This guy became national level champion at the age of 21 to playing chess.
Yogesh Gautam is a Chess prodigy, from Haryana, who has made India proud world over at just the age of 21. Playing Chess for over 12 years now, his first encounter with the game was nothing more than coincidental. Yogesh has won many National and International Chess Tournaments including US World Open Championship. A graduate from SRCC, Yogesh has undertaken a pan India journey to teach Chess in rural and most remote areas of the country.
Q. How did you come across Chess despite being from a town which was totally unaware of it?
On my 9th birthday, someone gifted me a Chess set and I remember being fascinated by the Chess pieces. My sister read the manual in English, that evening, and taught me how to play and move the pieces.
I used to play in the streets, sometimes my father took me to nearby villages where some people used to play Chess under the Baniyan tree or sometimes in someone’s house. Just like that I went to play for district and state followed by Nationals where I was ranked 144 out of 200.
It came as a hard hitting realization. There was more to be done and playing in the streets wasn’t going to help for much longer.
Q. Did you ever feel that you were losing out on your academics because of your passion for Chess?
My father is the head of Open School Branch in Education Department of Haryana Government and he understood that my passion was equally important to my academics. Through the support of my family, I continued playing without much pressure.
Despite investing a majority part of my time in Chess, I managed to gain admission in Shri Ram School of Commerce, which is probably one of the best in Asia.
Q. How was your experience playing in different countries and facing international competition?
Honestly, a lot of them can’t be expressed in words.
In 2013, I went to USA for the first time. I did not have any sponsors and had to take care of my own expenses. Having 24 hour layovers in Saudi Arabia, since I couldn’t get a direct flight to New York. I was broke for the entire trip and had to look for someone who would let me stay at their place since I couldn’t afford a hotel.
I played while suffering from jet lag, with my eyes half shut, in the toughest tournament of the world. In those 3 days, I won all the rounds and was named US World Open Champion. It was one of the happiest days of my life.
Q. Did you feel a difference in attitude towards Chess among the people in other countries?
Other countries have much more facilities for players as compared to India. So, it is naturally disheartening. Take Russia for instance, every kid there plays Chess and some of the best works written on Chess are from Russia. They have amazing facilities, just as the Ukrainians and Americans.
But, I believe India too can catch up. There is just a lack of awareness. I am confident Chess will gain momentum in India because of so many young enthusiasts that are now coming up in the industry.
Q. Did you ever come to a point where you thought “I can’t go on”?
There is a lot of hard work we put in to reach a certain point of prowess. Achieving Grand Master status is equivalent to earning three IAS degrees. Reaching there takes a lot of effort and even after you achieve that level there is a constant need to grow.
Hence, the future looks insecure to many. There are so many people around me who do not understand what I do and why I do it, who try to persuade me to do something other than Chess. That is one of the most demotivating things.
Q. Where did you find the inspiration to undertake the massive journey Drive For The Game?
Lack of awareness is a reality of majority of people living in India. This is why I have undertaken Drive for the Game along with Desired Wings.
It is a 50,000 kilometer long journey, where I’m teaching Chess to children in the most remote parts of India. Also, will be distributing Chess sets, free of cost, to the children.
Being just one man, I am trying my best to spread the word on Chess in as many remote areas as possible.
Q. How have you envisioned your future in Chess?
In the near future, atleast till May 2017, my journey of traveling across India and teaching Chess will continue. We are making a documentary on this which will leave a long-lasting impact not just in India but internationally. It will show the world, that India too is standing up for Chess.
I have no aid from the govt or the authorities. Just one man, I am trying to bring a change with support of the Chess industry. But I am hopeful that this is a step in the positive direction and my efforts will help bring a change in the attitude of people around Chess
Q. One message that you would like to send out for youth?
Believe in the power of your dreams.
It has been 12 years since I first started playing Chess and I have had 34 coaches till date. Haryana govt has not extended a scholarship even once. The only constant support has been my family.
I have travelled in trains to reach on time for back-to-back tournaments. Had to travel in toilets, sometimes for days, to reach a destination. It is a very unique kind of struggle that I have seen.