Nikhil Kamath, India’s youngest billionaire, cheated in a charity chess match. What else about his life story and wealth is built on lies?
In 2000, a 14-year-old Nikhil Kamath, the son of a bank manager and music teacher, dropped out of school and got a job.
In 2010, he co-founded Zerodha, a discount brokerage outfit. By 2019, with no external financing, Zeroda became the largest retail stock broker in India. Current daily turnover has reached $10 billion.
A Mind Sharpened By Chess?
Various accounts of Nikhil’s youth tout his chess-playing and how the game’s mental discipline contributed to his success.
- “An avid chess player since the age of eight, Nikhil took to derivatives like a duck to water because the game had forged in him an analytical mind”
- “[T]he chess prodigy who launched India’s wildly successful brokerage platform”
- “How a Chess Champion Became India’s Youngest New Billionaire”
A Sporting Performance Worthy of Kim-Jong Un
Beating Former, Five-Time World Champion Viswanathan Anand
Former, five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand agreed to an online charity chess match against several Indian celebrities, including Nikhil.
As is typical of such events, Anand played these opponents simultaneously.
Incredibly, Nikhil beat Anand, who resigned after 34 moves.
Computer analysis of Nikhil’s play calculated his efficiency at 98.9%. This means that 98.9% of Nikhil’s moves matched the top moves recommended by computer chess engines.
Take Me To Your Supreme Leader!
Some readers may recall North Korean news reports of leader Kim-Jong Un’s sporting achievements. In his first round of golf, he reportedly scored 38 under par, including at least five holes-in-one. He also rolled a perfect 300 score his first time bowling.
Nikhil’s playing at 98.9% efficiency to beat a former World Champion represents a similar accomplishment. It is super-human.
Now for the kryptonite. Nikhil’s games on Chess.com show him playing at 0.6-10.9% efficiency. At least three chess novices wiped him out in anywhere from 4-12 moves.
The Making — And Unmaking — of a Legend
Clearly, Nikhil did not play on his own, but used a computer chess engine to suggest his moves.
There’s nothing lower in the chess world than cheating by using an engine. Nikhil confessed. Chess.com blocked his account.
Blocking actually represents a mercy since it prevents people from analyzing his other games.
Two Remaining Questions
What’s odd here is how on earth Nikhil believed that he could get away with using an engine to beat a former world champion.
This begs two questions.
Nikhil constructed a legend for himself as a chess prodigy who turned to business only after his dreams of becoming a world-class player fell through. His mind sharpened and toughened by chess’s intellectual demands, Nikhil went on to make a fortune in finance.
Journalists accepted this story at face value. They enthusiastically propagated it.
Yet, Nikhil’s online games show him getting hammered in short order by novices.
So, what other parts of Nikhil’s legend are BS?
Having lied repeatedly over the years about his chess abilities, Nikhil didn’t want to be taken apart by Anand in a highly publicized event.
Still, Nikhil could have cheated enough to save face, though not by so much as to make his cheating obvious.
Which raises the second question. What other successes in Nikhil’s life stem from cheating?
Nikhil was willing to cheat to win a meaningless charity event. What would he do for a billion dollars?
Who’s The Novice Here?
Globally humiliated, Nikhil the billionaire will, to quote pianist showman Liberace after receiving harsh reviews, “laugh all the way to the bank.”
Maybe Nikhil can’t play chess. But he’s definitely proven himself a world-class liar.
The real novices in this tale seem to be those of us in media, in business, and in society who bought into his legend.
Nikhil may or may not learn from his mistake.