It’s about time for one of the biggest tournaments of the chess calendar – the FIDE World Cup 2017. This coveted event, spanning around 25 days, will feature 128 of the sharpest chess minds from across the globe who have qualified and made their way to this mega-event. Only one will be the winner, who will he/she be?
Here’s our concise guide to the World Cup, which provides you with all you need to know about this tournament. Also featured is a favourites section, which lists out some of the biggest contenders to the title, with due analysis of their chances based on the most important parameters. Read on to know more!
When: 2 – 27 September, 2017
Where: Tbilisi, Georgia
Qualification: All the participants have qualified by virtue of falling under the purview of one of the following criteria specified by FIDE:
World Champion and World Cup 2015 semi-finalists (5 players)
Junior World Champions 2015 & 2016 (2 players)
18 players from FIDE Rating List (Avg rating from 2/2016 to 1/2017)
46 players from European Championships 2016 & 2017
20 players from Americas
20 players from Asia/Oceania
6 players from Africa
1 ACP Tour Qualifier
5 nominees of FIDE
4 nominees of the local Organising Committee
The players: 128 players, including World Champion Magnus Carlsen, recent World Championship challenger Sergey Karjakin, former World Champions Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Ruslan Ponomariov, and other top players such as Aronian, Caruana, Nakamura and Vachier-Lagrave, amongst others.
Significance of the event: The top two players get direct entry to the Candidates Tournament, the event which decides the Challenger to the World Champion.
Format: The tournament will be played in a knockout format, with mini-matches in every round.
Fab-four – The favourites to the title
In a field as huge as this, drawing a list of likely tournament winners is a risky business, something that we nevertheless decided to venture into. Based on some of the most important parameters, here is our list of favourites:
World Champion Magnus Carlsen comes into the World Cup on the back of a decent performance in the Sinquefield Cup. In an incredibly strong event, he finished tied-second with Viswanathan Anand, and only behind a rampaging Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.
However, this isn’t the most dominant Magnus the world has seen. In recent times, his rating has seen a steady decline and his top ranking in the world has regularly been threatened.
Nevertheless, Magnus is always a big favourite to the title in whichever tournament he participates, regardless of his form. He has been rated over 2800 for close to 8 years, which speaks volumes of his overall strength, his dominance and his consistency. If not for an upset, it’s hard to not see him feature in the semis.
If there is one top player who has taken 2017 by storm, it’s definitely Levon Aronian. The Armenian Grandmaster has played impressive chess on his way to winning several recent events in emphatic style. The list of these victories is stellar: Grenke Chess Classic, Altibox Norway Chess and most recently the St. Louis Rapid & Blitz.
Yes, Aronian’s track-record of below-par performances in important events is well-known. Yet, if he is able to win his ‘inside battles’ and overcome this trend, there is absolutely no reason why he can’t make it far in this event and even clinch the title.
The flow is on his side; can he make the most of it?
The inclusion of Sergey Karjakin in this list might raise a few eyebrows. Indeed, his recent lacklustre performances, barring second place in St. Louis Rapid & Blitz, do not provide reason for much excitement. In particular, all his recent classical appearances have been average, including a disastrous outing at Norway. So why does he find himself in this rather important list?
The answer lies here: Karjakin is one player who rises to and thrives on the big ocassion. He arrives well-prepared and is able to hold his nerves at crucial moments. One doesn’t have to go way back in the past to testify this – a tough, well-played World Championship against Magnus Carlsen, a high-intensity victory in Candidates 2016 and a solid triumph in the previous World Cup. Whatever might be his form, he surely knows how to put it all behind and own the big stage.
French Grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, popularly known as MVL, is another player who has ruled 2017. Let us have a look at his last few events, with the first one being the most recent:
A convincing victory in the super-strong Sinquefield Cup, ahead of the World Champion himself.
Joint second in Dortmund.
Second and Third in Paris GCT and Leuven GCT respectively – both rapid and blitz events.
Joint seventh in Norway (perhaps the only glitch).
