She came, she saw, she conquered. She won the prestigious National Women’s Premier in 2014, 2015 and as the 43rd National Women’s Premier concluded recently at Delhi, we witnessed yet another performance of Padmini Rout at her maximum!
Fierce on the board and cool off the board, she has many titles to her credit. Currently she is preparing for the Women’s World Chess Championship which will be in February 2017. We spoke to her and asked her questions which we now present to you. Read on.
Rucha Pujari: Congratulations Padmini on winning the prestigious National Women’s Premier, and now third time in a row, wow! How do you feel and what was your first reaction?
Padmini Rout: Thanks. I am very happy and I was kinda relieved after completion of the event.
Tell us how the tournament went for you. How did you approach the games and what was your strategy? How did you prepare for the games, how was it different for this round robin tournament?
I think it went smooth. I went to the games with a free head. Like all my opponents were doing, I too checked their games and made strategies against them.
After the tournament you said that you were happy with your play, especially in your game against Vijayalakshmi which was quite crucial and important for you. What happened in that game?
36…Nc3-a2?! Like they say “A knight in the rim is grim”. I got some serious attack after it.
Winning the Premier is a big achievement. How much effort did it take for you to win this glorious championship? Looking back, what can you say was a turning point of your career?
Well, I don’t know how to measure effort but in succinct I am a devoted chess player. Winning the U-11 girl’s Nationals in 2005, I could say was the turning point!
How do you look at Women’s Chess in India? What do you think can be done to inspire more girls to take up Chess and consider as a career choice?
I see us as with lot of potential! I think Indian Oil did a great job in giving jobs to women players. Therefore I want to thank D V Prasad who initiated the process. So young girls who look up at us will be inspired to see that we have this financial security and we can play chess freely without any worry.
2017 is coming up! Which tournaments will you be playing around the year, and what are your goals?
My first World Cup could very well be my first tournament of next year! 🙂 I will try to play in strong open tournaments.
How do you select the tournaments you would want to play? How far in advance do you plan?
I prefer tournaments which are well organized and attract strong players. I try to plan them at least two months in advance.
Also tempted to ask, New Year resolutions? 🙂
Well I don’t really want to wait till the New Year to start something good. So all improvements are implemented with immediate effect as and when understood.
When and how did you start playing Chess? What is your first Chess memory?
When I was around 8 – 9 years old, during summer vacations we would go to my native place, and there my father would take me along to his friend’s house (who had a daughter who played musical instruments) where he would endlessly play chess. After kibitzing a few games I would sit with his daughter and play music instead. Those days I preferred music over chess and now it is just the other way around.
You seem to be participating in Open tournaments since a very young age. Do you think that has helped you, over playing women-only events?
Definitely. There is more competition. I personally feel all women player should play in as many open tournaments possible in order to improve further.
What would be your words of inspiration for the upcoming players?
Enjoy the process of becoming good at your chosen field of work. Not everyone is lucky to have passion as their profession.
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?
We caught up with Grandmaster Abhijeet Gupta for an interview just after he won the Commonwealth Chess Championship, which was held at Sri Lanka, Aug 2016. A renowned personality and a passionate Chess player, Bhaiyyu as he is called in Chess circles, opens up about Chess, life and more.
We are thankful to him for giving us his time and for sharing his experiences with us. Read on.
Rucha Pujari: First of all, Congratulations Abhijeet on your recent Commonwealth victory, how do you feel?
Abhijeet Gupta: Thank you so much! I feel nice and it feels nice generally to win tournaments. But it is not like I am on the top of the world but it feels nice as I managed to come back from a disastrous start.
RP: You were the defending Champion, how confident were you when you started in Waskaduwa and how did you approach your games?
AG: I think until round four I was quite confident, but a draw with Aakanksha and I started doubting myself because I thought like one more draw and it won’t be enough as I then have to score 5 out of 5. As the tie break was number of wins, 7.5 with three draws wouldn’t be good enough. So there was some pressure after this point, but also I felt some sort of relief because I knew I have to win all the games, there was not much choice.
RP: You have been a very consistent player, can you share with us some of your secrets to success?
AG: To be honest, I don’t consider myself as consistent. (laughs) Because seriously, I have my ups and downs. If you look at my rating graph it is not straight line, I gain and I also lose some at times. You can’t call someone who loses some 20 points in one tournament, consistent. You can call someone consistent who may be gaining less, but gaining all the time. That’s what I think.
