Abinav Rajiv Mundayat hopes to one day reach the highest heights in chess.
The West Windsor resident is well on his way. Mundayat earned co-champion of the National Elementary (K-6) championship in Nashville, Tennessee., on May 12.
“It means a lot and the recognition is amazing,” said Mundayat, a 12-year-old sixth grader at SciCore Academy in Hightstown. “The amount of support has helped me.”
The national competition brought together more than 2,250 students from almost 700 schools. Mundayat did not lose. In his seven matches, he won five and finished in a draw in two others. That was enough to share first place with a friend. He is also friends with the third-place finisher, who he defeated during the tournament.
“I was delighted,” said his father, Rajiv. “I knew he had the potential. It was an important milestone. It shows he’s capable of winning tournaments. I was very happy. It was good to see hard work being rewarded.”
Mundayat stumbled upon chess five years ago while attending an event at Princeton Day School.
“We didn’t go for the tournament,” he recalled. “We went for field day and then there was a tournament. I think I got fourth. After that, we started to go to more tournaments there at the school.”
Mundayat’s interest took off from there. He’s grown more passionate about chess and hopes to one day achieve the rank of Grand Master. Players receive points for rankings in tournament play. Mundayat plays 25-30 tournaments in a year. He’s currently at the Expert level, but is close to moving up to Candidate Master. Beyond that is FIDE Master, then International Master and finally Grand Master.
“That’s my first goal,” Mundayat said. “I have some other milestones.”
Nationals wasn’t the first big tournament for Mundayat. He has played in the Pan American Youth Chess Championships and will participate in this year’s Pan American tournament in Ecuador in July, has done the North American Tournament and will play in it again in August in Ontario, Canada, and he competed in the World School Tournament held in Albania in April, 2018.
“I’m more motivated now,” Mundayat said. “It’s getting more interesting because my opponents are much harder. Every win is better.”
That continues at home. When Mundayat was starting out, he played against his father. Now Rajiv can’t beat him.“He’s been beating me for the last three years,” said his father. “In the last three years, I’ve beaten him only once or twice.”
Mundayat’s desire to compete against his father early in his career helped to inspire him to do better. He got more serious about chess with each year, and his family has supported his passion. He started to experience success within a year and took off from there. His parents hired a coach for him in second grade, then in the last year he switched to a coach who can take him to a higher level. Dejan Bojkov trains Mundayat from Bulgaria over Skype. Closer to home, his other coach, Arun Subramanian, is based in New Jersey.
“When I first saw his interest, he had some early success and I saw his interest and passion,” said Rajiov, whose own father taught him to play at age 10. “The first books he got were chess related. I was sort of teaching him. He was getting better and he got to a point where I wanted to get him some formal training.”
His coaches combined with his own dedication have helped Mundayat enjoy a good success rate in tournament play.
“It’s pretty high,” Mundayat said. “The tournament right before the nationals, I won 5 out of 5. That was a confidence boost.”
It’s not the first time that Mundayat has succeeded in something at which he has put his best efforts. Mundayat rose to the rank of black belt before he stopped training in taekwondo. He also plays travel basketball, and enjoyed soccer and football. He enjoys mechanics and science and engineering. Much of his free time goes into chess.
“He’s grown his interest and his dedication has improved,” Rajiov said. “He’s practicing at home. His rating has also improved. With every tournament, he’s showing more promise. His long-term goal is to become a Grand Master.”
Mundayat is on his way. Solid coaching has helped along with a competitive spirit and desire to develop more airtight playing strategies. Tournament play has enabled him to gauge his growth and see new strategies to help him achieve his goal.
“We didn’t know the level of intensity that was required,” Mundayat said. “But having played these tournaments, we know more. And he’s continued with his interest. He’s constantly looking to improve.”
Mundayat will have plenty of opportunities over the coming years, both to win tournaments and to find his way to the highest level.