Indian chess prodigies, Gauri Shankar and Arjun Vishnuvardhan, won top spots at the U.S. Space Coast Open Chess Championships last month in Florida. Gauri Shankar won his 12th international medal in the K12 section, while his brother Arjun Vishnuvardhan tied for first place in the Open Blitz category and won in the Master's category.
With his latest win, Gauri Shankar's ranking is now 1862 in the U.S. Chess Federation ratings. The 11-year-old was an Indian national chess champion at age 7, and a British International under-10 Chess Champion in 2001. He won a place in the record books when he won the championship three years in a row, until he became too old to play. Last year, he won a double gold at the US National Quick Chess Championship in Houston, winning 19 out of 19 games.
To keep himself in form, Shankar plays between five to eight hours of chess every day - whether he is on the road taking part in tournaments, or at home waiting.
Doesn't he ever get bored?
"No," said the 11-year-old, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice. "Chess is a big game - you never stop learning.
"Even the greatest player in the world has a lot to learn."
Shankar may not be the greatest player in the world right now, but give him time. In two years, at the most three, he says he will be a grandmaster.
"I have the confidence," he told rediff.com.
Thanks to the Houston title, Shankar got to meet his idol, the Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov. According to Shankar's father, Raman Manoj, the meeting was a success.
Kasparov presented Shankar with the trophy he won at the much-awaited Man Vs Machine game - when he beat a powerful 3D computer named X3D Fritz.
"Kasparov wanted to honor the boy,' " said Manoj. "So he presented him with the trophy.
"He said he too won an international title at 11."
For the younger player meeting Kasparov was as thrilling as winning his various honors.
"He's like a superhuman," said Shankar. "He can think a lot deeper than anyone else."
Shankar pointed out that Kasparov had won the world championship 15 times.
"He's never been defeated," he said. "Well, he has, but 80 percent of the time he's won. That's really great."
Shankar started playing chess at the age of 6, when his father introduced him to the game. His parents played regularly, but, as his father says, "I'm not so good at the game." Rather than playing himself, most often the father watches his sons playing each other.
Shankar and his brother and coach, Vishnuwardhan - the 2001 British Junior Champion and the 2002 Middle East junior champion - play chess every day as a way of keeping in touch with the game.
Vishnuwardhan, says his father, is "an extraordinary talent."
"He plays simultaneous blindfold chess," said Manoj. "I have told him to be careful - blindfold chess can crash your brain. You have to learn everything by memory."
He said Vishnuwardhan, who is older than Shankar, also wanted to take part in U.S. tournaments but the family was able to bring only one son because of monetary constraints.
The exchange rate between the dollar and the rupee is a persistent problem, said Manoj. In the U.S., Shankar has been training with Susan Polgar, the first woman grandmaster. She is a four-time world champion and a three-time Olympic medal winner.
"The training is very expensive," said Manoj. "It is $100 an hour. In terms of Indian rupees the cost is prohibitive."
There is a third son, Ashwin, 6, who has not yet shown signs of developing into another prodigy in the family - he seems to be more interested in athletics and drawing than chess.
Not that Shankar does not have other interests.
Like other grandmasters, he likes to listen to and play music. He has composed songs on the keyboard. His favorite musician, he says, is A R Rahman.
He watches Malayalam movies - such as the hit film Kalyan Raman - though he does not watch English ones. "I don't have time."
And he reads a lot, bypassing Harry Potter and the like for chess books. The best-thumbed titles in his collection are older books by long-gone chess greats.
"I learn so much from reading books," he said. "The old books are better because they were written after 40 to 50 years of experience."
So, yes, he has other interests, but they come secondary to the game.
What is it about chess that's so special?
"You need a lot of knowledge and experience and talent and skill to play chess," he said. "It is not an ordinary game. It is science and it is art."