The End of One Quest, The Start of Another

The November Autumn Invitational was a Round Robin (RR) held at the Saint Louis Chess Club from Nov 17-22. It was a 6-day event, and so had more meaning for me than a typical tournament since I needed a 6-day Grandmaster (GM) norm in order to become a GM. I already had more than required collection of 5-day norms. The average rating of the players in the GM section was 2441 FIDE, and so 6.5/9 was needed in order to earn a norm.

The player’s list, in order of rating, was as follows:

GM Kannapan Priyadharshan
IM Akshat Chandra
IM Cyril Ponizil
GM Ben Finegold
GM Ashwin Jayaram
IM Aman Hambleton
IM Tania Sachdev
IM Atulya Shetty
IM Nazi Paikidze
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan


In the first round, I was faced against Indian GM Ashwin. Things got off to a sloppy start, as he surprised me in the opening and played accurately thereafter to make a rather easy draw. I was annoyed at having wasted one of my White games, but also understood that sometimes there’s not much you can do if your opponent displays good preparation and play. There was one moment which was alarming, however, in which my opponent and I suffered from a case of mutual blindness.

After that brief scare, I put together a 3 game winning streak, beating WGM Tatev, GM Ben, and IM Atulya. My win against Tatev reminded me of a Petrosian game which featured similar ideas – closing the Queenside, and playing the King to d7.

In my win against GM Ben, I was able to carry out an aesthetically pleasing combination to finish the game.


The win against IM Atulya wasn’t as crisp as the other two, as I misplayed a better position out of the opening. Fortunately, Atulya was low on time and was unable to find the best defense in a tough position.

In the 5th round, I had a fighting draw against the Czech IM Cyril. On the surface, the endgame seemed slightly unpleasant for me, but for the most part, I was able to play accurately and avoid any potential pitfalls.


In round 6 I faced one of the “chessbrahs“,  IM Aman Hambleton with the White pieces. I knew Aman to be a tough opponent from our online games. We had drawn in our previous classical encounter, and so I was determined to do better this time! I decided to play 1.d4 once again, and as expected he repeated the Queens Gambit Accepted. I went for a different variation this time, and it was pretty cool to later learn that Karjakin had played the exact same thing, a few hours later, against Magnus in their WC match! Aman didn’t seem to be familiar with this line and sunk into deep thought. He came up with a logical setup, but after one small mistake things became highly favorable for me. I may not have displayed the best technique, but it was good enough to get the win.

This put me at 5/6, which meant that I needed 1.5/3 from the last rounds or the equivalent of 3 draws. I decided to play solidly as Black in my next game against Indian IM Tania, but that strategy went out the window after she made an opening mistake which could have given me a potentially decisive advantage.

I was quite miffed to have missed this opportunity, especially after I went back home and saw that I had this refutation sitting in one of my opening analysis’. It’s not every day your opponent messes up as White in the opening, and so one has to take advantage of it when it does happen!

The final two games were more tranquil, as I made quick draws with GM Kannapan and IM Nazi (2016 US Women’s Champ!) to seal the deal. My quest was finally over – I had gotten my 6-day GM norm, and had become a GM in the US chess capital. It was a long wait after crossing 2500 rating over 1 1 /2 years ago and collecting more than enough 5-day norms. I was ecstatic at having finally made it official. But another part of me was eager to get back to work and focus on my next quest – becoming an elite “Super Grandmaster.”

Thanks to the organizer Jonathan Schrantz and Chief Arbiter Mike Kummer, along with the Saint Louis Chess Club, for once again providing a wonderful opportunity for players to compete for norms in a professional environment.

My climb to Everest begins now.

Mount Everest

Source: Wikipedia




  • Kevin Ho

    Reply Reply November 30, 2016

    Good luck!

    • Akshat

      Reply Reply December 8, 2016

      Thank you, Kevin!
      Good luck to you as well 🙂

  • Shae

    Reply Reply December 2, 2016

    Congratulations, Akshat! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and watching you rise to Grandmaster. I learned the Taimanov Sicilian system thanks to you, and I’ve managed to win a few tournament games with it. Keep up the good work!

    • Akshat

      Reply Reply December 4, 2016

      Thank you, Shae!
      Appreciate your kind words – it means a lot to me.
      Nice to hear that you’ve won a few games with the Taimanov Sicilian!
      Good luck in your future tournaments!

  • Devanshi

    Reply Reply December 8, 2016

    Dear Akshat,
    Congratulations on your historic achievement. I always knew that you would become a grandmaster one day. I have seen your rise and have never forgotten your humbling acts. You are truly a genius and I am inspired by you. I hope you scale your Mount Everest soon.

