California's Chess Talents! #3: IM Vyom Vidyarthi

by FM Kevin Pan

In December 2021, FM Vyom Vidyarthi from California won the North American Junior Chess Championship, granting him the IM title and a GM norm. He finished ahead of famous chess prodigies like IM Arthur Guo, IM Josiah Stearman, and many others. In April of 2022, Vyom tied for first place in the Mission360 GM/IM Norm Event with GM Gabor Nagy and FM Maria Malicka.  In summer of 2022, IM Vidyarthi won the Gold Medal yet again in the Pan American Youth Championship. 

Chess is only one of the many extra-curricular activities Vyom enjoys. How does he accomplish so much in chess while devoting time to school and succeeding in other sports? I had an opportunity to speak with Vyom and gain valuable insight and advice.

IM Vyom Vidyarthi

[KP] Hello. Today we have International Master Vyom Vidyarthi, recent winner of the Pan American Youth Championship and numerous other events. Congratulations on your recent Gold Medal performance. It seems the gold medal is becoming a norm for you, having won the North American Junior Championship in 2021 as well. How did you feel when you won yet again?

[VV]  During the tournament I was just playing for fun, because I already have the (IM) title. I was mainly accompanying my sister who was playing in the U12 Girl section. She has the conditional WFM title already but she has to get to 1900 rating for FIDE to actually receive the title. So … I just wanted to play as I hadn’t played for a while. I thought it would be fun. I hadn’t played any international tournament recently. It was kind of weird. It was in Uruguay. There were few US players there. So it is different from other international tournaments I’ve played in. But it was nice. I was really happy because it was my first big international tournament gold medal. It was also nice that Omya (Vyom’s sister) also got first place in her section. So it was great. 

[KP] Very interesting. You’re being a supportive brother! You achieved the IM title in 2021 by winning the North American Junior Championship. This was very special during the pandemic. Most players out there were not able to play many tournaments. Can you share your journey? How were you able to keep playing?

[VV] To be completely honest, I have not been focusing on chess that much during the pandemic. In general I do a lot of other things outside of chess, like sports, especially water polo. I practiced almost daily but did not spend that much time. I felt not playing that many tournaments was beneficial for me. A lot of players feel like they need to continuously play and they can keep improving. But I think taking a break from tournaments for a while, though one might feel a little less confident going into the tournament, I definitely think that has benefited me. I went into the tournament… I was not thinking about whether I can get that IM title. I was just playing it more for fun, to get the experience. Yeah I think cutting down the number of tournaments I play has helped me a lot. 

[KP] Interesting! Do you think the mindset change, having less pressure, helped you?

[VV] Yeah, definitely. If I go into a tournament and think “ok I need to do this”. I played a GM Norm tournament in Charlotte when I tried to get the norm. This was a little bit later (than the North American Junior Championship). I started off really poorly.I drew the first GM which was fine. Then the next two games I just lost because I was thinking about the norm then all the time. After that I realized I am not going to get the norm. Then I thought ok let me just get the experience and finish +2 from that point on. When I don’t have that pressure, I am not stressed out, I play better I think.

[KP] Totally agree. Continuous progress in playing strength and rating is hard. But you’ve done something much harder which is to win multiple big events. A lot of strong chess players can’t say they’ve done it. Can you share tips with those kids out there who want to replicate your event success? Were you nervous during the last round or not?

[VV] Let's take the last round for example. Personally in both those tournaments, I thought I was the better player going into the last round than my opponents. If you take the North American Junior one in 2021. I had lost the penultimate round so I was half point behind first. A lot of things would have to go towards my favor for me to end up first. So I was not really focusing on that. I was just playing my game and let whatever would happen happen then. But if you look at my other tournaments, since I started off pretty well, like in the Uruguay tournament, I played most of the more difficult players early on, so my last round, in comparison to my earlier rounds, has an easier opponent. So I just focus on the fact that I thought I was the better player going into those games. I tried to ignore the situation and just focused on the game. 

[KP] Was there a game or two you like on your chess journey? 

[VV] I thought about it…I guess the last round game of the junior tournament…I like that…that was my positional game. 

[KP] All right. Moving onto more general topics. What part of chess do you like the most? 

[VV] If I think about it,when I play chess, I don’t even know why I play . You sit there for hours. You are stressed. I don’t understand why I enjoy it. This is really weird for me why I actually like it. Maybe it is the strategy, the ideas in general of  positions… It is hard for me to think what exactly I like about the game. I just have an inclination towards it. 

[KP] Yeah…probably other players will think the same way, why am I actually playing this because..   It seems like torture but it is actually pretty fun. So… on the topic of torture, is there anything you dislike about chess?

[VV] Not really. Just in general the problem with cheating that has been going around…I don’t like that. It is so hard to detect it. Can we get rid of it?  If you take sports, (because i am really into sports), that doesn’t happen as often. I don’t usually see that really I’d say. But it seems like a big problem here. I wish this didn’t happen and we didn’t have to deal with it. 

[KP] Which chess player do you admire the most? Someone you look up to?

