A few days ago, we brought to you interviews with GM RB Ramesh and GM Jonathan Tisdall, both of whom captained their respective sides successfully at the recently concluded Baku Olympiad. The duo spoke on a number of topics in those interviews, ranging from the Baku Olympiad to their own journey in the chess world. Now, it’s your chance to catch them unplugged, as they answer a flurry of offbeat questions, revealing lighter sides to their respective teams in the process!
The most exciting game played by a member of your team…
(Editor: Shankland himself said: “I got totally crushed in the beginning, and I have never had such a hopelessly lost position in my life against an opponent as strong as him and walked away with a draw, much less a win.” Harikrishna beat Mamedyarov with the Black pieces to secure a crucial win which helped team India beat higher rated Azerbaijan)
For Team Norway, the recently-concluded Baku Olympiad turned out to be a beautiful tale. Spearheaded by World Champion Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegians racked up a historic 5th position, booking a World Team Championship berth for themselves in the process. The ever-colourful Jonathan Tisdall, known for his witty ways, captained this record-breaking young brigade. Post-Baku, we were fortunate enough to catch up with Jonathan, who talks about what went on behind-the-scenes, the World Teams and his love for Shogi in this intriguing interview.
Shubham Kumthekar:Hello Jonathan! It’s been a few weeks since the Baku Olympiad came to a close, where the Norwegian team racked up a historic 5th position. Being the captain of this amazing team, how good are you feeling? 🙂
Jonathan Tisdall: I’m still very pleasantly surprised! The biggest feeling now is wondering how to get ready for our unexpected prize of direct qualification for the World Team Championship.
SK:How did you guys approach the Olympiad – was there a specific strategy in place?
JT: I think that might be easy to spot – the team wanted to try playing with a minimum of rotation, to ‘top the team’ as much as possible. This was risky as Norway has had a history of fading in the final rounds.
SK: Following a slow start, your team turned things around beautifully in the second half. What, according to you, made the difference?
JT: Magnus warmed up, and the team introduced a few daily routines to strengthen togetherness. Also, they are physically fit, which is very important for Magnus.
SK: In the final round match against India, a victory for either of the teams would mean an outside chance of making a podium finish. What was Team Norway’s approach going into this big encounter?
JT: Magnus said jokingly (?) before the Olympiad that plan A was to try to win on every board. Norway just played. There were no fancy – neutralise their whites, focus all the efforts on board X – type strategies. Everyone fights and tries to make the most of the chances they get.
SK: What was Magnus’ influence like on the team?
JT: Supreme. He uses a lot of energy being the team leader, and works to inspire and gather the team, advise and relax them. I think, it is one of the reasons he is yet to over-perform in a team event – he feels immense responsibility and gives away some of the energy he needs. In Baku, this was more true than ever, but it also went better than ever. Of course, he also led by being fully focused on his games – his concentration was better than ever for a team event.
JT: I adopted a policy of being a safety valve. I smoothed out any distractions, problem-solved, but in the background, off-the-board matters. We have the world champion on the team, no other expertise is needed. His understanding of sporting psychology is also about as good as his chess.
If any conflict should arise, I could be an authority figure, but the bottom line was to trust the team and Magnus fully, and to let them get on with it. I was the water boy and a friendly ear, and stayed in constant touch.
SK: What, in your opinion, distinguishes effective team captains from the rest?
JT: I think there are many styles, depending on the team. Some need to be the trainer types, some inspire or set a mood, some are managers, some a combination of these. Knowing what your team needs, and when to stay the hell out of the way, are two skills I would highlight. Of course the job demands, say, of Ivan Sokolov for Iran, were completely different from mine. Having an active world champion changes the equations.
SK: This impressive finish at Baku has also guaranteed Norway a spot in the World Team Championship to be held next year. How huge is it for you and the boys and how do you plan to approach it?
JT: Every time I think about it, it gets bigger. It will be a historic event for Norway. Honestly, the first stage is to secure funding. Despite the chess boom, the Norwegian Federation doesn’t have a lot of funds. The first goal is to play in the World Teams without having to scrimp on the Euro Teams later in the year. Ideally, we would be able to afford some serious preparation.
