It is Wednesday, March 22, and I am in the registration area for the 1st Sharjah Masters International Chess Championship 2017 at the Sharjah Cultural and Chess Club, in close proximity of planes taking off from Sharjah Airport.
It is a routine visit to accompany and help out a cousin, a chess player, who has arrived from Amravati, India, as a participant.
Ahead of us are two ladies, one of which happens to be the mother of Raunak Sadhwani, past his 11th birthday, I am told, from Nagpur. Raunak is not to be seen.
A few minutes later, a young boy strides in carrying a backpack. Short, shy and sheepish, he greets my cousin and, in true humble Indian tradition, bends down to touch the feet of my cousin, a coach too.

The elders realise there is not much to be done, but linger around more in the hope that they might remember something to ask before it is late once we step out in the wilderness on the outside of the venue.
Meanwhile, Raunak is getting impatient and nudging his mother repeatedly. Mother relents and Raunak delightedly starts a blitz game of chess with Saina Salonika, another player from Orissa. (By the way, the Hindi name of Raunak means brightness).

ChessRaunak

Saina Salinika, left, and Raunak Sadhwani on the eve of the tournament

It is difficult to determine if the fidgety Raunak was shuffling his legs more faster earlier in his itch for a game or the moves itself.
And just when he is halfway into the game, Raunak’s mother beckons: ‘Time to go’, she says.
Outside in the parking lot, Raunak realises he forgot his backpack and runs like a hare back to fetch it like a usual child his age would do.
Three rounds later, Raunak has won all his games with three points to his tally and is ranked ninth among more than 230 players (270 were confirmed entry).

ChessSHJ

Sharjah Cultural and Chess Club

The quirks of the Accelerated pairings system in the Swiss-round format of the tournament mean the number of players with like points will be bunched together as much as possible, segregated into lots and follow the tennis draw pattern with the player with most career rating points will play the least.
And who does Raunak draw in the fourth round? China’s Wang Hao, the leader after Round 3 and overall fifth-highest rated player in the tournament.
Unfair system, maybe. But whatever happens, Raunak will be richer from the experience.
He is definitely punching above his weight…. and height … and age, too.
Raunak can be forgetful of the backpack, like an average child, but when it comes to focus on the 64 squares, he is definitely packing a punch.
Look out for this talent. His career could be taking off to a higher plane/altitude.

PS: Playing with black, Raunak lost his first game of the tournament, expectedly, to Wang Hao.

FACTFILE (courtesy the web)

Achievements: 1) Winner of IIFL Wealth Mumbai Junior Chess Tournament (Feb 2016)
2) 3rd, India National U19 Junior Chess Championship (October 16)
3) Gold, Under 10, Commonwealth Chess Championship, New Delhi (2015)
4) Bronze medal, U10, Asian Youth Championship, South Korea (2015)
5) National and state Under 9 champion (2014)
Coach: GM Swapnil Dhopade
Highest Elo rating: 2246
Current Elo: 2218
Ranking (U12 age category): World No 12; Asia No 5; India No 3 (courtesy chess-db.com)

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