[VV] I’d answer this question before all these scandals happened and I don’t have to deal with it. I definitely look up to Magnus. He is definitely an incredible player. He has so many records. I just don’t understand how he does it. He knows so much theory. Even for positions you feel like there is nothing to play for, he will find a way to outplay his opponent, one also at 2700 rating level. I think it is incredible, unbelievable. 

[KP] Now let’s talk about your life outside of chess. You had mentioned you love sports. Can you share what sports you do? 

[VV] I play water polo, tennis and basketball. Mainly water polo and tennis. I do chess when I have spare time. Water Polo season is ongoing right now. I have a game right after this. I play both water polo and tennis inside and outside of school.  I play basketball during the winter season in school. So if you ask me what my life looks like in school, that’d be water polo, tennis and chess. 

[KP] If I understand you correctly, you actually play sports every season right?

[VV] Yeah…

[KP] Do you think chess has helped you in sports, and vice versa?

[VV] Yeah. I definitely think that chess has helped a lot in water polo. The strategy in chess…you have to think ahead a lot in chess right.  The same thing applies to water polo. You get a steal or something. You want to make sure to pass the ball to your teammates.  So take the chess strategy and implement it in water polo. You can think ahead and that gives you a lot of advantage over other players. You might not be the strongest, the biggest or the fastest. But if you can think ahead like that, it really gives you a huge edge over other people. I definitely think that was one of my biggest advantages. I am definitely not the fastest, the strongest but I am able to use that strength from chess and anticipate something better than others which gives me a little bit of the benefit there.

[KP] Another interesting thing I noticed…i just wanted to say…everyone I’ve interviewed so far they’ve said they play tennis too. Maybe something about the non-physical part of the individualistic aspect. OK. So how do you balance between your chess training and these other commitments? What does your typical day look like?

[VV] I have school from 8 to 3. From 3:45-5:45 PM I have practice for water polo (or other sports in season). After that I do my homework. Then whatever free time I have, I play some chess. In general, weekdays are pretty packed for me. Usually it is just school and water polo or whatever sport I get for the season and homework. That’s it. And on the weekends I spend more time playing chess. But I mean…somewhat I think my kind of chess practice routine is similar to Nakamura. I just play a bunch of games (online). I spend some time studying but probably less than most people. I just like to play a lot and that has worked out for me.

[KP] You talked about this earlier. Your sister is also a very strong chess player. In fact she is a four-time Pan American Youth Gold Medalist. So what’s the dynamics between you and your sister? Do you guys practice with each other? And what were the results?

[VV} We play in general. At times I asked to practice with her. I play table tennis with her. We are the only siblings in the family. It is hard for me to convince her to do something with me. She doesn’t usually want to do something with me. When it comes to chess, ultimately she would agree but most of the time when we were playing, I would tell her how to improve but she doesn’t really want to listen to me. But I know she actually takes it in. It benefits both of us. She definitely can help me as well when we practice. It is not just me helping her. 

[KP] Now let’s look into the future a little bit. You are an International Master now. What’s your next goal? Do you plan to go for the Grand Master?

[VV] I have a few tournaments coming up in Nov. and Dec. with norms possible. I definitely want to try for the norm and the title before the end of high school. But I know this year is going to be my kind of last chance before I get really busy from junior year. So I am trying in Nov. and Dec. in a few tournaments. I have one norm right now. I am trying for the other two. It is definitely not something I am dependent upon. I am happy with IM. If I could get GM that’d be great. It is just a target I have, definitely not something I am going all out for.  

[KP] Ten years from now, how do you picture yourself? Will you continue playing chess?

[VV] I’ll probably play chess for fun, once in a while. I am not gonna focus completely on chess. (I’ll probably work on) something STEM related. That’s what I like in school. I like math, and all the stem stuff. But I will definitely keep chess as a side thing. 

[KP] One final question. For a six year old young player out there who would like to replicate your success, what suggestion would you give to him or her from your chess career?

[VV] What i am going to say might be contrary to what other people might say but I think it is really important to balance chess with other stuff you are doing, other extracurricular activities you have. Not just focus on chess. Chess is a great way and it helps a lot. But it is very important to keep school as our first priority, and then chess and whatever other stuff we are doing. I think about my friends. Most people play chess when they are young. I feel like around the very beginning a lot of people drop out. In the very beginning things might be tough for you to even start playing, that's when you just need to put in the work and be determined to actually continue. Once you get to the higher level, you are going to have ups and downs. There will be times when you are stuck at some rating for a year or something. That's when you will need to put in the extra work. At some point you will continue to climb. As long as you don’t quit, and you continue to put in the work, you are going to do fine. It is just a matter of not giving up at any point.

[KP]  That's very good advice right there!  Thank you for all the advice and insights you gave based on your career. Thanks a lot Vyom!

[VV] Thank you.

Caption: US Chess School #41.  IM Vyom is the third one from the left on the middle row and FM Kevin is the second one from the left on the front row

I first met Vyom in 2017 when we played in the last round of the National K-5 section and drew.  Since then we’ve played five times and crossed paths in team events as well. It is intriguing to observe how Vyom has grown over the years. His passion for chess and positive energy has motivated many people around him, including myself, and I am sure his best successes are yet to come.