Back to School with Jeevan Karamsetty
By CLO   
August 30, 2014
NM Jeevan Karamsetty

High School Senior and National Master Jeevan Karamsetty, one of five recipients of the 2014 Scholar-Chess player award talked to CLO for our “Back to School” series. He discusses balancing chess and school, his year long research paper on the benefits of chess and his prescient pick in the Sinquefield Cup. 

CLO: Tell us about winning the Scholar-Chess player award earlier this year?

Jeevan Karamsetty (JK): I first found out about the Scholar-Chess player award on Chess Life Online and was immediately attracted to it, mostly because it was not based purely on chess skill and chess accomplishments, but rather on three varying factors: academics, sportsmanship, and chess. I realized that this was probably the perfect fit for me since I have done my best to pursue my education and other activities while also having chess play a major role in my life. Additionally, applicants are expected to have produced a positive image of chess. I felt that through my teaching and other initiatives, I would be a good fit for this part of the application as well. 

I was anxious for the results, but had no idea how high my chances were stacked against the large pool of other applicants. When I learned that I was one of five recipients of the scholarship at this year’s National High School Championships I was thrilled.  I was given 1500 dollars, which will be very useful with college applications coming up. 
I am thrilled that there are opportunities from the Chess Trust that award players for what they do apart from playing chess as well. 

CLO: How does your study routine with chess differ in the summer and the school year?

JK: Without a doubt it is a lot harder to get serious amounts of chess study done during the school year. Especially after entering high school, I have been engulfed with school and a handful of other extracurricular activities that take a lot up of time. As a result, my chess routine during the school year is just constantly playing online, solving puzzles, and following games from prestigious tournaments that are going on. Along with all of these things, I am also reviewing my games and working on my openings/endgames during the summer. I haven’t had a coach for several years now and thus don’t have a set amount of time I’m training. 

CLO: What other advice do you have for young people balancing chess and school? Any specific study habit or time management tips? 

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to study and play chess as much as you can when you are younger. Without a doubt, you will have a lot more on your plate as you grow older. It’s really important to stay focused on school while also pursuing your passion for chess to the extent possible. That being said, if you truly love to do something, trust me when I say you will find time to pursue it. No matter how hectic a weekend can get to be, I try my best to play at least some local tournaments even if it means taking a bye for one of the rounds. Regardless of how much work I have on a weekday, you will often find me playing blitz or bullet online late at night. There is a reason I have played almost 35,000 games just on ICC!   

CLO: Tell us a little about your paper on the benefits of chess. Why did you decide to tackle this subject?

JK: Towards the beginning of my junior year, my humanities teachers assigned the class a year-long research paper to write about a topic of our choice. I figured if I was going to be putting in so much effort and time into something, it might as well be about something I genuinely cared about. I had always heard about and valued the effects of chess, but didn’t know too much about what the reality was. After doing a good amount of preliminary research, it was clear to me that I wanted to write about why chess should be offered as a part of the school curriculum in America. 

I spent the next several months researching and became more than convinced that chess has a lot of potential to help kids grow as individuals. I read a handful of different studies that showed a steady improvement in academic performance for students who were exposed to chess training on a regular basis. Briefly put, chess helps students with memory, logic/reasoning, problem solving, time management, and a whole lot more. I can definitely attest to the fact that chess helped me with several of the skills listed. 

There also is precedent for all of this- Chess in schools already exists. It has existed in Russia for more than forty years now and the results have clearly been shown. The Russians are considered dominant in the chess world- from 1948-2000, a Russian player had been the World Champion with the exception of Bobby Fischer in the 1970s. The effects on the students as a whole are fairly visible, with Russia dominating much of education system and rankings in the latter half of the 20th century. Not too long ago, Armenia decided to give this idea a try as well. Additionally, programs currently established in the US seem to be flourishing as well.

I am not saying that every kid in America should be forced to learn and play chess. If anything, I am absolutely against making a kid do something they have no interest for. All I am going for is that there is no harm in giving kids that opportunity. Just based on the magnitude of participants at scholastic events like Super Nationals, it seems like there might be some serious interest.

CLO: What is your current goal in chess? 
JK: When I was younger my immediate response to this question would just be that I wanted to become a grandmaster. However, one of the most important things I’ve learned over the twelve years I have played chess is to take things one step at a time. For now, I want to just continue playing as much as I can and get to 2400 USCF in the next few months. It might still be a bit premature to start thinking of IM norms, but it certainly isn’t too far down the road.  

CLO: What about academically?  

JK: I have a passion for both Computer Science and Business and hope to be able to pursue both concentrations when in college. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking classes in both fields in High school, and have enjoyed the Artificial Intelligence, and AP Macroeconomics courses the most. 

CLO: Do you remember the first USCF tournament you ever played in?

JK: I was just four years old! I recall that it was a small quads event in Washington D.C where I finished with a score of 2/3. The only tournament I best remember from back then was my first State Championships (K-3) in the March of 2003, two months after I started playing USCF tournaments. I was standing on a perfect 5/5 score but lost the championship round. 

CLO: Why is the USCF important to chess in America?  

JK: Let’s put it this way: I can’t imagine chess in America without the USCF. 

CLO: Who do you think will win the Sinquefield Cup?
JK: I think the final order will be as follows: Caruana, Carlsen, Aronian, Lagrave, Nakamura, Topalov. By the way, I had this prediction even before Caruana beat Topalov in round one!! (and has since won three more games!--ED) 

CLO:  Can you recall a recent instructive game?
JK: This was my game against FM Michael Barron from Canada at the Washington International earlier this month. 

One of the most important things I have learned is not too launch a premature attack- sometimes we get too ambitious and try to force ourselves to make an attack work. I feel that I did a fairly good job of building up pressure at the proper pace before trying to go for the ultimate attack.

See our earlier "Back to School" piece featuring Becca Lampman
, and find out more about the US Chess Trust here.