7-year-old Valencia chess player brings home national trophy

It’s only been a year since 7-year-old Aakashi Ahuja began playing chess, but she already has dozens of trophies and medals to prove her skills.

“My dad taught me how to play chess, and I like to play it because it’s like a game you can get famous in,” said Ahuja.

Recently, the first-grader added yet another trophy to her collection, a U.S. Chess Foundation honor, which only the top-30 players received, at a recent national tournament.

Out of 310 participants in the kindergarten through third-grade category, Ahuja placed 15th at the 2019 National Elementary Championship in Nashville, Tennessee over Mother’s Day weekend.

“The entire time they called me ‘Destroyer’ because I always won, I just lost one game,” she added.

Ahuja played seven rounds — she won five, lost one and drew another.

“Her rating has gone up significantly,” said her father, Aakash Ahuja. “She went from 624 to 781.” A chess rating is an estimate of the players “playing strength” based on prior results. It can change drastically after winning or losing, according to the U.S. Chess Federation.

The national ranking is even more impressive given the fact that while Aakashi enjoys playing chess, she initially wasn’t even planning to compete when she went to Nashville.

The family’s plan was to travel from Valencia to Nashville to support Ahuja’s 8-year-old brother, but her three coaches told her parents that she was also ready to compete. She entered the competition about a month before, with just enough time to complete her training, according to her mother.

“I feel proud of both of my kids,” said their mother, Sarika Ahuja. “When Coach Jay (Stallings) told us that Aakashi was going with us, we were double-excited.”

Ahuja says she also felt proud of herself, and she showed it by taking her shiny new trophy to school.

“She took the trophy to school, she isn’t letting it leave her side,” her father said.

 7-year-old Aakashi Ahuja displays her awards. Lorena Mejia/The Signal

And while the dozens of trophies displayed in her home symbolize her improvement and success, Ahuja plans to keep playing and become famous like the current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen.

“I want to be famous and earn money because I want a house with a pool and a dolphin,” she said with a smile on her face.

Ahuja’s parents say they support their children and their dreams, especially because they enjoy working toward their goals.

“Never give up,” her mother said, sharing the advice the parents give their children. “Keep on going and keep up with your hard work.”

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About the author

Lorena Mejia

Lorena Mejia

Lorena was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley. She attended California State University Northridge where she double majored in Journalism and Chicano Studies and minored in Spanish Language Journalism. While at CSUN, she worked for the university's television and radio newscast. Through her journalistic work, she earned membership to Kappa Tau Alpha, a national honor society for selected journalists. Her passion for the community has introduced her to new people, ideas, and issues that have helped shape the person she is today. Lorena’s skills include using cameras as a tool to empower people by informing them and creating change in their communities. Some of her hobbies include reading the news, exploring the outdoors, and being an avid animal lover.