    • Akshat

      Reply Reply December 9, 2016

      Dear Devanshi,
      Hope you have been doing well.
      It’s great to hear from you again!
      Thank you so much for your kind words – they mean a lot to me 🙂
      Good luck to you in your future endeavors as well!

  • Tyrone Davis III

    Reply Reply December 10, 2016


    Congratulations on making GM. I am an aspiring 2200 player, despite starting at age 14 two years ago. Do you have any tips on how to improve?

    Tyrone Davis

    • Akshat

      Reply Reply December 16, 2016

      Hi Tyrone,
      Thanks for your kind words!
      It’s nice to hear that you have big ambitions – you certainly have the right attitude.

      For me, the biggest thing in reaching 2200 was improving my tactical skills and awareness.
      From my experience, most of the games at the initial and medium level are decided by tactical blunders.

      Besides working on your tactics, I would also recommend learning common middlegame ideas, eg. Outpost, Good Knight vs Bad Bishop (and vice-versa), How to play with and against an Isolated Pawn etc.
      The best way to do this by yourself would be to study the games of the great classical players, like Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik etc.

      Of course, having a good coach to guide you will certainly make things easier.
      But ultimately, there is no substitute for self-work!
      Hope this helped.

      Good luck!

  • Siddharth

    Reply Reply January 2, 2017

    Congratulations on making GM! This is a monumental achievement, and I hope for even more successes in the future! I think the most impressive part of this whole journey of yours was how you set a definite goal and chased it. I sincerely hope that this is the first of many great achievements to come! I came to know of you after you won the US junior championships, and since then I’ve even studied your games, helping me win a couple of tourney games against stronger players in the Sicilian.Your ability to communicate and write so well is also a great skill of yours. All in all great job!

    • SKP

      Reply Reply January 8, 2017

      Hi Akshat,
      Congratulations on all your success!
      I wanted to know, how I could improve quickly in chess? I keep losing to weaker opponents thus it causes my rating to decrease. What things should I practise? I want to reach an IM level. And what books do you recommend? Thank you so much and I hope your wishes and dreams will be fulfilled.

      • Akshat

        Reply Reply January 9, 2017

        Hi SKP,
        Thanks for your kind words!

        Having problems with lower rated is definitely an understandable issue – all players, even the best ones, have had to deal with it at some point in their games.
        It’s tough for me to give you a suggestion since I have not seen the losses you had against them, but perhaps you can ask yourself these questions to understand why you are struggling:

        1) Are you being objective – Being ruthlessly objectively is one of the most difficult things to do against a lower rated.
        Many times, even if our lower rated opponent has played well for most of the game, and the game is more or less balanced, we over-push trying to win and, ironically, end up losing.
        Sometimes, you just have to accept that your opponent played well and play the result out as it should be, not what you want it to be.

        2) Are you underestimating your opponent? Sometimes when playing weaker players, we tend to play “hope chess”, hoping that our opponent won’t see a threat or trap we set.
        No matter who you are playing, you must always assume your opponent will play the best move.

        As for books, I’d recommend “Simple Chess” by Michael Stean – this book is good for learning some fundamental middlegame strategies/concepts.
        For endgames, Silman’s Endgame Manual is pretty comprehensive, and should be good enough for you right now.

        Hope this helped!

        • SKP

          Reply Reply January 11, 2017

          Thanks a lot Akshat!

          I just wanted to ask a last question, do you know which website I could use to download / read online chess books?

        • Hank

          Reply Reply July 22, 2017

          Thanks for the suggestions! I will read those two books this weekend, well, at least Simple Chess since it is smaller. 🙂 Henry

  • Tyrone Davis III

    Reply Reply August 29, 2017


    I have achieved master! Are there any books specifically that can help me reach, maybe, IM?


    • Akshat

      Reply Reply September 5, 2017

      Hey Tyrone,
      To be honest, I don’t think there any books you have to read in order to become an IM.
      The most important thing is to figure out your strengths and weaknesses.
      A good way to do this is by annotating/analyzing your own games.

      Also, go through the games you’ve played against IM and assess your results against them. Eg. are you losing in one-sided fashion, or are the games more evenly contested etc.
      That will give you a better idea as to how much more work you need to put in in order to reach that level yourself.
      I’m sorry if my advice sounds general, but it’s very hard to recommend a course of action since I don’t know much about you as a player.

      Good luck on your journey!

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