Nikhil Kumar: From Gold in Batumi to Congress King in Philly


The first time Nikhil Kumar played in the National Congress a couple of years ago at age 10, his performance in the Under 2000 section was unremarkable. “I didn’t do so well,” recalled Kumar, who only scored three points in his first National Congress tournament back in 2014

But when Kumar played in the National Congress in Philadelphia this past Thanksgiving weekend, the newly minted National Master joined two GMs in a four-way tie for first place in the premier section — and subsequently won on tiebreaks — by scoring 5 out of 6 points after he drew one IM and drew against another GM — with the Black pieces, mind you — in the final round.

“He’s on fire now,” said GM Sergey Erenburg, who drew by repetition against Kumar in Round 6 of the six-round tournament.

“He’s probably the strength of at least an International Master,” Erenburg said of Kumar, who achieved the rank of NM this past September.

Erenburg said he initially thought he could squeeze a victory out of his game against Kumar but ultimately found the task too difficult.

“It was a tough game. I thought I had some pressure, a slight advantage, but my opponent defended very well,” Erenburg said of his Round 6 game against Kumar.

Asked about the game ending in draw by repetition, Erenburg said: “I can’t deviate because otherwise I would either lose a bishop or enter an inferior end game. Probably it’s still a draw but I cannot win.”

img_1523“He has a bright future,” Erenburg said of Kumar. “As long as he works hard and has the support of his family, which he has.”

Indeed, Kumar’s father, Alok Kumar, professor and chair of finance department at the University of Miami, attributed his son’s success to an “amazing investment” in coaching, namely, Cuban-born IM Alejandro Moreno — the chess coach at the University of Miami — and Israeli GM Boris Avrukh.

“He started playing chess only four years ago,” the elder Kumar said of his son. “In four years, his progress has been phenomenal. It wouldn’t have happened without a proper coach.”

At the same time, the younger Kumar — who recently won gold at Open Under 12 section of the World Cadets in Batumi — has been doing his part by putting in some serious study time.

He estimated that — after schoolwork — he spends three hours on chess every day. Part of his study involves looking at GM games on ChessBase or reading books by authors such as Andy Soltis. Online chess videos, he said, constitute only a small part of his study regimen.

Asked for his favorite GM, Kumar said he looks up to former world champion Viswanathan Anand. “I like Vishy Anand because he’s also from India like me,” said Kumar, a Floridian whose parents are from India.

Here are some other noteworthy games from the 2016 National Congress, which drew about 600 registrants, according to officials at the Continental Chess Association.


Nikhil Kumar at the World Youth in Batumi, Georgia, here vs. IM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa

In other news, this US Chess writer decided it was time to enforce Rule 15A of the US Chess Federation’s Rules of Chess, and not allow my opponents to write down their moves before they make them — and sometimes erase them and write down other moves.

“What are you writing?” I asked my opponent, who shall remain nameless out of respect.

“I’m just writing down ideas,” my opponent responded defiantly. “I’m indecisive.” As if that weren’t a big deal. As if GM Wesely So didn’t get forfeited in the US Championship in 2015 for doing something similar, albeit not exactly the same.

“If you do it again I’m telling the tournament director,” I said after he did it a second time. I then proceeded to tell a TD I saw approaching my board because I thought he had heard the commotion and was there to investigate or intervene. The TD advised the player to make his moves first and then record them.

I don’t know if the young player was rattled, but soon after he played 26. Ne3:

He probably thought he was disconnecting my rooks. Turns out, it was a fatal error, which I had been eagerly awaiting and responded to immediately with 26 …. Rxe3! White now realizes he cannot capture the rook with the f-pawn or else he will get mated with Qg2. The game proceeded 27. Qxe3 Rxe3, and things were pretty much a cinch from there.

Find full standings at Jamaal Abdul-Alim is a Washington, DC-based journalist who covers higher education and chess. You can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.


  1. Wow! That was an amazing performance by Nikhil! His performance rating must have been 2600+, right? We have a lot of young stars now. The future looks strong for American chess!

    • agree. this is a large understatement given that he beat 2 GM’s and drew one “He’s probably the strength of at least an International Master” Based on his last 3 tournaments He’s probably the strength of at least a GM.

  2. A great story about a kid who is going places in chess!

    By the way, someone who makes a big deal about proper use of a scoresheet should also use proper algebraic notation. Rxe3 is ambiguous. I assume the author actually played R8xe3 to pin the f2 pawn. A nice tactic nonetheless.

    • Just now seeing this. You’re right. I realized the same thing after the fact. But sometimes these “errors” make you look at the position a little deeper, as you did, and I’m glad you figured it out.

  3. I also would like to congratulate Nikhil on a dream performance and I am very impressed by his work ethic at an early age.

    However, the story of the first half of the tournament was Expert Alan Zhang defeating 2 Masters and a GM before losing his last 3, but still gaining 76 rating points!

  4. Nikhil is revealing himself as another genuine, world class talent. Not just national level.

    If he is really IM-strength or stronger, has finished ahead of the youngest IM in history (his vanquished opponent Praggnanandhaa is at the very top of the list for future world champions among under 21), and won the gold medal, then he is legitimate player to watch for the highest positions. Not just another potential borderline GM, but top ten potential and who knows?

    As to tolerance, generally speaking, it doesn’t matter much at the hobby level. Alotta players have weird nervous ticks and twitches. In contrast to the professional level with big money and career resume on the line, where the possibility of deliberate gamesmanship have to be ruled out.

  5. This kid is going to beat Awonder’s IM record. Bet your money on it. This performance was way above IM. He just needs to find a three norm tournaments and Awonder’s record will go poof. Almost unbelieveable. Amazing

  6. […] the most attention of any player was elicited by 12-year-old FM Nikhil Kumar of Florida. Coming off a tie for first and 2760 performance in the National Congress the month before, he drew with Kojima and GM Nikola Mitkov in the early rounds, then upset WGM […]

    • Why is it all these “superkids” never make it to the very top?
      Bobby Fischer at 14 won the US title. Nakamura hasn’t even made it yet. When your dad has a cushy job is academia it’s too soft an upbrining. Great financially but it’s like becoming a champion boxer from the UES versus say Brownsville. Just ask Mike Tyson.

  7. Rich, privileged kids aren’t hungry enough to become world champion, and that a kid can go to 2200 so fast just shows that chess is being solved. We had a group in the 1980s of prep kids who were supposed to become future champions and none made it. The Advance Caro-Kan allows 3…Bf5 and equality so it’s not like he played the Game of The Century. Compare where Bobby Fischer was at the same age and it’s no contest.

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