SK: Let’s backtrack. How did your chess journey begin?
JT: I learnt very young at my father’s knee, and started playing in tournaments when I was about 11. Things went forward very quickly – at first.
SK: What were the key moments in your journey towards the Grandmaster title?
JT: I had the worst competitive psychology on Earth, which is why it took so long, and why I became better known as a trainer/writer. My key moments were not giving up.
SK: Which of your tournament victories/achievements stand closest to your heart?
JT: Winning the Reykjavik Open. (Ed. – 1996)
SK: Is it true that you like and play Shogi? When and how did you get acquainted with the game?
JT: I love Shogi, but don’t really play it, no time. I learnt it at my father’s knee as well, but became very interested in Shogi when I decided to use it to regain the ‘beginner’s mind’ while I was writing ‘Improve Your Chess Now’ and wanted to remember how it felt to be inexperienced as a player.
SK: Any plans of learning other variants like Xiangqi and Go? 🙂
JT: No! Go is too abstract for me, and for some reason I find Xiangqi very hard to grasp, the most elusive of the chess variants. I was just chatting to Simen Agdestein who is writing a book about these games. He fell for Go, but completely agreed with me about Xiangqi. We couldn’t understand what made it so difficult.
SK: While we are on chess variants, let’s talk about a variant within western chess, namely Chess 960. What are your views about it?
JT: I have a feeling it might become a big thing in the future. That is if no one seriously turns the computers on it as well.
SK: With all the experience you bring to the table, what would you like to tell aspiring players aiming to make it big in today’s competitive chess environment?
JT: My experience doesn’t extend to today’s environment! But, I think the most obvious thing that doesn’t seem to be common practice these days is that endgame knowledge should be a higher educational/training priority. Time limits keep getting faster, and so you are never going to have the time needed to think properly at the end.
It has been few weeks since the Baku Olympiad, and we caught up with the captain of the Indian Open team – Grandmaster RB Ramesh. We asked him questions on the Olympiad and the crucial moments, Indian Chess, how should a player improve, and more. A very well known personality, Ramesh needs no introduction. A simple man with high ideals, he is unarguably one of the best coaches in India. We are grateful to him for sharing his opinions and insights.
Indian Open Team at the Baku Olympiad. From left to right: Captain RB Ramesh, Sethuraman SP, Karthikeyan Murali, Vidit Gujrathi, Adhiban B, Harikrishna P
Rucha Pujari: Great performance by Team India at the Baku Olympiad. How did the team approach the tournament, and how did it go?
Ramesh RB: Thank you very much. It was indeed a great performance from the young Indian team at Baku. Regarding the team’s approach, it was mostly about taking each match individually and trying to score as many points as possible on each board/match. All the players were in good form and very confident about their abilities. That made the job easier.
RP: How was the board order chosen? How did the team work together during the tournament and before the games?
Ramesh: We discussed few options and decided to go with the rating order this time around. Basically we discuss what is the best possible board order to field once the pairing is known. These days, preparations are done mostly with Laptops plus personal cloud computers/servers of individual players at the top level. Each player has his own opening material and if there are some lines that need to be checked, some problem lines were new ideas need to be found then myself and the player who is not playing will try to come up with some ideas which can be used in that game. Mostly, pregame preparation is about revising vast material which the player already has and plugging the holes that may arise in few variations. In many cases, some playerswill have some new ideas or some interesting options and they share with other players. This way the players help each other to find optimum lines to be employed in that particular game.
RP: There may have been a lot of crucial moments. Can you share some of them? How did you overcome them?
Ramesh: Against Cuba, one of our player had some issues with an opening and we found some idea at the very last moment and luckily it appeared on the board and we won an important game. Though the idea was not dangerous, it was tough to handle it over the board and it worked in our favor!
At times some player feels dejected after a painful loss and is not in the mood to play the next game and there is a slight loss of confidence in one’s ability. I try to keep the players in good frame of mind and talk to the concerned player during a walk and cheer them up. Since lot of the issue involve players, it would be better we don’t go into the specifics.