Joint third in Moscow Grand Prix
The rise is evident. With a string of consistent performances, and the victory in Sinquefield to top it all, MVL starts the World Cup as a firm favourite. Whether or not he can withstand the physical and mental stress remains to be seen. But his capabilities and form are there for everyone to see.
Egyptian GM Dr. Bassem Amin is in the form of his life. The 28-year-old, who recently won the prestigious Abu Dhabi open, has had a string of successes in recent times. These victories have taken him within striking distance of the magical 2700 mark, a feat yet to be achieved by an African player.
Bassem graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 2012. Since the completion of his Army service in 2016, he has been playing chess professionally, and that with great success.
We caught up with Bassem for a quick chat post his triumph in Abu Dhabi. Catch Bassem talk about his journey to this coveted title, the key to success in open events and his chances at the upcoming World Cup in this concise interview.
Shubham Kumthekar: A victory in the African Individual, then Lake Sevan and now Abu Dhabi. Congratulations! How do you feel about winning three strong tournaments in a short span and nearing 2700?
Bassem Amin: It feels great to win three strong tournaments in a row. Winning each of these tournaments is considered a big achievement, so winning all three of them was really unexpected!
Also, my expected September rating is 2699, including the African Clubs Tournament which was played in the end of July. Taking all this into account, I can say that the last 2 months have been the best in my chess career.
What were your expectations before the start of the Abu Dhabi Open?
I was seeded second behind Nigel Short. I knew I was one of the favourites to fight for the tournament title. But in a field as strong as we had in Abu Dhabi, each round is tough, right from round one!
You started with a hard-fought draw against a much lesser-rated player, but then scored five consecutive wins, including four against GMs. How did you get over the draw and stage such a powerful comeback?
Not just much lesser-rated but much younger as well – just 11 yrs old! However, I wasn’t too disappointed with the result as I thought I played quite a good game and so did my young opponent, who found some good moves. So I thought he deserved that half point.
The second round victory against another young Indian (Ed. – Gaurav Kumar) was very important in terms of making a comeback. And when I started facing GMs, it felt less stressful – I think it is easier to face GMs in such tournaments!
You scored an important win over Salem in the penultimate round. A crucial round and such complicated calculations on the board, how did you manage to hold your nerves?
It was an intense game. We both were leading the event, so a win would give me the sole lead and a draw would mean going into the last round tied with Salem and Nigel, and having to play black in the last game. In light of this, I knew I had to take my chances against Salem and I think I played a great game. Of course, I was happy to find such a good move as 17. Qd2 over the board!
I believe that being in good shape and good form made me feel confident and less stressful.
Going into the final round requiring only a draw to win the tournament is always a tricky situation. What was your strategy for the final game against Short?
Well, I don’t think I am too good when it comes to playing for a draw. Even my openings don’t help with that. So I decided to play a normal game but not risk too much. Unfortunately, I misplayed the opening and got a worse position. Thereupon, I defended very well and the Be4 sacrifice was the turning point of the game!
Which game of yours from the event is your personal favourite?
Actually, I was happy with more than one game of mine from the event – the game against Aryan Chopra, then the one against Indjic, and of course the crucial one against Salem. I consider the latter to be the best of the lot.
What, in your opinion, is the key to winning a strong open tournament like Abu Dhabi?
I think the most important factor is to win games with the black pieces. In open tournaments, the games won with black make all the difference!
For many years, you and Adly have been leading the way for Egypt. How is the chess scene back home?
Unfortunately chess in Egypt isn’t doing very well. Our federation has very little support from the ministry of sports. We do not have a coach or any sponsors for the national team.
You will be playing in the upcoming World Cup. What are your goals for the event?
In the opening round, I am paired against GM Viktor Erdos. I believe we both have a 50% chance of qualifying to the next round. If I do so, I will most likely face GM Peter Svidler. And if I make it to round 4, then I will be up against the World Champion himself!
But of course, I will be taking it step by step. For now, my first round match-up is of utmost importance.
Wishing you all the best for the World Cup, Bassem! Thank you very much!
