Chattanooga chess whiz sees tie between success on the board, life

Chattanooga chess whiz sees tie between success on the board, life

March 6th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Tanay Patri plays chess against another young opponent. Patri and others played during the weekly meeting of the Chattanooga Chess Club at the Sixth Street YMCA on Thursday.

Photo by Jake Daniels /Times Free Press.


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Tanay Patri is one of the strongest young chess players in Region II of the Tennessee Chess Association. He is also an accomplished swimmer, tennis player, debater and a three-time winner of the Chattanooga Times Free Press Regional Spelling Bee.


Name: Tanay Patri.

Age: 14.

School: Eighth-grader at McCallie.

Siblings: Younger sister, Komal, 10.


Chess playing idols: Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer and Hikaru Nakamura.

Favorite book: "Bonfire of the Vanities" by Tom Wolfe.

Favorite movie: "Inception."

Hobbies: Playing chess, tennis, swimming, debate and spelling.

Place he would like to visit: Australia.

People he would like to meet: Barack Obama and the late Steve Jobs.

The most versatile piece on the board: "The easiest answer would be the queen, but the rook is the most important piece in the game. If you can maintain your rooks properly, you're in great shape."

If you're not serious about chess, Tanay Patri is probably not someone you want to face on the other side of the checkered board.

Tanay, who recently turned 14, is considered one of the top young chess players in the area, according to Mike Ake, who teaches him at McCallie School and serves as the Region II coordinator for the Tennessee Chess Association.

According to the Elo system, a measure of relative chess-playing skill, Tanay is rated at 1,000, about the same as the average adult in Tennessee. Based on his tendency to play against more difficult opponents, however, Ake said, Tanay should probably be rated 1,300-1,500, equivalent to a Class D or Class C player, according to U.S. Chess Federation classifications.

"Tanay ... is a very tactical player, but he's very aggressive," Ake said. "If he gets an advantage, he'll push it quickly.

"He's not like the scientific players who take a lot of time to cultivate. He goes for the throat."

Despite taking first place in five local tournaments, winning the Tennessee Chess Association's Region II elementary championship in 2010 and finishing fourth in the association's junior-high championship last year, Tanay is more reserved in his evaluation of his skills.

Tanay said his strong suit is his ability to develop custom move combinations and his studied emphasis on his end game, but he admitted that he has plenty to learn.

"When I'm not playing my best, I've been beat several times at school; I make a mistake or I blunder awfully by not seeing something," he said. "I'm far from perfect at chess. There's lots of room for me to improve."

When he first started playing at age 6, admitting defeat was not easy for Tanay.

Having learned the rudiments of the game from his father, Tanay studied over the summer before joining the chess team at Hickory Valley Christian School. As a young up-and-comer, he held himself to a high standard and often felt disappointed at being defeated, he said.

As he grew older and entered middle school, however, he began to see opportunity to grow from every match, regardless of the outcome.

"I look over the game and see what I did wrong and what I can do better," he said. "Losses are just another learning experience."

Tanay said he appreciates the analytical nature of chess, especially its emphasis on forward thinking and logic to be successful. He is not one to shy away from difficult matches and said he prefers the pressure of a fierce, higher-ranked competitor to games against players with similar Elo ratings.

An eighth-grader at McCallie, he is the only middle-school student competing on the high-school chess team, which he has been a member of since the sixth grade.

His first year at McCallie, Tanay participated simultaneously in the elementary, junior-high and high-school teams. After tiring of playing multiple games simultaneously, he played exclusively for the high-school team in seventh grade but has since rejoined the junior-high team after he realized he missed the additional challenge.

"I love playing under pressure," he said, smiling. "If I'm not under pressure, I tend to relax too much."

Tanay also attends the weekly meeting of the Chattanooga Chess Club at the downtown YMCA, where he enjoys playing older opponents and analyzing their games to find holes in his own approach, he said.

Every week, he estimates he plays four and a half to five hours, or 15 to 20 games, in addition to tactical exercises and "20 to 30 games" he plays simultaneously online.

"After I finish my homework, I have something to look forward to," he said. "I make all my chess moves and then go to bed."

Although he is passionate about chess, Tanay is involved in numerous other pursuits, including swimming competitively, playing on McCallie's junior-high tennis team and high-school debate team. He is also an accomplished speller, having won three rounds of the Chattanooga Times Free Press Regional Spelling Bee.

Last year, he placed first in the statewide Tennessee Mathematics Teachers Association math contest. He received the national recognition medal from Duke University's Talent Identification Program for his performance on the American College Testing exam. His score of 27 (of a possible 36) included several individual exam scores that placed him in the 95th percentile of testers.

Tanay's father, Neelanjan Patri, is also an avid chess player. He said his son's approach to life in many ways reflects his approach to the game in that he makes small tactical decisions to achieve a long-term strategy.

"Chess, I felt, is a game that, while being a game, teaches a lot of things," Patri said. "You can see some of that taken in real-life scenarios where he [Tanay] says, 'If I want to get there, I need to do these things first.'