You must love and respect the game: Susal Thewjan
By Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna
On the Little Stars cover today is a National Chess Champion who started showcasing his skills from a very young age. This 14-year-old champion, FIDE Master (FM) L.M. Susal Thewjan De Silva of Nalanda College, Colombo, emerged champion at the seventh Sri Lanka Grand Prix in July. Thewjan also emerged the second runner-up at the Sri Lanka National Chess Championship 2020 and he is currently the youngest member in the national chess team. He was 13 years old when he was selected to the national team in Sri Lanka and he is the youngest national team member in Sri Lankan chess history.
Thewjan, tell us about yourself.
I’m Susal Thewjan De Silva, but mostly known as L.M.S.T. De Silva. From Grade 1 to Grade 5 I attended D.S. Senanayake Model Primary School, Anuradhapura. After I passed my scholarship exams in Grade 5 I was selected to Nalanda College, Colombo. My father is a businessman and my mother was a teacher, but now she is not working. I have an older brother and my family supports me a lot in chess. I watch cricket matches with my brother during my leisure time and my favourite cricketer is Kumar Sangakkara. I like to play table tennis.
What made you choose chess as a sport?
When I was six years old, one of my friends presented me with a chessboard for my birthday. I loved it very much, but I didn’t know how to play. My father knew very little chess so I played with him. But not in a proper way. However later on, I met Mr. Milinda Rathnayaka, who is my first chess coach.
You emerged champion at the seventh Sri Lanka Grand Prix this year. Can you share your experience with us?
It was the first tournament which was organised by the Chess Federation after the lockdown. Twelve players participated and all of them were top-rated players in the country, including two former National Champions. Last year too I participated in this tournament and placed fourth. This time it was totally different due to the pandemic. We had to play according to the health guidelines and spectators were not allowed. I was a bit nervous during the first round because I sat for the game after a few months, but I managed to win it. My coach instructed me to focus on the game round by round, without creating unwanted stress. There were 11 games and I finished the tournament with eight wins, two draws, and one loss. I lost to Minul Doluweera who is a former National Champion and my favourite game was the one I played with Silva Kevin in the second round. Actually, my opponent had a good chance to win it but at the last moment, I managed to spin the game. I am the youngest player who won the Grand Prix Championship in history and I was the youngest player among all 12 players.
Out of all your achievements, what is the achievement you are most proud of? Can you also tell us why?
There are three tournaments which are so important and I’m proud of. In 2017, I won the Championship at Western Asian Under-12 and I obtained my FIDE Master (FM) title being just 11 years old. It’s a milestone of mine. I’m the youngest FM in Sri Lanka. In 2019, I was selected to the national chess team of Sri Lanka. I was 13 years old and I’m the youngest player in Sri Lankan chess history who represented the Sri Lankan team. In 2020, I won the Championship of the Colombo International Chess Festival. There were about 450 players in the tournament. The top player was a well-experienced Grandmaster from Russia and another highly rated player from Italy. Two former National Champions also played. There were 10 games and from the beginning, I was at the top. During the last round I had to play with the Grandmaster. I had never played with a Grandmaster before. Still, I can remember the way I prepared for him. Finally, I won the game. It was a dream of mine to win against a Grandmaster (Grandmaster is the most prestigious title that a chess player can gain). In Sri Lanka, we don’t have Grandmasters). I scored 10 points out of 11 possible games.
Do you play any other sports or take part in other extracurricular activities?
I played badminton at school but couldn’t play the tournaments because it clashed with chess. I’m playing table tennis during my leisure time. I’m a member of the school aviation society too.
What is your favourite chess piece?
I love all the pieces, but I prefer the queen. The queen makes me so comfortable when playing because she can move anywhere she wants.
What are the qualities one should possess to become a good chess player?
First of all, you must love and respect the game. You should have a goal and work towards it. Having a good coach and self-studying are a must. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a lot; I missed some functions, my friends sometimes, and my family several times because of chess. But I make up my mind and work to be a good player.
Some say chess is the most strategic game. Do you agree?
Yes, to win a game you must have a better plan than your opponent. You have to be very sharp and tactical. You have to be so strategic to play a good game.
Who are your supporters? Who do you want to thank?
My best supporters are my family. They always give me massive support to keep my mind calm and quiet. Maintaining a peaceful mind is a must for a chess player. My first coach Mr. Milinda Rathnayaka helped me a lot. Without him, I would not be a chess player. I’ve been working with Mr. Akila Kavinda since 2014 and he is still my coach. He represented the national team several times and is a strong player in the country. The credit for where I am today should go to him. He has given me the freedom to be myself and play according to my own style. Nalanda College Principal Mrs. Sakunthala Sandamalee, the teacher in charge, and the OBA (Old Boys’ Association) of my school help me a lot. Last but not least, I must thank Mr. Luxman Wijesuriya and the Chess Federation of Sri Lanka for providing us with all the facilities to uplift the game.
What is your future goal?
I want to be a Grandmaster, the most prestigious title a chess player can achieve, as well as to continue my academic performance on a good level and be a geologist one day.
- Youth Chess Championship 2014 (Under-8) – bronze medal
- Participated in the World Youth Chess Championship (Under-8) in South Africa
- Schools’ Chess Individual Chess Championship 2016 (Under-9) – champion
- Participated in the World Schools’ Chess Championship 2015 (Under-9 ) in Thailand
- Participated in the Asian Schools’ Chess Championship 2015 (Under-9) in Singapore
- Youth Chess Championship 2016 (Under-10) – bronze medal
- Youth Chess Championship 2017 (Under-10) – bronze medal
- Youth Chess Championship 2018 (Under-12) – champion
- Participated in the World Youth Chess Championship 2019 (Under-12) in India
- Participated in the World Junior Chess Championship 2019 in India
- Schools’ Chess Individual Chess Championship 2018 (Under-13) – champion
- Youth Chess Championship 2019 (Under-12) – champion
- Champion at the Western Asian Chess Championship 2017 (Under-12) and obtained the FIDE Master (FM) title at the age of 11; the youngest FM in Sri Lanka
- Champion at the Buddhi International Chess Championship 2018
- Selected to the national chess team of Sri Lanka (fifth place) in 2019
- Champion at the Athugalpura International Chess Championship 2019
- Champion at the Colombo International Chess Championship 2020
- Champion at the National Rapid Chess Championship 2020
- Champion at the seventh Sri Lanka Chess Grand Prix 2020
- Second runner-up at the Sri Lanka National Chess Championship 2020
- Youngest member of the national team