Roundabout mid-June, the news of a super-strong, cash-rich rapid and blitz event flooded the Indian chess circles. A group of young, first-time organizers had come together to organize the ‘ChessMine open’ in Bangalore, India. This unique event, which eventually turned out to be the strongest open ever held on Indian soil, was well-received by players, parents and spectators alike. However, was the young team going to stop at this one-off success? Most certainly not. With a little step that was the ChessMine Open, they have embarked on an ambitious journey of changing the landscape of chess in India.
Post the event, we caught up with two of the five co-founders of ChessMine – Priyadarshan Banjan and GM Narayanan Srinath. Here’s our interview with the two young visionaries, who trace the foundation of ChessMine, its debut event and its remarkable, long-term objectives.
Shubham Kumthekar: How did the concept come into being?
Banjan: Likhit and I were eating Death by Chocolate in Corner House, Jayanagar, in Bangalore. This must be March 2015. It suddenly struck me that the best way to make sure chess is a commercially viable sport is if we ourselves start it in a Tour format. You know, one event after another. Likhit was initially apprehensive about it, but then we all got busy with our lives. It has been my quest since half a decade now. The question is always the same—how do we make chess a financially powerful sport. To all my friends, especially to guys like Srinath, and Sagar (who co-founded ChessBase India), I would ask the same question and would tell the same thing: We will change chess forever. Well, ChessMine is not exactly earth shattering per se, but it is a decent start. Lot more to be done.
Srinath: It was Priyadarshan’s idea. Our idea to organize tournaments was initially discussed in early 2015. However, for various reasons, the plan never materialized. We carried on with our lives, several events passed, and then in May this year, Priyadarshan suddenly pinged me and told me about the idea of ChessMine. I was excited to hear and said ‘Let’s do it’. So we began in May this year, out of the blue.
What does the ChessMine team plan to do differently? Right now, we have started off with this first event but the future will see a set of tournaments, all inter-related by points. Something like a ChessMine Tour. Eventually, we will bring in the real big events to India. We want to make chess an attractive sport to follow. It is a big task, but I have always believed that it can be done.
The real-time coverage for chess in India is beyond terrible, and we aim to fix that in the near future. Generations have passed but the simple economic truth still holds true—cash is still the king. So, we aim to build a sustainable chess content distribution model that the commercial sponsors will be interested to be a part of. You know, Kabaddi was nothing a few years back, just a village sport. But Kabaddi on TV with a reach of millions of people is a completely different game.
Chess lacks TV coverage not because there is some grand conspiracy. It lacks that level of coverage because the commercial broadcasters don’t see value in broadcasting something for which you cannot produce demand by just telecasting it on sports channels. So a key innovation is more strategic in nature rather than technical. It is to make sure that we build a chess-literate population that will be able to consume the chess content we will eventually produce in the future.
We aim to keep coming up with interesting concepts, whilst constantly endeavoring to promote the game. One of the things we want to do differently though is generate revenue through commercial sponsors. Right now, the revenue model in Chess is very different.
We think there is enormous untapped potential in chess, and if marketed in the right way, we’ll be able to achieve this, especially in a country with a burgeoning chess population like India.
Can you reflect on ChessMine’s recently concluded debut rapid & blitz event at Bengaluru? It was not bad at all. Good start in terms of branding, press coverage, quality of players. I think the achievements and the good points behind the tournament are there for everyone to see. I need not speak the obvious.
However, I am obviously not satisfied. A lot of novelties need to be streamlined. The current economic model is unsustainable in the long run. A lot of good events that were flagship once upon a time in India, have slowly witnessed a decline over the years. (Except probably Delhi, which under Mr Bharat Singh Chauhan is just getting better with every passing year. But it is an exception.) I know in my heart that ChessMine will reach a similar low if we do not innovate and make our events a commercially profitable venture. Chess will only benefit if we manage to survive and even thrive in the future. My primary job right now is to build a sustainable economic model. More could be done and more will be done in the future events.
Reflecting and looking back on the event, I feel proud and happy about the work we have done. The kind of players, the amount of players… And doing this in our first event, it was a great feeling. Having said that, there were a lot of inaccuracies and mistakes we made as first-timers. We have listened to the reviews and we hope to come up with a much better event the next time. In terms of reaching World Class levels of organization, I think we still have a long way to go, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Personally, what do you think about the quicker formats of chess? Can they be the future of our ancient game?
