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The next big thing in Sri Lankan Chess - Thehas Rithmitha

by Sagar Shah - 19/06/2023

The Junior chess championships of various age categories serve a very important purpose. The talented medal winners get the limelight they need -  with the adequate amount of support, these kids go on to do great things at the chess world! One such example is 2014-born Thehas Rithmitha Kiringoda, gold medalist in the Under-9 World Schools Championships 2023. Starting off as the 21st seed among 61 players, Thehas went on to score a dominating 7.5/9 and win the event! In this article, we ask Thehas a few questions about his chess journey so far, his performance in the World Schools, future goals and much more. Get to know the mindset of a young chess talent!

Starting as the 21st seed and winning the tournament

Srilankan chess is moving in the right direction. The young De Silva LMST, born in 2006, recently became an International Master. Following him are more young talents - Ranindu Dilshan Liyange (2361) and Piyumantha Sasith Nipun (2170). However, what the young Thehas Rithmitha (born in 2014) has achieved is simply phenomenal. Playing at the World Schools under-9 championships 2023 in Rhodes, Greece, the boy scored 7.5/9 to finish first in a pool of 61 players from 24 different countries.

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3  TB4  TB5 Krtg+/-
Kiringoda, Thehas RithmithaSRI11967,505053,54740168,4
Bissaliyev, AisultanKAZ12907049,553474061,6
Zhauynbay, AlimzhanKAZ1640704953,54640-33,2
Torres, LucasSWE1392704751574010
Kazimzade, MahammadAZE10887042444740136,8
Eshkol, IdanISR12336,5147,551,5344038,8
AFMSafin, SafarullakhanIND15946,5045,5503640-47,6
ACMDe Fassio, Davi Dos SantosBRA12096047,551,5464086,8
Asici, Poyraz EfeTUR1191604548,5364089,6
ACMEjsymont, ErykPOL1331604245,54640-43,2
Zhang, JunyiENG15486041,5423540-29,2
Chighvinadze, RobertGEO13015,5043,546,53540-15,6
Aryan, MehtaFID10375,504346254057,6
Sodkhulegt, NaranboldMGL12305,5042,544,52440-36,4
Guntaka, Aayansh RUSA05,5040,54425
Lampos, CharalamposGRE15935,504043,54540-46
Makhsatuly, RakhimKAZ10735,5039,542,5254095,6
Keshari, KrishENG13635,5037,540,54540-78,8
Babkin, Timofey DmFID11415,503740254050,4
Todmunkh, TurbatMGL12425046481440-24,8

Final standings

Thehas gained a huge 168 rating points - his current FIDE Rating is 1464!

According to his FIDE Rating statistics, Thehas played his first standard rated game just a few months back - December 2022!

An interview with Thehas Rithmitha

IM Sagar Shah (SS): How did your chess journey begin? Who taught you chess?

Thehas Rithmitha (TR): My older sister, Resandi, is also a good chess player and is a member of the school chess team. I fell in love with the game after watching her play and observing how different pieces moved on the board.

Thehas and his family sporting a big smile after his victory!

I learnt the fundamentals from my late grandfather who is also a great chess player and later my father introduced me to my sister’s chess coach, Mr. Yasiru Mihiranga and he offered to coach me since then.

Thehas felicitated with his coach Yasiru after winning the World Schools U-9 Championships!

SS: Who are your trainers and have helped you become better?

TR: My chess coach Yasiru sir identified my style, as soon as I started training with him and helped me to use my strengths to win games and to become a successful chess player. I also attend my school chess lessons conducted by my school chess coach madam Suneetha Wijesooriya who also has helped me a lot in my chess journey. My uncle, Asanka also plays lot of chess games with me when he visits my place. I’m also thankful to all my opponents who have played with me so far because I have learnt a lot from them too.

Suneetha Wijesooriya is a legend of Sri Lankan Chess! She is the first and only Sri Lankan player to win a gold medal in Chess Olympiad (Manilla 1992), and has won the Sri Lankan Women's Championship 10 times! | Photo: Roar LK YouTube Channel

SS: Starting as the 21st seed at the World Schools under-9 2023, what was your expectation from the event?

TR: I just wanted to play well and win with the top-seeded players in the tournament, as we don’t get much opportunity to play against international players in Sri Lanka. I didn’t have a target to win gold, but I wanted to win every game and give a good fight to everyone. Even though I thought I will get a few unrated players during the first few rounds, in the second round itself I met an opponent with 1548 Elo which is 350 points more than me. I won that game, which gave me a lot of confidence for upcoming rounds and I knew that if I play well, regardless of their rating, I can win.

Thehas' confident smile with the winners trophy and medal, covered in Sri Lanka's flag!

SS: Which was your favourite game from the event?

TR: There are two games that I love the most. The round 3 game which I played against Lucas Torres (1392, SWE) really tested my patience. I did a mistake during the opening, and he was putting a lot of pressure by attacking me. But I held on protecting my pieces until I get an opportunity to attack. I finally won that match!

Position after 35. Raa1?

After having a lost position throughout the game, Thehas got a winning position as his opponent blundered with Raa1? Thehas played the powerful discovered attack ...Ne2+, winning an exchange and the game a few moves later.

The second interesting game was with Safin Safarullakhan (1594, IND) who is the second-most-rated player in my category. I was very careful with him, and I even spent over 20 minutes on one particular move which I had to analyze a lot.

This is the move Thehas spent 20 minutes on - 13.g4! White has a winning attack now.

I was down to 2 minutes on the clock at one point where he had more than 40 mins. Since I’m a good blitz player, I knew I can manage even with less time on the clock, so I tried to play that game without any mistakes. I was able to win that game also.

SS: How did it feel to win the title?

TR: I felt so happy and proud when I carried my country’s flag to the stage to take the award and when they played my national anthem. This is the most challenging tournament I played so far, and I gained a lot of experience and made lots of new friends.

Thehas being congratulated by his coach Yasiru after winning the title! Both the teacher and disciple are visibly happy.

SS: What is your aim in chess?

TR: I want to be a Grandmaster some day. It is a difficult target but I will try my best.

If this young boy can achieve his dream, he will become Sri Lanka's first Grandmaster!

SS: Who is your idol in chess?

TR: I really like Hikaru Nakamura because he excels in Blitz chess. I too enjoy playing Blitz chess myself!

One of the best Blitz players in the world and a professional streamer, Hikaru Nakamura recently took the world by storm as he won Norway Chess 2023 and became the World #2 in live ratings! | Photo: Lennart Ootes

SS: What are your upcoming events?

TR: From the National Youth Chess Championship held in Sri Lanka, I got selected to participate in World Youth Chess Championships 2023 in Egypt, and Asian Youth Chess Championships 2023 in UAE. I’m really looking forward to do my best in these upcoming tournaments!

A special thanks to Thehas' coach, Yasiru Mihiranga for sending us photos and information for the article.

We wish the best for Yasiru and Thehas - may the youngster keep scaling upwards!

This article was edited by Himank Ghosh

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