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He has crossed 2650 Elo, is India no.6, but is still looking for a job

by Sagar Shah - 22/12/2019

The fastest growing player in Indian chess is currently GM S.L. Narayanan. From reaching 2600 earlier this year, he has raced up to 2650 on the live rating list. With a string of powerful and consistent performances, he has now become India no.6 after Anand, Harikrishna, Vidit, Sasikiran and Adhiban. Recently, he won the strong Ellobregat Open 2019, which was his first victory on international soil. Before leaving for Sunway Sitges 2019, Narayanan was kind enough to spend some time for an interview with ChessBase India. In it we realized that even though the 21-year-old is doing so well in chess, has completed his graduation in English Literature, he is still struggling to find a job under sports quota. 

A group of players in Indian chess is developing who are just about completing their teen ages. Nineteen or twenty years old, but are already so strong that they are capable of holding their own against just about any strong GM in the world. This batch of players include Karthikeyan Murali, Aravindh Chithambaram (both two-time national champions), S.L. Narayanan, Vaibhav Suri and a few others. Clearly, the fastest improving among them is S.L. Narayanan, who with a string of powerful performances has moved from 2600 to 2650 in just a few months!

The winner of Elllobregat Open 2019 S.L. Narayanan | Photo: Patricia Claros Aguilar

Narayanan performed at an Elo of 2712 to win the first edition of the Elllobregat Open 2019 held in Barcelona, Spain. The win was not without adventure as the youngster tied for the top spot at 7.0/9 with Polish GM Mateusz Bartel. There was a playoff that included two blitz games of 5 minutes + 3 seconds increment. It ended in a 1-1 tie. The players then went into Armageddon where Narayanan had the white pieces and was able to win the game and the tournament.


Narayanan has showed some powerful performances off late. He was undefeated at the FIDE Grand Swiss 2019 held at the Isle of Man, where he faced all opponents above the Elo of 2650! At the World Cup 2019, he very nearly eliminated the strong Spanish youngster David Anton Guijarro. First place in Elllobregat Open and at the the currently ongoing Sunway Sitges, he is fighting it out for the top spots. After the fifth round of the Sunway Sitges 2019 where he beat Sethuraman in a beautiful attacking duel Narayanan crossed the live Elo of 2650. What a fantastic achievement! And this lad has done all of this with very little noise. He has no sponsor and even after spending quite some effort looking for employment, he is jobless. Usually players of Narayanan's stature would easily get a job in the public sector oil companies of India under sports quota. However, recently the number of GMs in Indian chess is growing at a quick pace and it has been difficult to create more spots in the sports quota. It's a pity that a player like Narayanan, who is showcasing some of the best chess of his life has to be perpetually worried about his livelihood. 


After S.L. Narayanan won the Elllobregat Open 2019, and before he left for the Sunway Sitges 2019, he was kind enough to find some time for an interview with ChessBase India.


Sagar Shah: How does it feel to win the Elllobregat Open 2019?

S.L. Narayanan (SLN): It feels good since the tournament was pretty strong and I think I played quite well.

Narayanan didn't lose a single game and gained 10 Elo points

SS: Would you say this is the biggest victory of your chess career till date?

SLN: Yes, I think so. Besides this, I have won the bronze medal at the World Juniors in Bhubaneswar, silver medal in Commonwealth at Sri Lanka and a few other good achievements come to mind, but this is my first title on international soil.


SS: Your father was present at the event with you. How did his presence help you?

SLN: His support was quite instrumental. It was to him I communicated my thoughts and emotions after the game.

Narayanan's father played a key role in his son winning the title | Photo: Patricia Aguilar Claros

SS: Which was your favourite game from the event and why?

SLN: The second round against an IM from France was quite nice.


Lucas Di Nicolantonio vs SL Narayanan, Round 2

How did Narayanan build up a strong initiative in this position with black?

Another nice game by Narayanan was his win over Harshit Raja who scored his maiden GM norm at the event:

SS: Did your experience of playing the World Cup help you in playing the playoffs against Mateusz Bartel?

SLN: Yes of course! The World Cup as well as the Armageddon which I played in MCL against Adhiban made me much more familiar with the situation.

The Armageddon game against Bartel was filled with quite some pressure | Photo: Patricia Aguilar Claros

Here's the Armageddon game:

SS: You have climbed up to 2636 on the Elo rating scale. Are you happy with your progress in the last few months?

SLN: Yes! I believe that once we begin to work hard, the results will show up at some point or the other. In my case it was not immediate, but I kept at it and I am glad that I am progressing on the right track. [Ed: Narayanan gained 14 Elo points after 5th round of Sunway Sitges and already crossed 2650 Elo!]


SS: A few months ago, I met you at the Commonwealth Championships and you said you were looking for a job. Is this still the case, or you have found one?

SLN: Nothing has changed after the Commonwealth open. I am still looking for a job.

This interview done with Narayanan at the Commonwealth Championships 2019 tells you more about him, and from nine minutes onwards you can listen to him speak about how he is unable to find a job.

SS: What do you have to say about the organization of the event? Would you recommend this event to other Indians and players across the world to participate next year?

The playing hall of the Elllobregat Open 2019 | Photo: Patricia Aguilar Claros

SLN: Yes, I quite liked the venue but I encountered some noise issues in the playing hall. The organizers also allowed the players to keep the mobile phones with them in a bag in switched off mode, which made things slightly weird. The organisation team was kind enough to ask the players for their suggestions to make this tournament better in the coming years. Overall I liked the tournament except for the issues mentioned above.


SS: Who are the people (coaches, parents etc.) you would like to thank for this title?

SLN: I would like to thank all those who follow my games. My parents have played a big role. A special thanks to Varghese Koshy sir with whom I maintain contact and discuss my future plans and games. I would also like to give a shout out to my freinds from the college Mar Ivanios where I studied and completed my graduation recently.

A bachelor in English literature, a 2650 rated GM, and thorough gentleman - that's S.L. Narayanan for you! | Photo: Patricia Aguilar Claros

Related news:
S.L. Narayanan wins the 1st Elllobregat Open 2019

@ 12/12/2019 by Sagar Shah (en)