Well, the kids enjoy it. Only the parents and coaches don’t. Old school mentality. I have been a manager for a couple of super talented players and all they do and ever did when they were younger was play blitz all day. Even the legendary Viswanathan Anand grew up by literally playing blitz all day at the Tal Chess Club in Madras. In fact, that was his primary USP when he was younger—the Lightning Kid! I wonder why there is a common misconception among people that quick chess is harmful—is isn’t! It is fun, it is adrenaline pumping, it is beneficial. It is fun and it will remain fun.
Of course, we will also be doing a lot of classical events in the future.
The greatest thing about chess is that no matter how far we advance as a human race, the sport has always managed to survive. Centuries have passed, chess has travelled as an idea across the world, and somehow it has always survived, and even transformed itself suiting the needs and demands of the geographical and cultural market it is in—Shogi in Japan, Go in China, and so on. Chess is like that girl you love. You age, you change, but love is constant. Chess will not die, for sure. It may change though, and we should be ready to accept that. So yes, I believe in Chess 960, and we will bring the best in the business to India for a 960 event sometime in the future.
Rapid and blitz are very exciting formats, but I don’t think they are the ‘future of chess’. I think, they are more like the ‘present of chess’. Personally, I think modern chess is like producing energy with non-renewable sources. I think it’ll run out someday, even though right now the situation isn’t as alarming. However, things have become saturated to a certain extent, almost everyone knows a few basic things and it has become much easier. In my opinion, we should start moving towards Chess960, just like we started to generate energy with renewable energy sources a while ago. If we start now, then by the time it reaches a crisis point, we will have a viable alternative ready. However, I don’t think this will be an easy task, as Indians are conservative, chess players are conservative… and we are talking about Indian Chess here ☺
Conducting an event of this stature is no mean task. What were the challenges involved and how did the team overcome them?
Well, there was no big challenge in all honesty, apart from the funding and the race to get sponsorship. We had to majorly invest in this tournament ourselves, and thanks to our benevolent investors, that was not too difficult. Now, our job is to return the faith they have put in us by making this work a commercial entity.
Can you narrate a few interesting stories relating to the formation of ChessMine and the debut event? After all the hard work, stress, and running around, getting our first monetary sponsorship from a commercial entity was just a 5 minute job. I called up my friend, Sushrutha Reddy who runs the Innovators Chess Academy, and asked if Akshayakalpa, which is run by his cousin, would be interested in sponsoring chess events. He told me to call the CEO and ask it myself.
So I did, immediately. I explained all the things ChessMine as a company was offering Akshayakalpa, and the CEO, Mr. Shashi Kumar, hopped in with a Cash Sponsorship that covered 16% of the Prize Fund. Now, looking at all the big talk we do, it is not an earth shattering thing. But any start is a good start!
And immediately after the tournament, one of our co-founders, Likhit Chilukuri, brought in another entity – Hyderabad-based Vardhaman college.
You keep trying for a long time and nothing works. And suddenly, it works. I guess life is all about trying until you hit the bull’s eye.
There were tons of interesting events, just leading up to the formation of ChessMine! The space here is too short. I think someday we can come up with a book about it 😛
How do you plan to take things forward from here?
Well, for starters, we will continue hosting high-quality tournaments. Secondly, we will be building the base on which the entire pyramid rests on—the grassroot. On a personal level, I am still striving to create that perfect product-market fit that will help Chess as a sport to grow exponentially.
I want ‘change’ as an idea ingrained in the ethos of whatever I do, and the same will be with ChessMine. We will change according to the times. The legendary American architect Daniel Burnham once said that we should never make little plans because according to him they have no magic to stir men’s blood and will not be realized themselves. Let me provide the exact quote:
Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.
I dream of a model that will survive after we all are dead, and beautifully create a financially happy life for the all the people involved in chess as a market.
There was news about a ChessMine academy opening up in Delhi. Can you tell us something about it?
