IM Rishi Sardana of Canberra has clinched the prestigious title of Australian Chess Champion.
The 27-year-old finished with a 9.5 score after 11 rounds at the Australian Chess Championships, taking home the title and a $3000 cash prize.
His 11 games at the event held in Adelaide that saw eight wins and three draws, included a resounding victory over 13-time Queensland champion IM Stephen Solomon.
The Australian title now sees him within 30 points of the required 2500 FIDE rating to become Grandmaster.
“Yes, as a chess player, my goal is to become a Grandmaster; it’s the highest title that any chess player can get. But my general goal is to become the best version of myself. Professionally, socially, personally, in every aspect,” Sardana told Indian Link with characteristic humility.
Sardana’s journey from his roots in India to becoming a formidable force in Australian chess reflects not only his personal dedication but also the rich cultural influences that have shaped his approach to the game.
“I was born in Canberra, but my family moved to India when I was about 7-8 years old. I spent most of my childhood and my teens there,” Sardana recounted, highlighting the formative years he spent immersed in the vibrant chess culture of his ancestral homeland.
In India, where chess enjoys widespread popularity and is often a mandatory part of school curricula, Sardana’s introduction to the game came at a pivotal moment.
“India has a huge culture of chess,” Sardana reflected. “I probably would not have been playing chess if it were not for my time in India.”
Attending a private school in India, and then Delhi University’s elite Sri Ram College of Commerce, Sardana found himself drawn into the world of chess through early weekly lessons and exposure to the intense competitive environment that characterised local tournaments.
“Also, playing in India, there were many people to look up to and learn through observation.”
Reflecting on the challenges and rewards of competing in India’s fiercely competitive chess scene, Sardana emphasises the invaluable lessons he learned from facing opponents of all ages and skill levels.
“The main thing about playing in India and what grew me into the player I am today, is that it’s just insanely difficult playing there. You never know who you’ll be playing against. You could be sitting opposite an 8-year-old who is probably playing his first tournament, and as soon as you start playing, you realise he is a beast, a monster!”
Returning to Australia after years spent honing his skills in India, Sardana encountered a different chess landscape, characterised by its relative infancy compared to the thriving chess community of his homeland.
“There are not that many grandmasters or international players here,” Sardana observed. “When I go to a tournament, I am usually one of the higher seeds.”
Despite the differences, Sardana adapted his approach, embracing the need to take more risks and step out of his comfort zone to excel in the Australian chess circuit.
“As a top player, I have to win lots and lots of games. I am under pressure to win, so I take more risks,” he said.
Balancing his passion for chess with a corporate career as a data consultant at KPMG Canberra, Sardana faces the challenge of juggling professional responsibilities with his pursuit of chess excellence.
“I have to take time off from work to go play at these tournaments. It’s not super easy, but when you face problems, it means you have problem-solving opportunities!”
Looking ahead, Sardana remains focused on his ultimate goal of becoming a Grandmaster, a title that represents the pinnacle of achievement in the chess world.
As Sardana’s triumph in the Australian Chess Championship propels him closer to his aspirations, his journey serves as a testament to the power of perseverance, cultural heritage, and the universal language of chess.
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