While other kids his age were conquering “Candy Land,” he was busy capturing kings.
What’s up with that?
Keshav Arjun Beegala learned to play chess before he started kindergarten.
He has since many times said “checkmate” to his father, who taught him, and to people 10 times his age.
Keshav, now 9, has won state titles for three years in a row.
The Shelton View Elementary student recently finished at the top for third graders in this year’s virtual state chess tournament of about 175 contenders in his grade. Last year, he had one of three perfect scores in the second grade division and the year prior, he had the only perfect score for the first graders. He ranked 12th in his age group in the 2019 nationals competition in Nashville, Tennessee, which was not held this year due to COVID-19.
His trophies tower over the mantle of the family’s Bothell home.
“I want to get big upsets,” Keshav said. “I’ve done it in my last two tournaments.”
This kid doesn’t sit around and play chess all day. Maybe an hour a day, unless he’s in a 10-hour tournament.
Keshav aspires to be a chess grandmaster, but first he wants to be a guitar hero.
He’s off to a good start, based on the performance last week in his living room, rocking “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath.
With the same king-crushing concentration in chess, he strummed the chords on his dad’s electric guitar.
After several years of piano lessons, Keshav started learning guitar earlier this year during the stay-home order. He also does songs by Metallica and Iron Maiden.
His 6-year-old brother, Dhruv, has taken up chess.
“I beat my dad 1,000 times, because my dad is very bad at chess,” Dhruv said. “I didn’t get to be a champion because I’m still a kid.”
He is waiting until he is 7 to compete.
The two boys practice together. Keshav plays online and has private coaching. He likes in-person games the best. Before the pandemic, Keshav played at Seattle Chess Club, Chess4Life and Pacific Northwest Chess Center.
“He plays kids his age or 80 with the same intensity. He has no fear of age,” said his dad, Adi Beegala, an Amazon finance manager. “He’s a gentle kid. He fights hard in chess, though.”
The father was pretty much on his own when he started playing as a kid in India.
“I taught myself,” Adi Beegala said. “My sister got a board for me, and I got a book trying to figure out how the pieces move. It was baby steps.”
He wanted to up the game of his firstborn son, who is now out of his league.
“We do coaches around the world,” the dad said. “There are people in Cuba and India and here, based on what he needs to learn.”
Magnus Carlsen, 29, the Norwegian World Chess Champion since 2013, also was taught by his father to play chess at a young age.
“He’s a very fun and smart person. He is very creative,” Keshav said.
He prefers the “attacking style” of Viswanathan Anand, a previous world champ who as a youth was nicknamed the “Lightning Kid” in India.
“I like tactics,” Keshav said. “I like to checkmate the opponent and attack the opponent’s king. It’s fun. Even if I lose you can analyze your game and learn from your mistakes.”
He is hard on himself when he makes mistakes.
“The one I clearly remember is I played a game, I was completely winning. I just had one move to checkmate and then I blundered the whole game and lost,” Keshav said. “I felt like I sucked at chess. I cried. I said negative stuff.”
His parents help him bounce back.
“Often when he gets into the negative zone, he quickly comes out of it after a few encouraging words,” his dad said. ”Thinking about the big picture, this is just a dot in the whole journey of chess for him. View it as a small event.”
How does Dad accept losing?
“I’ve been crushed so many times,” he said. “Taking it from the kids is hard. You have to be strong.”
The 22 trophies and six medals on the mantle are a shrine to Keshav’s success.
“I still remember day one when he got the small trophy and he was so full of joy,” said his mom, Hari Priya, a Microsoft program manager.
That was from a chess club meet from Keshav’s kindergarten era.
“Behind every single trophy there are a lot of tears and tantrums and sleepless nights,” she said. “I constantly check with him. I want to make sure he is enjoying it and not doing it out of pressure. I’m happy for where he is today, but I also appreciate the hard work he puts in.”
Keshav’s favorite trophy isn’t one of the shiny 3-footers. It’s a medium-sized trophy from 2018 of a pawn with a glass top.
“It looks like a diamond and when you put it to the light it glows,” he said.
The word “Checkmate” in chess comes from the Persian phrase “Shah Mat,” which means “the King is dead.”
The first chess game between space and Earth was in June 1970 by the Soyez-9 crew. The game ended in a draw.
A computer designed to play chess called Deep Thought became the first of its kind to beat an international master in 1988 in California.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is an internationally rated chess master. He twice won the Washington State Chess Championship, in 1984 and 1987, under the name Bobby Ferguson.