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GM Karthikeyan Murali on balancing chess and academics

by Sagar Shah - 21/05/2020

At the age of 16 Karthikeyan Murali became the national champion of India. A title that he defended next year! He has already been two time World Youth champion and has a current rating of 2600+! Apart from these achievements, he is a well-known chess solver and his battle against Firouzja from Asian Championships 2019 is deemed as one of the greatest queen sacrifices in the history of the game. It is clear that Karthi is an overachiever when it comes to chess. But what about academics? How did Karthikeyan do in his 10th and 12th grade exams? Turns out he scored more than 95% in both these exams! How did Karthikeyan manage to do it? In this article he tells us his recipe of success!

A constant conundrum each and every chess player faces is how to balance your education and chess. There is no consensus among the top Indian chess players about whether you should follow your passion (chess) with everything you have got or should you balance everything. There are grandmasters who have left their schooling to just completely focus on their chess, and there are grandmasters who have topped their examinations, keeping their chess career intact. After interviewing several chess players, I have come to the conclusion that there is no right way or wrong! You just follow your heart and mind with conviction, effort and hard work and it is possible to be successful in both ways!

Today we are going to talk about 21-year-old Karthikeyan Murali - one of the most prolific chess talents in the country who has matured into a world class GM | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Chess achievements of Karthikeyan

1. Current Rating: 2606

2. Became world under-12 and world under-16 champion

3. Winner of the Indian National Premier Championships in 2015 and 2016

4. 2nd place in the super strong Gibraltar Masters 2019

5. Karthikeyan is an excellent solver and is also a chess composer. His queen sacrifice against Alireza Firouzja is deemed as one of the best moves in the game.

Karthikeyan with his first national title at the age of just 16 years!

It is clear that Karthikeyan is an overachiever and he did so in chess at a very tender age! So the question is - how did he do in his education? From the list of his accolades, it seems as if Karthi hardly had time to focus on his studies. But what if we said, he scored as massive 96% in 10th grade examinations and 95% marks in 12th grade exams! Sounds unreal, right? We too thought the same, and hence asked Karthikeyan to provide us with the marksheets!

Karthikeyan's 10th grade results with an overall score of 479/500 - 96%! Check out his marks in Maths and Science - 99/100 and 100/100 respectively!

Karthikeyan's result of 1143/1200 in 12th grade exams was even more impressive! At that point he was already a GM, national champion and was trying to break into the 2600 Elo zone! You can see that although Karthikeyan had scored well in Maths and Science in 10th, he decided to pursue his education in commerce, so that he could devote more time towards chess.

Speaking to ChessBase India, Karthikeyan said, "I was an IM when I entered 10th and GM when I gave my 12th grade exams. After so much of chess, studies was a break for me in the month of January on both these occasions. I wanted to attend at least one month of normal classes so that I could cope up with the lessons. Initially, in both 10th and 12th, I attended first month of classes to introduce myself to teachers and make new friends! I had an overview of all the lessons in the first month. So, In the month of January, it was somewhat easy for me to study those lessons."


But how difficult was it to switch from chess to maths and science and economics and accountancy? "It was a new experience! I learnt a lot from studying. Exploring different areas in studies, hanging out with friends was really fun. My personal opinion is that, for sports players, when it comes to studies one has to be really interested and focused to learn. I had more interest in subjects like Maths and Accounts compared to theory subjects because theory subjects doesn't require any creative efforts. Still, I somehow managed to study that because I had to. It doesn't mean that theory subjects were boring because I learnt new things in those as well. During exam times, I would get up early around 4 a.m and start studying. I can't forget those days! Once, it was the Geography exam and I had no interest in studying. I wanted to see chess at that time! I felt like punching the wall with my bare hands! This was perhaps the most difficult thing that I had to face during the exams - to keep myself motivated. But as a sports player, I know how to do that, and somehow I managed to finish off the exams!"


Did Karthikeyan keep a goal in mind before the exams? "Regarding the marks, I am really happy with what I got. I wanted to score as much as I can! I just put my maximum efforts into this! I had a target to achieve 95% in both 10th and 12th. Initially it looked too much but I had a feeling that if I have a lesser target, I might become lazy! So, I put a target of getting 450 or more (out of 500) in 10th and 1150 (out of 1200) in 12th. I got 479 in 10th which was really unexpected but I missed my target in 12th by just 7 marks! But at the same time I was happy because I came near to the target which I fixed!"


Karthikeyan is focusing on chess for majority of his time now and hence pursuing his in correspondence. His achievements in 10th and 12th exams are truly phenomenal. Although, Karthikeyan recognizes that no great thing was ever achieved alone. "I want to thank my family and Velammal school for always supporting my chess. Also I should mention about Indian Oil Corporation where I am a Grade A officer and they help to keep my chess career progressing at full pace."

It's simply phenomenal how Karthikeyan has managed to balance both his chess and education so well. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Karthikeyan's tips in a nutshell:

1. Try to attend your school/college whenever you can. In the end, when preparing for the exams, the months of school attended will prove to invaluable when you will begin working on your studies.

2. At least give yourself one-two months of time before examination. January is a good time to begin preparations if your exams are in February/March.

3. You should really be interested in what you are learning and do it not just for marks.

4. Try to keep an aim or a target for yourself during the exams

5. Even though you give your best, there could be some subjects that are very boring. Try your best to not lose your interest and find ways to keep yourself motivated.

Get to know more about Karthikeyan:

Karthikeyan Murali - the attacker, defender and composer
Karthikeyan reveals the secret behind his humble and modest attitude
Karthikeyan on his immortal queen sacrifice against Firouzja
How Karthikeyan Murali won £20,000 (~Rs.18,65,000) at the Gibraltar Masters 2019
Karthikeyan's brilliant blindfold calculations

Karthikeyan plays the game of his life, beats Alireza Firouzja

Karthikeyan Murali's helpmate puzzle explained

Karthikeyan finishes second at the Gibraltar Masters 2019