Arjun Erigaisi made waves last week by vaulting into the World No.4 spot (in the live ratings that are updated in real time), ahead of much-vaunted countrymen like the legendary Viswanathan Anand and the 2024 Candidates trio of D Gukesh, Praggnanandhaa and Vidit Gujrathi. His live rating of 2773.9 also puts him ahead of world champion Ding Liren and two-time World Championship contender Ian Nepomniachtchi.

Only, the 20-year-old boy who has achieved the feat says he doesn’t really care all that much.

“It’s a good feeling. I’m happy about it. But recently, I’ve been trying not to care too much (about such things). So that’s been helping me. It is a conscious decision not to care too much about results. I give my best and I accept whatever comes,” Arjun Erigaisi tells The Indian Express from Armenia where he is playing at the Stepan Avagyan Memorial.

Explaining this switch in his mindset, Arjun Erigaisi explains: “Last year, I desperately cared about qualifying for the Candidates. I so desperately wanted to qualify. I had so much attachment to it. Because of this, my nerves kept failing me at critical moments.”

Besides the changed mindset, the boy from Warangal has been making others sit up and take notice, thanks to his new playing style that he adopted around the pandemic years.

Festive offer
Arjun Arjun Erigaisi competes at the Tepe Sigeman tournament. (PHOTO: David Llada)

“Gukesh is a very calculation-based player. Pragg also calculates well but he’s a little more intuitive. Arjun is just a complete mad man at the board. He wants to kill you in every single game. Has crazy preparation and plays extremely ambitiously and that’s what makes him very dangerous,” World No.1 Magnus Carlsen had told The Indian Express recently in an interview.

Ask Arjun Erigaisi what he made of that assessment and he says: “I knew my style was like that before (Magnus said that). So it wasn’t like a huge revelation to me. But when I played Magnus — maybe because of the Magnus effect — I couldn’t fully play to my style. So I wasn’t sure if he actually felt that way. But this confirms that he could also feel it.”

Ask him how his style has evolved and he says: “Initially, I was just a very technical player. For my level at that time, it was very good. But while playing against complications, it wasn’t very good. So I used to fear and be pretty scared in complicated positions on the board. Then, with time many of my coaches like Srinath (Narayanan) told me I should get better at this. Even pre-pandemic, I was a positional player. But around 2021 and 2022, I could feel the difference.”

When he says he could feel the difference, he also means in the way more established opponents were
playing against him. He says he felt that shift at the Tata Steel event in Kolkata in 2022.

“At the Tata Steel India event when I was playing Hikaru Nakamura, I could already see that I was
playing on equal terms — in fact, I beat him 3-0 (in three games).

“When we were relatively weaker, these (elite) players would try to take more chances against us and try to cash in. But now that we’re at their level, they know that if they take too many risks against us we’re capable of beating them. This is not just for the Indians but also for any chess player, if someone is relatively weaker you would try to take more chances against them,” says Arjun Erigaisi who is currently working with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who helped Viswanathan Anand for a while during his World Championship days besides working with players like Fabiano Caruana, Sergey Karjakin and Nodirbek Abdusattorov.

Responding to controversy

Ahead of the Sharjah Masters event last month, Dutch GM Jorden van Foreest and Vasif Durarbayli had raised the issue of financial conditions and prize funds at open tournaments getting “dire” with high-rated GMs even being asked to share rooms. Durarbayli, in particular, had pointed fingers at “young, sponsored Indian chess players” who were “undermining the professional chess ecosystem” because they were accepting sub-par conditions from organizers, thereby reducing leverage that the rest of the players like Durarbayli had to negotiate. for playing in events.

Durarbayli had, in fact, named Arjun Erigaisi in his social media rant.

But Arjun Erigaisi points out that since invites to closed events (super-elite invitational tournaments, where only the top grandmasters in the world get invited) are hard to come by for him, he has to play at open events to keep his ratings up.

“The best thing would be to be part of closed events (invitations). But given the circumstances, I had to take some risks and I took them. They’ve paid off. I don’t see (an issue),” says Arjun Erigaisi, who is sponsored by Quantbox, a trading company based in Singapore which has backed him for the past year and a half. They’ve committed to backing him for five years in a deal worth $1.5 million (around Rs. 12.5 crore) which works out to Rs. 2.5 crore per year.

Not lacking in confidence, Arjun has set himself the target of qualifying for the World Championship battle via the next Candidates.

“Candidates are one thing. The ratings, they speak (for themselves). Now that I’ve crossed 2770 and I am World no.4, the events that will happen later this year and the beginning of next year, I’m confident I will win. One of my goals is to qualify for the 2026 Candidates, I’m confident that I am capable of it. In 2025, there will be seven spots on offer (to qualify for the Candidates) and I am confident I will get at least one of them. Then the goal is to win the Candidates and get a shot at the World Championships.

“I like all the formats, particularly blitz more than the others. But classical is given a lot more importance than the others, so I focus mainly on the classical. I don’t neglect rapid or blitz because working on them is pure joy to me,” adds Arjun Erigaisi.