RP: How do you train regularly? How much importance do you give to physical fitness?
AG: I think fitness is important. If we talk about Sri Lanka, I used to spend time swimming, playing table tennis, going to morning walks on the beach. I feel if you are doing all these exercises, any sort of physical activity, automatically your brain also relaxes.
When I am at home, usually I like to get up early, start working by 10-10.30. Take a break at lunch, then again work till 5-6, workout for an hour.
Generally I try to put in as much work as I can, even if I can’t follow a routine. I see that I put 5-6 hours of work in a day on Chess.
I normally work on my own, I have a permanent coach, you must be knowing Vishal. Sometimes we work together, he helps me once in a while.
RP: How is your relationship with Vishal Sareen?
AG: He is more like a brother to me than coach. You can say our relationship has changed over the years, first he was a coach when I was very young. I started with him when I was fifteen. It’s been like more than eleven years now, and now we are at such a stage that I can talk with him about various things in life.
RP: Coming to the topic of Indian Chess, what are the changes that you observed personally in the last ten years?
AG: The good thing that I have seen about Indian Chess is that, first of all we have many Grandmasters now. Then we have many young players, who have a lot of potential. So, it is nice to see that of course. Ten years ago this was different, now we have many upcoming players who can become GM’s and WGM’s, so it is a nice change.
RP: You have travelled a lot and played in many tournaments. Based on your international experience, what will be three things you would like to suggest to make Chess in India better?
AG: First of all we don’t have this concept of stars. I mean in any Sport you have a star and by that you attract all sort of money, players, you know. In Indian Chess I think we believe in mass. It is a good thing that we have many players who are strong, but it is also true that apart from Anand and Harikrishna no player has been able to cross the 2700 barrier.
It brings me to the next point. The reason behind that is that we don’t play enough against very strong opposition, we do play once in a while. But to develop, you have to play against them consistently. For that we should have more elite level tournaments or leagues.
In a way it also helps the whole Chess community because now we have one Anand right, if this plan goes on Harikrishna will become a more renowned personality in India. And see, any Sport gets popular because of one guy. In any field if you see, people follow that way. In Chess we only have Anand right now. If we get more personalities like that I am sure more sponsors will come, more players will come, more kids will take up Chess and all those things.
Then we should have at least one tournament, maybe like National Championships which should attract all big players.
RP: Moving on to the next question, which are some of the Chess books that you like and that have helped you to make progress?
AG: I really liked My System by Nimzowitsch, but that was 10-15 years ago. The last time I read it I was around 2400. It’s a book that you will like as a beginner, and there is something new to learn every time you come back to it.
Recently I read this Gelfand’s Positional Decision making in Chess and it left a deep impression on me. I finished it in one sitting, when I was travelling to some tournament. Also I liked Learn from the Legends by Marin.
RP: You have an amazing fighting spirit. How do you motivate yourself to keep giving your best?
AG: It is actually the other way around. Normally when I lose a game, it obviously affects me. But I have this attitude that it is not the end of the world. This thing, I think improves with experience. My attitude is that this is just a game.
RP: How do you handle defeats and such situations?
AG: Umm, let us talk about this particular tournament. When I drew with Aakanksha, I got really upset as I was even White, just out of mind and I was just not myself. I didn’t do much about it then, played table tennis, went for a swim, slept early. And yeah next day although it was not a very nice game I managed to win. Last three games I feel that I did not play so bad. First part was terrible, I was lucky to score 5/6. But last three games you can say that, I didn’t make any mistakes at least.
RP: So talking about your fighting spirit, do you think it comes naturally to you or it is something you have built up over years?
AG: I think I have built up over the years. For me every game is a new game, it doesn’t matter what has happened. When I won the Commonwealth, or generally if you could see from my facial expressions, I won’t be like too happy or all those things. Life goes on. I don’t get into pressure so much, even when I have to win the last game or all those things.
RP: Which was your most memorable moment of your career?
AG: Winning the World Juniors was definitely one of them. Also winning the Indian Championship meant a lot to me. And this year winning the Reykjavik Open also felt good, as there were many strong players and I crashed the field. So I will go for these three, in that order.
Apart from the tournaments, winning the Arjuna Award was very memorable for me.
RP: You have achieved a lot of milestones in your career. Looking ahead, what is your next personal goal?
AG: I would like to cross 2700 because I was close a couple of times like 2660-70. And somehow, okay you called me consistent but I feel I am not as consistent as I want to be. So this consistency part, I would like to be more consistent (laughs). Also I want to break in top 100. I am putting efforts, let’s see.