Fortunately, we didn’t have too many crisis moments. Players in general were in good form throughout, except in few cases were the last 3 rounds proved to be tougher than expected and didn’t go in our way.
RP: You have contributed so much to Indian Chess. Let us go back. How did you start playing Chess and when did you decide to take up Chess as a career?
Ramesh: I started playing chess at the relatively later age of twelve years in December 1988. Anand becoming GM was the inspiration. It was initially more like a hobby but when I started winning some tournaments I started to take it more seriously. When I qualified for National A (current national premier) in 1995-96, I realized I should probably take this as my career option.
RP: How was the transformation from a player, towards becoming a trainer for you?
Ramesh: It was kind of smooth for me, the transition from player to trainer. I had worked with my wife Aarthie in 1998 and She went on to win the World under 18 Girls Championship in Spain in 1999. This gave me lot of confidence and I realized I could become a good trainer if I put in more effort. I went as coach for the Indian Junior team in 1998 for Asian Junior Championship at Iran. That was a good break for me.
Later I worked a player who went on to become a GM within a short span of one year (would prefer to keep the name confidential).
I started working with a lot of talented youngsters and most of them if not all started improving rapidly and that gave me lot of confidence in my abilities as a coach. I started to study a lot, work much harder in preparing good training material myself and tried to upgrade myself constantly so I can fulfill any requirement from the student. This is very exciting and I learnt a lot about myself, chess and about various issues that bother upcoming players and how to effectively solve them.
RP: How do you look at the current Indian and Global Chess scenario?
Ramesh: Indian chess, in general, is looking very bright and has huge potential. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Women chess in India. There are not enough talents coming up in Women chess to replace the older generation of players. Something drastic needs to be done here. Among men, we can see lot of young kids doing well and the average age of Indian men team is getting younger and the average age of Women team is getting older.
There is lot of scope for improvement in how things are run in India. I have shared my views on this in my Facebook post.
Globally, Chess is also getting younger, players are earning more at some level and the same cannot be said for all level of players. There is a mismatch there which probably is because there are too many good players and not enough money to cater to the need of everyone.
The game is becoming more technology driven. The advancements in Hardware and software play a huge role in the quality of the player’s preparation.
Lot of new avenues have opened up for those who are interested in Chess to make a living. For example, there are more websites, more authors who write books, produce DVD’s, Video lectures, online commentators, coaches, clubs, academies, organizers, etc.
Chess is going through an exciting stage were some things are going in right direction while some or not!
RP: How long do you think it will take for India to produce another World Champion, after VishyAnand?
Ramesh: I think we are going to see in future that no single player can dominate the game for very long, as was the case in the past. Probably Carlsen will be the last of the World dominating players.
In such a scenario, we should be happy if we can produce more 2750+ players in the next 5 years and take it from there. We have a large base of young strong players and if they are properly groomed and opportunities provided, we should have at least 10 players in 2700+ in next 10 years if not more.
RP: What does it take to become a world class player? How can a player improve his game independently?
Ramesh: There is no correct answer to this question! Tremendous amount of love for the game, self-belief, hard work, good memory, tough nerves, ability to raise after bad results, higher level of learning capacity, opportunities to play in strong tournaments regularly at every level, proper training, good hardware/software, financial muscle, support from school and parents, high level of competition among fellow players from young age etc.
These days a combination of individual work and good training is crucial to make rapid progress from young age and sustain it over a longer period. A player should be constantly assessing his/her strengths and weaknesses and make appropriate changes in the way they prepare at home and play in tournaments.
It is better to not settle down into a fixed method of preparing and remain flexible to make constant changes to how and what a player prepares at home. One should work on areas he/she is already good at and also work more on areas one is not so good at. One should also possess the skill of unlearning the bad qualities they have cultivated over the years. Problems like poor time management during the game, inefficient preparation where a player spends more time but learns less, poor concentration, not having a plan while preparing, unwillingness to acknowledge one’s weak areas and resolving them, spoiling the whole tournament after a painful or unexpected loss, worrying too much about result, too much focus on ratings going up and down, lack of interest in learning new areas, poor self-esteem, inability to handle tough situations are some of the common problems that prevent a promising player from making it big.
