. The aim was to give himself sufficient chances to score his final GM norm and get the 41 Elo points that were missing. The 20-year-old youngster began with a series of three closed round robin events in Banja Vruci. In the first event itself, he scored 6.5/9 and won the tournament. Generally 6.5 is sufficient to score a GM norm. But because the rating average of his opponents was a bit low, Harshit missed his GM norm by half a point. The hit and miss story with his final GM norm continued, but Harshit did not lose hope. As Harshit mentioned in one of his interviews for ChessBase India, "Becoming a GM is not the end of the road for my chess career." The upside was that Harshit gained a good amount of rating points and reached a rating of 2484 by July 2021. After the three closed tournaments, came three open events - Silver Lake Open, Serbia Open and Paracin Open. Harshit could only manage to gain a couple of Elo points and did not achieve his final GM norm.

While Harshit was getting to play strong opponents, the final GM norm wasn't coming his way! | Photo: Rupali Mullick

It was time to fly to Switzerland where Harshit had enrolled himself in the Biel Masters. The tournament with just 73 players and a rating average of 2357 was pretty strong for an open event. Harshit started off with a draw against GM Karthikeyan Murali and then beat GM Andrew Tang. It was followed by a draw against Tamas Banusz and then a loss to Pavel Eljanov. Harshit immediately struck back with a win over his close friend GM Abhimanyu Puranik. In rounds seven and eight, the youngster scored two solid draws against top German GMs Donchenko and Dennis Wagner. With these results Harshit not only managed to score his final GM norm, but also cross the barrier of 2500 Elo.

The final round is yet to be played today (4th of August 2021), but Harshit has already scored his final GM norm with one round to spare

Harshit's rating average of opponents in the tournament has been 2560, so he needs to score 5.0/9 to get his final GM norm. He is already on 5.0/8

The 69th GM of Indian chess - Harshit Raja

Game analysis of two wins against strong GMs

Harshit beat two strong GMs at the Biel Masters Open 2021 - Andrew Tang and Abhimanyu Puranik. Here are both the games:

Harshit has always believed that becoming better at chess is a race that he is running with himself, not with others. While we see many youngsters achieving their GM title at the age of 12 and 13 years, Harshit has no issues about getting there at the age of 20. "Every person has his own set of talents and his own journey. We should not compare." The boy from Pune, who started chess at the age of six is now a GM. A lot of things have changed in his life, but if one thing has remained constant, it's his love for chess!

Harshit will be live on ChessBase India channel on 4th of August at 7.30 p.m. IST.

Harshit with his first trophy and that million dollar smile! | Photo: Kapil Lohana

Harshit's family, which has been a rock solid support in his journey towards the GM title | Photo: Kapil Lohana

Harshit and Abhimanyu with the one and only Magnus Carlsen at the Qatar Masters 2015| Photo: Amruta Mokal

Harshit is amazing at Football. His ball handling skills earned him words of praise from Magnus Carlsen! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Three football lovers!

Winning the Shiv Chhatrapati award, the highest sporting honour in the state of Maharashtra | Photo: Amruta Mokal

A proud family!

When Harshit beat Parham Maghsoodloo - the post-mortem | Photo: Sunway Sitges 2019

A funny representation of Harshit beating Parham Maghsoodloo bby Wadalupe!

Always in love with the 64 square! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Previous coverage of Harshit on ChessBase India

With two back-to-back GM norms, Harshit Raja is racing towards the GM title

IM Harshit Raja secures admission in the University of Missouri

Interview with Harshit at the World Juniors 2018
Interview with Harshit at the Silver Lake Open 2021

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