This is the legendary Vishal Sareen’s doing. You know the kind of cred he has in chess. 3 Arjuna Awardee Students, a list of titled players, etc. It is incredible to even think that he is a part of this team. We have started off with a high-quality branch of the ChessMine Academy in Delhi, which is run by Vishal. ChessMine Academy also offers world-class online training to chess players who want to improve their game.
Apart from that, we hope to open many such branches across India. Anybody who is willing to work hard, has some credentials as a chess player, passion for the sport, can write an email to email@example.com and we will help you set up your own chess academy. Online or offline, your choice.
On a parting note, I will like to add the following: Make Chess a Financially Powerful Sport.
(A big thanks to Akshay Halagannavar and Hari Tiwari for the wonderful pictures from the ChessMine Rapid & Blitz)
For quite some time, Kishan Gangolli has been one of the leading visually challenged chess players in India. Having already won the AICF-B National ‘A’ four times on the trot, Kishan took things to the next level by scoring a thumping victory at the IBCA Asian Chess Championship for Visually Challenged a couple of months back. Post his success, we caught up with him to know more about his victory, his journey so far, the state of visually challenged chess in India and his personal ambitions for the future.
Shubham Kumthekar: Congratulations on your fantastic victory! What were your expectations going into the tournament?
Kishan Gangolli: Thank you so much! Initially, the entries were much higher than what the eventual response turned out to be. Strong players from 7-8 countries were expected to participate. However, only four countries turned up for the event. As such, I began as the second-seeded player, yet was aware of the challenge that lay ahead. The situation improved round by round…
At what point did you feel that the victory was in your court?
I played against the Bangladeshi player Husain Ejaz, the top seed of the event, in the fourth round of the tournament. It was always going to be a crucial match. My train of thought was as follows: If I lose to him, my chances of securing a medal may very well disappear. As such, I was planning to hold him to at least a draw. However, in that case, there would have been no one practically to stop him, allowing him a free run to the title. As a result, I decided upon taking a chance, played a double-edged game, and finally won!
How do you feel about the victory?
It’s a nice victory, I feel proud – more so considering that the tournament was held in my home district of Udupi.
What kind of training did you undergo prior to the tournament?
The National A was held just prior to the Asian. As a result, I barely had any time to prepare specifically for the latter. However, the National, in itself, helped a good deal – most of the players who competed in the National also participated in the Asian. That made me feel pretty confident and I played an aggressive brand of chess at the Asian.
You have now won the AICF-B National Championship for four years on the trot. What has been your secret? 🙂
(Laughs) I work hard on my game, probably that is it 🙂
Can you take us through your journey in chess so far?
When I was in the 6th grade, my uncle, who was very interested in chess, took me to the Nalanda Chess Academy. Sri Krishna Udupa was the coach-in-charge over there.
Initially, I found playing on the normal boards very difficult. With 25% vision, I would miss pieces on the normal boards. I felt uncomfortable playing on them. I thought I may not be fit for chess.
Nevertheless, I secured a rating of about 1850 in 2007 under the tutelage of Sri Krishna Udupa. Roundabout this time, I started working on chess on my own. It was only in 2011 that I came to know about Blind chess and started participating in those events. That year, I played my first National A for the visually challenged. This was followed by my participation in the World Juniors for the visually challenged where I stood 6th.
In 2011, I also qualified for the national school games, which is a team event. Interestingly, despite being the lowest-rated player in the team, I was appointed the team captain! I secured a board prize, with the Karnataka team securing an overall silver medal. We repeated our success the following year.
I often practice with IM Stany GA, who stays only 10 minutes away from my home. Depending on Stany’s availability, we work for 3-4 hours a day. We set up critical positions, try and analyze them in depth, and in some cases, play the positions out.
When I am practicing on my own, I often use a screen reader called NVDA. It reads out ChessBase games, PDF files, e-books, etc. What has been the biggest moment of your chess career so far? In 2012, the IBCA Olympiad took place in Chennai. Representing the Indian team, I scored 7.5/9 and secured the gold medal on Board Three. The Indian team finished a respectable 5th, the first time that we managed such a high position. This undoubtedly has to be the best moment of my career so far.