Parents should not have unrealistic expectations from their children without proper foundation to base their expectations on. Ability to spend money is not a criterion to expect great things from their children in Chess. Personally I have seen that many parents play a crucial role in ensuring their child does not reach their potential as a result of unrealistic expectations, looking for instant success, unwillingness to go through the grind, impatience, over emphasis on ratings, judging the child on game to game basis, not paying attention to how hard the child works, not being supportive when the child requires it, being overly critical and damaging a child’s self-esteem etc..
Many parents think, sending a child to a good coach is their magical wand and their role ends with it. A player becomes successful mostly because of his/her own effort, involvement, learning, etc.. Parents and Coaches only facilitate this process. Parents should also play the role of a good mentor as the child spends most of the time with them. A child should be taught the value of hard work, self-belief, learning, changing, experimenting, making mistakes and learning from them, overcoming losses, keep aiming higher etc..
RP: You have trained and shaped so many players and youngsters, who have went on to become Grand masters and International masters. What goes on in your academy Chess Gurukul? How is Chess studied differently there?
Ramesh: Thanks. We don’t focus too much on results and instead try to teach our students to focus more on the effort they put in learning and getting stronger as a player. A player should learn to think better, analyse a position better, manage time better, and trust that the effort we put will never go wasted and will be rewarded at the right time.
We try to focus in all areas of the game and cultivate an overall positive personality to the player. A player should not feel inadequate in any area of the game. We try to teach our students to enjoy competition, accept that tough moments make us tougher, be as hopeful as possible at all times especially when things are not going the way we want them to, not to play only for results but also to experiment, to try new things, to learn new things, new approaches to one’s thinking process. With each move and each game we learn something new about our self and strive to get better.
RP: What challenges do you face as a coach? What changes can you suggest as regard to grassroot chess coaching in India?
Ramesh: Main challenge is not being able to spend as much time individually as I would like to spend with my students. Almost every day someone is playing in some tournament or other. They are going through good times or extremely testing times on daily basis and as their coach I have to respond in appropriate manner. Less time for family or self is another issue. But these also make me a better person, force me to be on the alert all the time. I try keep myself as up to date as possible in all areas of the game. Sometimes, a talented player will not be in a financial position to afford the coaching fees. When a child is not putting enough effort at home and stop making progress it is a toughest moment as a coach.
Currently, most of the top players in India are still active players and not spend much time in sharing their knowledge with the next generations. When that starts to happen more we will have many good coaches who can cater to the needs of all levels of players. Currently there are lot of good coaches at the lower level. But once a student reaches a certain level the coach finds himself to be inadequate.
If the players feel there is enough money to be made as a coach on a long term basis we will have more players turning into full time coaches. For this to happen, governments at State and Central level should reward good coaches financially in relation to their student’s achievements. That in itself will be a regular source of income for good coaches.
More training camps for coaches should be organized. Coaches should make effort to upgrade themselves and teach what is good for the players instead of teaching only the things that know currently. Coaching should not be done only for money but also a holistic approach helps in being a good coach.
RP: You are married to Aarthie Ramaswamy, and are the first Grand master couple of India! Can you share your story with us? How often do you play Chess at home? 🙂
Ramesh: Well, being married to a strong chess player helps a lot at home. Aarthie understands that I have to spend lot of time with my students. Sometimes I will be sad when my students are going through tough times and be in my own world. I am very emotionally involved with my students so their ups and downs affect me lot though I try not to show them to my students. As a player herself, Aarthie understands all these well and give me the space to be myself.
Aarthie is one of the main reason for whatever little I have achieved as a coach. I had to quit my job at some point in my life and She encouraged me to be what I wanted to be though the financial prospects did not look bright. She handles all the administrative work herself leaving me to focus on my students to the best of my ability. I don’t play chess at all anymore except lot of blitz with my students. At home we try to lead a normal family life and keep chess away as much as possible but that is difficult!
RP: What would be your message for the upcoming players?