Autistic teen aims for grandmaster status

May 26, 2024 - 08:03
The young chess master Phạm Trần Gia Phúc is on the right track to make his dream come true.


Phạm Trần Gia Phúc and his treasure after nearly a decade playing chess. VNS Photo Đông Linh

Beating more than 70 strong rivals from 11 countries and regions, Phạm Trần Gia Phúc won the 2024 International Grandmasters, International Masters and FIDE Masters Chess Tournament recently held in Quảng Ninh Province.

The win brought him the second of three needed norms to become a Grandmaster (GM), the highest title awarded in chess.

The young master is on the right track to make his dream come true, a dream that none of his family members could imagine when Phúc was born with autism.

Chess - a new world

Trần Thị Kim Chi, Phúc's mother, said her son showed unusual signs when he was born in 2009 and after checking with doctors was diagnosed with autism.

Chi brought the boy to all the best hospitals with a view to finding a normal life for him, but she struggled. While his friends all knew how to read and write, Phúc played alone and could not communicate well with anyone.

Phạm Trần Gia Phúc (right) competes at the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships 2023. VNS Photo KC

However, he was interested in chess when his sister played. He spent time discovering the black and white pieces with a passion.

Chi tried to register Phúc at chess clubs, but they declined to let him join due to his autism.

She invited a coach home to train Phúc while she sat next to him to explain any information that the boy did not understand.

Six months later, Phúc was familiar with many chess plays and was registered to compete in an HCM City open tournament.

The boy surprised everyone, winning all seven matches and topping the U6 category. He was immediately recruited to the city's talented chess club, and a new world had opened for him.

"After playing chess, Phúc could concentrate better and his thinking developed well. He often defeated his sister, who had won the Asian U8 rapid chess gold and blitz chess silver," said Chi. "He started chess later than other players at the same age, but he grew much faster than them."

At age 7 in 2016, Phúc won a set of medals at the national junior championship. A year later, he topped Asia in the U8 standard chess category, placed second in the blitz chess event, and was recognised as the most impressive player of the tournament.

He then went on to dominate the world junior championship's blitz chess, setting a milestone in his career, in the same year.

Phạm Trần Gia Phúc (right) checkmates at the SixDays Budapest event in February. VNS Photo KC

“I was thrilled with the world gold. I think it was a strong push for my career," Phúc said.

"Before each tournament, I always research my rivals to know their playing style, weak and strong points. I always think carefully before making a move. If I'm subjective, it's easy to make a wrong decision that leads to a defeat. Losing a game will easily make me lose my mood, leading to poor results in the following games."

In addition to practising chess with his sister and coaches at the club, Phúc also learns with an Indian GM online twice a week to improve his technique.

In 2022, he not only dominated local tournaments, but also secured five gold medals from the Asian junior championship and officially became a FIDE Master.

Last year, Phúc was again on top of the world after he triumphed at the U14 rapid chess event of the FIDE World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships.

Grandmaster target

The 15-year-old has set his eyes on earning the GM title since the beginning of this year after his participation at the 2023 SPICE Cup in the US, one of the world's most prestigious chess competitions.

Watching Phúc's games, GM Lê Quang Liêm, SPICE Cup director and head of organising board, said that with his chess strength, he would probably earn enough GM norms within the next year.

Phạm Trần Gia Phúc (left) takes part in the Quảng Ninh 2024 International Grandmasters, International Masters and FIDE Masters Chess Tournament. VNA/VNS Photo

Liêm, the former world No 1 blitz chess master, believes that Phúc will soon become a top grandmaster in his age group, in both domestic and international arenas.

To be titled as GM, a player must win three GM norms and have an Elo of 2,500 or more at any point in their career. The three norms cannot be calculated from the same country, and one of the norms must be taken from a Swiss open tournament with at least 40 players with an average tournament Elo of 2,000 or more.

He completed his first step when he won the SixDays Budapest event in February. Phúc secured his first GM norm and lifted his Elo rating to 2,439.

Three months later, Phúc was on top podium of the Quảng Ninh International event and secured his second norm on May 19.

“Chess helps me integrate into normal life and opens up a different world for me. In that world, I can live with passion and express myself," said Phúc, who recently received a scholarship to study for four years at the Canadian International School for his outstanding academic study and chess achievements.

"Through chess, I enjoy life lessons. I am happy getting good results and proving that I'm fine. My autism no longer exists. I want to focus totally on chess, and compete in many international tournaments to increase my Elo rating and gain more experience. I dream of being like my idol GM Liêm, and developing my career internationally." VNS