Who are some of your most challenging opponents?
There are plenty of players around (in the visually challenged circuit) who are moderately rated but are quite strong. Darpan Inani and Ashvin Makwana are two such players, but yes, they are not the only ones.
AICF-B has been doing a wonderful job for the welfare of visually challenged. Can you outline the activities of AICF-B and the support it lends?
Mr. Charudatta Jadhav, the president of AICF-B, has been putting all his efforts to improve the state of blind chess in India. He is our backbone – the man who has been working relentlessly to provide us with opportunities.
When I entered the blind chess arena, we were trained by Visweswaran to facilitate our preparation for the World Juniors 2011. From the next year, IM Shekhar Sahu took over the reins and began coaching us. He is our official coach to this day.
However, it’s not only about coaching. Charu himself develops software and books in Daisy & related audio formats for the visually challenged players. The Daisy audio format facilitates going through an audio file chapter by chapter, allowing to skip over to other chapters if required.
What are the biggest challenges pertaining to the development of visually challenged players in India?
First and foremost, it’s the lack of strong tournaments. The need for an accompanying person only adds to the problem.
Secondly, the financial challenges. Most of us come from a modest background and as such, only few can play tournaments, especially the strong ones, without bother.
Thirdly, the Government of India is not quite helping our cause – Blind Chess is yet to be recognized in India. For instance, they recently felicitated Shekhar Naik, the former blind cricket captain of India. However, nothing similar has been done for the cause of blind chess.
Let’s take another recent incidence, for instance. After my victory at the Asians, I applied to the youth service claiming a cash award. The response from their side was shocking. According to them, Blind Chess is not in the list of games and hence, they could not process my application any further. They added that Chess is not an Olympic game – it cannot be included in the Paralympic committee. In retaliation, I did submit a letter authorized by the AICF. However, it remains to be seen whether they process it or not.
Despite all this, AICF-B, and especially Charu sir, have been supporting us in whichever way feasible. Recently, he wrote a letter to the PMO before our Asian and indeed, we (the Indian contingent) received a message from the PMO wishing us luck. However, there was no mention of any assistance.
The good part right now is that our expenses for official events are being covered pretty well. When I played the World Juniors in 2011, only our flight expenses were covered. Since 2013, the Central Government has been covering our expenses. Yet, it’s the recognition that we long for.
Apart from all this, the basic issue of being unable to prepare as effectively and quickly as the sighted players is definitely a challenge.
Which countries are currently leading with respect to visually impaired chess? What sets them apart or what do those players or countries do differently?
Currently, Russia is the strongest country with respect to blind chess – they boast of a good number of International Masters.
Meanwhile, there is a certain player from Poland – rated about 2600 – who will be making his debut in the blind chess arena very soon. If he plays the Olympiad in June, then it will be his first blind event. Apart from this, I don’t have much information on him.
Besides, IM Daniel Pulvett from Venezuela, who is rated reasonably above 2400 is a notable visually challenged player.
Talking about facilities, I do not know much. I can think of the Spanish blind chess team being coached by Anand a few years back. Also, blind players from countries like Germany (where the IBCA has its headquarters) and Russia may have good support. However, this is only a guess.
What technologies do you think can make it easier for app developers like us to help visually challenged players?
In general, most blind players use Android phones. Quite often, I hear complaints along the lines that they are unable to play chess games on their phones. For us visually challenged players to play on cell phones, we need to use Talkback, a screen reader. Now, there are many apps for sighted players to play games on their phone. But these apps are not Talkback friendly.
When it comes to following live games, I use Follow Chess. It’s great that it announces the move on touching it. However, we are unable to gauge the placement of the pieces by touching the board as no such announcement is made with regards to the piece placement. This makes it difficult for the visually challenged players to keep track of the happenings on the board.
In both cases, the partially blind players can do by a bit. However, the fully blind players are the ones who find it cumbersome – it’s almost impossible for them to use many of the existing apps and thus, they miss out on chances to practice or study the games on the move.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I have a couple of key chess targets. Firstly, my aim is to become an International Master. Secondly, I am targeting the 2019 World Championships for the visually challenged.