RP: What would be your message for upcoming players?
AG: Enjoy the game, you have to be passionate. You have to be passionate about playing Chess or anything you do in life. If you ask me, I am like if I don’t see Chess for one day I feel like I have wasted my day. So you have to find something in life you can’t live without and if Chess is that one thing, I am sure you will do well. And never lose hope, I have seen many people losing a game or playing bad in one tournament, they will lose hope and want to quit Chess. It has happened to me as well. But I am sure if you are passionate, if you love something you will definitely come back and it will actually make you stronger, as a person and as a player.
RP: Which according to you, is the best Chess game played so far?
AG: One of the recent game I saw is Carlsen – Kramnik, it was a blitz game I think, anti – Berlin where Carslen takes his king out.
AG: Sports, I am a biggest sports enthusiast. Music, so mostly these two. And yes I do like to read too.
RP: Which Olympics Sports are you following keenly?
AG: Literally everything, like A to Z. I like to follow all sports, but it is also about the stars. I like to see Phelps swimming, Bolt running, such particular stars. I like to see Neymar playing for Brazil. And I also really like to watch our Indian players compete.
RP: Have you tried Pokemon Go?
AG: No, actually in my city it is not that active, we don’t have that many Pokemons. And on IOS you still can’t play officially you know. So yeah, I haven’t played yet but I have heard about the game and people playing it. I would love to try, but I simply can’t do right now (laughs).
RP: Movies which you can go back to again and again are…?
AG: Oh, Departed. Then Dark Knight, Chak De.
RP: Carlsen or Karjakin?
AG: Carlsen, any day.
RP: Okay and lastly, what do you liked to be called Abhijeet or Bhaiyyu?
AG: What’s there in name? As long as people are calling me, I don’t mind. (laughs)
Next in our series we bring to you an interview with Harika Dronavalli, who has just won the Women’s Grand Prix at China. A very consistent and passionate Chess player, she is an inspiration for all of us. We are grateful to her for giving us her time, amidst her preparations for the next tournament.
Rucha Pujari: Congratulations Harika on your recent Grand Prix victory. Amazing performance! Can you share with us how you prepared for this tournament? What was your aim before you entered the field?
Harika: Thank you. I didn’t do any special preparation specially for the tournament, but in general I continuously work on chess. I aimed to win the tournament but I didn’t think about it much during the event.
RP: What were the crucial stages for you during the tournament? How do you handle these situations and pressure during important games?
Harika: Game against Humpy (Koneru) was the most crucial one and it changed the whole tournament scenario. But most important one was the last game. I try to stay positive and focused during crucial situations but I should admit it’s very difficult.
RP: There have been discussions going on about the Women’s World Championship cycle – how do you look at the current format and what are your views?
Harika: Current cycle is a bit complicated for the spectators and may be a bit unfair for the player who wins the World Championship Match. But personally for me it doesn’t make difference. I just try to concentrate on chess and try to prove in every opportunity that is given.
RP: You are one of the only two women in India to have become a Grand master. How was your journey, and can you share with us some of the defining moments of your career?
Harika: If I look back at the journey, it feels so beautiful now but I had my ups and downs like for everyone. I tried to learn from the failures and never gave up on my goals. Most memorable ones are when I won my first National title, World youth title, Commonwealth titles, Asian Women title, World Juniors title, Asian Games medal, World online championship and of course the most precious Bronze medals in the world championship. Above all the most special one was when I received the Arjuna award, the prestigious sports award in the country.
RP: What does Harika like to do besides Chess? 🙂
Spending time with family & best friends, watch movies & serials, cooking, reading books.
RP: Next question is on behalf of all Chess players. How do you work on Chess? How much importance do you give to other factors like diet, fitness and psychology?
All the other factors are very important and I try to work on chess and fitness everyday.
RP: A lot of people are following your games. They want to know where you are playing next.
Chinese league, Olympiad, Grandprix and World Blitz Rapid championships.
RP: What would be your piece of advice to aspiring players?
Believe yourself. Aim high and don’t give up on your dreams at any given situation.
RP: Do you have a favorite movie?
Harika: Chak de (India)
RP: Summer or winter?
Harika: Summer, Anyday 🙂
RP: The book you are currently reading is…?
Harika: Total Recall
RP: If you were to be a chess piece, which would you want to be and why?
Harika: Queen because very powerful and most important.