Danial Asaria beat his first grandmaster in a chess tournament when he was 15-years-old, but the recent Santa Monica High School graduate has a number of accomplishments — on and off the board — that one may find even more impressive.
Asaria started playing chess when he was 7-years-old and attending Franklin Elementary School.
“At first, I was always a very energetic kid and my parents wanted me to focus the energy on something productive,” Asaria said in an interview. “Originally, I was hoping to play soccer and I thought chess would be boring, but after the first match, I was automatically hooked. I think I liked it because I was able to battle against others and try to outwit them in a peaceful manner without actually hurting anyone.”
Six weeks after taking his first pawn in a match, Asaria sat down to play his coach, he said, “and I was completely winning before I blundered it at the end. But I was winning and the coach was really, really surprised… so we signed up for the Los Angeles Chess Club.”
In the years since, Asaria said he has been fortunate enough to travel the world because of his prowess on the board. And up until Covid-19 forced the cancellation of nearly every event in the country, he had a plane ticket booked for Ohio, where he was hoping to compete in his final tournament as a high-schooler.
“It got canceled at first and there was going to be nothing at all, but then they organized an online tournament,” Asaria said. “And it was only for seniors and featured a field of really strong competitors, I actually think it was one of the strongest tournaments I’ve played in.”
In the first round, Asaria played an International Master, which is the second highest title one can achieve in chess. In the next match, he was tasked with beating an actual grandmaster.
Ten moves into the game, the prospective Trojan was down one piece and soon found himself down two pieces, “which is essentially resignable,” Asaria said, “and I was so close to resigning, but then I realized this is the last tournament of my high-school career. I shouldn’t just blank out and give up.”
“Luckily,” he added, “Out of nowhere, I got this attack and eventually turned the board, so after that I started to feel more confident and gain momentum.”
Nearly 20 moves later, Asaria said “I had somehow managed to checkmate him. I immediately leapt out of my chair and sprinted down the hall to tell my dad about my cunning trickery and my undeserving win,” and when he returned to the computer he was met with a stern message from organizers about his squealing noises.
“This game was a refreshing reminder of one of the important life lessons I plan to take from chess into college and beyond,” Asaria said. “And that is to never give up even in the most hopeless of situations.”
And while Asaria said he doesn’t intend to play professionally in the future, the 18-year-old does plan to continue to give back to the community through the different nonprofit tournaments he holds with the I-CERV organization and the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board.
I’ve realized chess lessons and opportunities can be expensive but I don’t want financial status to hinder any student from reaching their potential,” Asaria added. “That’s why I am planning to partake in a national initiative with the Aga Khan Education Board/Youth and Sports Board to virtually teach free chess classes to Ismaili Muslim kids around the country to try inspire hope, happiness, and learning during these tough times.”