An Arizona high school student is making a name for himself in the international chess world | So Good News
At the end of every match, Sandeep Sethuraman looks his opponent in the eye and mutters one word: checkmate.
“The expectation is 36-0 every year. I win every game I play during the year. The goal is to win the state championship again,” said Sethuraman, a 15-year-old world-ranked chess player and junior at BASIS Chandler. “There are five boards and you need three in each match to win.”
The schoolboy has risen in the world of chess since his grandmother taught him the rules at a young age. By mid-seventh grade, Sethuraman had qualified as a National Master, and in 2021 he became a FIDE Master.
He is currently ranked 2532nd among all active players in the world according to the International Chess Federation.
These titles are decided through national and international tournaments that take years to earn, and the most widely used ranking system in chess follows the Elo system. The system categorizes international chess players from beginners to Super Grandmasters, an unofficial title for players ranked above 2700.
Sethuraman currently sits at 2371 – just 29 points short of an International Masters title according to the Elo system.
“I aspire to become an international master. I have two of the three required standards and I am at 2370 and need to get to 2400 to become an International Master. I hope to become one by the end of this academic year,” said Sethuraman.
But his pursuit of chess dominance does not distract from his commitment to the BASIS Chandler team. During last year’s AIA season, Sethuraman won the state championship for BASIS Chandler by winning the individual events and defeating the championship’s top-ranked player, Brophy’s Mason Miller.
A year later, Sethuraman’s role is that of captain and coach for his colleagues. He became so good that even his coach Radhika Guruju realized that she had little to teach him. Instead, Guruju helps his superstar with the mental side of the game.
“Chess is a very intellectual game. Teams can scare you, opponents can scare you, so (you) don’t want to look at them too much and listen to their trash talk,” Gurju said. “Not paying attention to everything around you makes your game the most important game of the day.”
With Sethuraman poised to captain BASIS Chandler for the next two seasons, anything short of a state championship would spell disappointment. However, Guruju was used to high expectations. After being approved to join the AIA, he is the only coach the BASIS team knows and has never finished below the top five since the program’s inaugural season.
“We feel the pressure because you win for so many years and you have that reputation and you win again,” Guruju said. “I tell my team to just play with the board, don’t play the person sitting in front of you, the team in front of you. Make your game the most fun for you, so you don’t lose sight of your teammate’s game. You need to be focused from the moment you go to the tournament until you leave.”
Matt FritzMiller, principal of BASIS Chandler, has taken a back seat as he sees his chess program become one of the best in the state.
“What I do is I don’t catch them. I let them have whatever they need. They are very talented and amazing chess players, and a few years ago they wanted to join the AIA, so we let them and it went really well,” FritzMiller said. “The best thing I can do for them is to let them do their thing. and support as much as I can.
Sethuraman is ready to take the next step in the world of international chess. He plans to skip the state singles tournament in November and focus on this weekend’s US Masters in Charlotte, where a successful showing will catapult him into the International Masters ranking.
He also created The Chess Effect, a non-profit organization designed to teach chess to underprivileged children, using chess to give back to the community. Through her efforts, she raised $900 for Helping Hands of Arizona, which focuses on providing vital services to children in foster care.
The chess prodigy has no doubt that the sport will continue to play a major role in his life. Even so, he knows that this is just one of the many paths his future holds.
“I’m trying to get a grandmaster title,” Sethuraman said. “I want to continue playing chess for the rest of my life, but even though I want to go to college and not be able to give it the same amount of time, I still want to be a player and/or coach.”