Canberra International Master Junta Ikeda will head to Sydney on Saturday, looking to defend the NSW Open crown he's held for the past two years.
Two weeks after winning a seventh ACT Chess Championship, the 29-year-old will play for his share of the $1500 first prize as the NSW Open returns to the calendar after it was a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
It's the next step on Ikeda's roadmap to becoming a Grandmaster, which hit a significant roadblock when the pandemic shut down the opportunity of playing on the lucrative summer European chess circuit.
His journey began almost two decades ago when he burst onto the scene winning the under-12s ACT title, before traveling to Greece in 2003 for the World Youth Championships.
"I remember using a mic for the first time when I won the ACT under 12s it's a small tournament but when you're at that age it's a big deal," Ikeda said.
"As a kid I just found it so fun. I couldn't stop playing, once I'd get home from school apparently I'd just get a chess book and start reading it.
"Back in year six we all wrote what do you want to be in the future, and mine was International Master or Grandmaster."
Grandmaster is the highest title that can be bestowed upon a chess player. The number of GM titles awarded has grown exponentially in recent times since the advent of exceedingly powerful computer engines which help players train at a higher level, but less than 2000 players have reached those heights.
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Just 10 of those have been Australian.
To become a GM, a player must reach a FIDE (International Chess Federation) rating of 2500, and achieve three Grandmaster norms which involves performing to a certain level in strong chess tournaments.
Ikeda, who became an IM in 2014 having hit a FIDE rating of 2400, has one such GM norm, which came from one of his European ventures before COVID hit.
"Over there they have so many good tournaments all the time - it's definitely more embedded in the culture, and they have a rich history they've worked with for centuries while Australia's very much new [to chess]," Ikeda said.
"It's a lot more popular in the [European] public as well, it's played in some parks and in public. A bit like those scenes in the Queen's Gambit.
"At the moment can't travel much so it's hard to get the norms but I've been working on chess and I'm still going for GM. It's a very slow process but I think I'm getting there slowly."