With respect to my academics, I have completed my Masters in Economics, wherein I ranked second in the university. Recently, I also passed the state eligibility test for lectureship.
In the long run, I am contemplating to take up chess as a profession. However, I need to see how it works out. I plan to play many tournaments in the forthcoming months. In May, I will be playing at Bhubaneshwar (Ed – Kishan is currently playing this event), followed by the IBCA Olympiad in June. In the tournaments for visually challenged players, boosting one’s rating is a tough task. As such, I would love playing a good number of GM tournaments – I have played only one so far. I would particularly like playing the Spanish and Czech circuits. But again, securing sponsorship is a major challenge.
What will you like to tell our readers?
Chess is the only sport where the blind and the sighted can play on level terms without any real change in rules. The only major exception might be the ‘touch and move’ rule, as the visually challenged play with the ‘lift and move’ rule. Thus, we can see that chess caters to a large group of people. This makes our royal game truly special.
I like sweet dishes, especially Kheer.
I love listening to music, Hindi songs in particular. Sonu Nigam is my favorite artist.
Early bird or Night owl
Early bird. I sleep by 11:30!
One motivational quote that gets you going.
There are many motivational quotes by Swami Vivekananda. If I had to name one, it has to be this: Strength is life, Weakness is death. Whatever you think, that you will be. If you think yourself weak, weak you will be; If you think yourself strong; strong you will be.
A big thanks to Priyadarshan Banjan of Chessbase India for all the wonderful pictures.
The Indian chess circuit, in general, is widely considered to be a rating grave. Foreign players coming to India as well as the stronger Indian players are wary of the challenge that lies ahead – loads of underrated players having a keen eye for tactics in addition to their unflinching attitude. With all this is in mind, how about winning two such international opens out of a possible three on the circuit? Massive, right? That is exactly what 29-year-old Ukrainian Grandmaster Adam Tukhaev did – won international opens in Mumbai and Chennai while finishing respectably at Delhi. Post the circuit, we caught up with Adam to know more about how the events transpired. In this interview, catch him speak on his successful Indian tour, his approach to the events, some intriguing experiences, and the chess scene back home – all these in a humble yet humorous fashion.
Shubham Kumthekar: Three events on the tour and two victories! Congratulations! What does it feel like?
Adam Tukhaev: Thank you! It felt so abnormal – my mind took some convincing that it really happened. Yeah, it feels good. 🙂
What are your impressions of your play during this circuit?
Well, in Mumbai (2nd IIFL Wealth International), there was nothing really special about my play. I had a mediocre event until I got it handed on a plate in the 7th round when Rajesh blundered in a drawing opposite colored bishops’ endgame, and then again in the final game when Bernadskiy missed a crucial bishop sacrifice on h5. Sure, I was there to use the chances, but it takes a lot of luck to be granted such opportunities!
Somehow, I was quite satisfied with my efforts in Delhi (15th Delhi International). I really struggled in the first half but kept fighting, and by the last round managed to get back to the top boards. In the last round, I had some chances against Swayams, but he held on.
And in Chennai (9th Chennai Open), don’t let the result blind you! There were definitely some bumps on the road to a seemingly perfect start. Like, I came completely unprepared for the second game and had to survive some scary moments in the opening. Later, I was completely lost in Round 4 vs Saravana but found my luck in the time trouble. Irrespective of all these, that was my best tournament in terms of my play.
The thing I liked most about my play was the hunger for chess which helped me find some fresh ideas at the board. As is tradition, I was rather underprepared and often didn’t calculate well, but my opponents were really kind and gracious 🙂
While most GMs were struggling, you were pretty consistent. What, according to you, may have made the difference?
Indeed, I didn’t lose a single game out of almost 30 – but that wasn’t for the lack of trying! I think the closest calls were in the games vs Kurbonboeva (Delhi, Round 5), Saravana (Chennai, Round 4) and Deviatkin (Chennai, Round 9). So, first of all, I was simply fortunate. Then again, I didn’t try to push things when I just wasn’t feeling it. Sometimes, I wouldn’t mind a quick draw or play something extra solid just trying not to blunder stuff. I think I managed to find a good balance.
