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