BEST AT CHESS
Midwest City teen is first four-time state champion
Leave it to Joe Veal, who himself covets the title, to describe the talents of Oklahoma’s top chess player. “Frankly amazing,” said Veal, who’s played the “Game of Kings” for 28 years and added, quite frankly, he’s never seen anyone like Advait Patel. He calls him a gift to the state.
“When he walks into the tournament, everyone thinks about that second prize,” Veal said.
On June 25, Advait won his fourth consecutive state championship, the first in Oklahoma history to do so. Later this month, he’ll head for Norfolk, Virginia, vying to win a national tournament where he placed second last year.
Advait Patel will be a junior at Carl Albert High School this fall. He is 14.
The quiet, modest teenager doesn’t like to focus on his early success. He shrugs and nonchalantly answers questions.
“(To) be one of the best players in the world, I guess,” Advait said.
Dressed in a gray T-shirt and khaki shorts, Advait, born in Mumbai, India, sits in the living room of his parents’ modest Midwest City home, across from a stockpile of trophies and plaques stationed in the corner of the room.
With his hands clasped around his knee, he divulges the secret to his success: hours of study and practice.
In the summer, Advait said he spends four to five hours each day sharpening his skills. He devotes his time to studying books about the centuries-old pastime and analyzing strategy of online opponents.
“He’ll do everything possible to make his weaknesses go away,” said Rupal, his father.
He’s quick to respond to questions, similar to the way he makes a move when playing chess — quick, calculated and confident.
After years of practice, Advait’s learned winning has more to do with the person across the chess board than the pieces scattered on its top.
When he begins a match, he scrutinizes his rival, examining strategy. He goes on the offensive; controlling the pace of the game to faze his challenger.
Advait is competitive, hates losing, never forgets a loss and sometimes even holds grudges against his opponents, he said.
Those memories fuel his motivation to win his next match.
“Those losses stick out more than wins for sure,” Advait said.
Age is only a number
Advait learned to play chess while on vacation in India at age 7. If it was too hot to go outside, he stayed indoors and learned the game from his grandfather. He maintained an interest when he returned home to West Virginia, and his parents entered him into his first open tournament.
“He was crushed,” said his mother, Ruhi.
But instead of giving up, his competitive spirit forced him to want to improve. After he lost, he told his family he would come back to win the tournament. Two years later he did.
“I found out I was pretty good, so why not keep playing?” Advait said.
In 2014 and at age 11, Advait moved to Oklahoma and swiped the title of Open State Champion from Charles Unruh, who’s played competitive chess since he was 18. That year, Unruh came in seventh place.
“I’ve lost to a 7-yearold before,” said Unruh, 31. “Chess is one of those weird games where it doesn’t care about age. It’s more about skill than it is about anything else.”
Unruh doesn’t mind losing to Advait because he’s such a great player, he said.
He expects Advait to become the state’s first grandmaster.
Advait is considered a senior master, one norm, or high-level performance, away from becoming an international master. His goal is to become a grandmaster before he goes to college, a destination he said he hasn’t given much thought to yet.
Advait already has a long list of accomplishments, from skipping the fourth grade to playing chess blindfolded, sometimes participating in up to six games simultaneously.
He acknowledged he’s pretty good at math, but said he enjoys world history more, wishing he could retain more histor- ical facts. In his free time he reads, evident from the pile of books neatly stacked on a bookshelf in his room.
He also swam competitively, he said, but that got in the way of chess practice.
If Advait wins the Denker Tournament of High School Champions in Norfolk, he’ll receive a $5,000 scholarship and an $800 prize. He also will qualify for the 2017 U.S. Junior Championship, an invitation-only tournament in St. Louis.
He anticipates the competition will be tough, unlike tournaments in Oklahoma, which he casually compares to practice.
Veal, who serves as the Oklahoma Chess Association vice president, is confident Advait, who ranks third in the U.S. for his age, has the ability to win the tournament.
“When a person that young wins the entire championship, it’s a boon for the entire state,” Veal said.
A family effort
His mother beams with pride while talking about her son’s accomplishments. She doesn’t know much about chess, she said, but she’s deemed herself to be her son’s encourager, supporting him at tournaments and matches.
Ruhi and Rupal seemingly go the extra mile to ensure their son has the opportunity to excel at every turn. But financially, they can’t give him everything.
The Patels own Fusion Kitchen, an Indian restaurant, in Midwest City. Ruhi does fundraisers once a month at the restaurant, selling all-youcan-eat meal tickets for about $15.
About two years ago, Rupal created a GoFundMe page, trying to collect donations for his son’s travels. The family received almost $1,000, a drop in the bucket after accounting for tournament entry fees, travel expenses and accommodations.
Now that Advait is getting older, he has opportunities to travel farther from Oklahoma, making the excursions more expensive. In the past few years, he’s qualified for international tournaments, but has never participated because his family can’t afford to send him.
To have more opportunities ... better competition, Advait has to travel outside the state. Together, the Patels have traveled to 35 states, Ruhi said.
“It’s effort as a family to go,” she said.
Despite time and cost, Ruhi and Rupal are supportive of their son and want him to achieve his goals.
“It’s just his passion,” Ruhi said. “We just kind of nurtured it.”
Right: Advait Patel, 14, moves a piece in a game of chess at his house in Midwest City.
14-year-old Advait Patel stands next to his trophies at his house in Midwest City.
Advait Patel, 14, makes a move in a game of chess at his house in Midwest City.