Considering that it was a successful tour, you may have had plenty of good games. Which are your personal favorites?
The game against Horvath (Chennai, Round7) for the nice finish (I mean the line that could’ve happened after 21.Bd3 axb3+ 22.Ba5 Qxd1+!) – and for the very rare opportunity to play against a fellow GM whose name is also Adam! Apart from that, I can’t recall anything bright enough. The last round effort in Mumbai was very important, of course, but the nerves got the better of both of us, so the game’s quality was not particularly high.
Winning an open tournament is considered to be a strikingly different challenge as compared to the traditional all-play-alls. What, in your opinion, are the quintessentials to be a good open player?
Wouldn’t hurt being a good round robin player to start with 🙂 I think that in order to have a chance to win a swiss event, you need to be prepared to take more risks. If you don’t have losing positions in an open tournament, you’re doing it wrong!
Playing three tournaments on the trot, sometimes with two rounds a day, can get tiresome. How do you ensure staying in the best physical shape?
Back at home, I have a fitness coach. Her name is Luna, and she’s a dog! Very cute 2-year-old Saluki. My preferred cardio is just walking around. In Mumbai, I had a company for that as well, but then in Delhi, I got sick (as many other colleagues – there was something in the air!) and hadn’t fully recovered until a few days after the trip! So my strategy for Delhi and Chennai was just to preserve energy – I didn’t go anywhere except to grab something to eat.
What was your approach like during these events?
The routine was nothing special, and the preparation depended on the opponent. If I thought that the appropriate preparation would take too much time, I chose to get some rest instead. And when my opponent’s repertoire was more or less limited, I would try to cook some stuff beforehand. It didn’t always work, but sometimes it was spot on, like against Sunilduth and Swayams in Delhi.
You may have visited quite a few places in Mumbai, Delhi & Chennai during this tour. Can you share some of your interesting experiences as a tourist during this circuit? 🙂
Normally, at tournaments, I turn into a couch potato as I don’t have much time nor the company to explore the surroundings. But in Mumbai, I was lucky enough to meet Nathan Alfred, an English player now doing God’s work in Singapore (he’s a rabbi), and persuaded him to include me in some of his journeys. That’s how I got to see some famous landmarks. I liked the Elephanta island – it was nice to interact with monkeys even though one of them robbed me of a water bottle 🙂 My favorite trip was the one at Global Vipassana Pagoda after the tournament. I felt like it helped clear some negative thoughts and regain calmness.
Due to physical conditions, Delhi was a complete hotel – tournament hall – hotel kind of experience. Chennai was mostly like that as well.
But on the rest day caused by the jallikattu ordeal, together with a few other players, we went to the Marina Beach, which was the epicenter of protests! We had to join the crowd for a few minutes, and some guys were even taking pictures with us, trying to teach us how to say ‘jallikattu’ properly. It was fun!
It did take some time to get to the actual beach and then get back home, but it was worth it.
This is your second trip to India. What do you like about playing in India and what do you consider to be the biggest challenges?
Yes, I played Delhi and Chennai last year as well. Well, for one thing, it’s a nice getaway from the winter at home! You know, I kinda like the snow, but when it’s -30 Celsius you can’t help but think that you can die simply being outdoors for too long, and you start to question all the life decisions that led to staying where you are.
Secondly, it’s the food. At home, I mostly cook for my family, and sometimes it gets boring for everyone involved 🙂 Here, it feels like getting a break. It’s delicious, it’s spicy, and there is such variety that you can always find something new.
Then again, I love being immersed into English speaking community. Hindi scripture looks interesting, and I learned some of the letters by reading the names of metro stations, but the language seems too formidable to try and learn even if only the basics. Besides, it won’t help if you are in Chennai 🙂
Last but not the least, people are somewhat friendlier here than I’m used to. Once you learn the vital skill of crossing a busy road, you begin to feel like you are going to be alright!
As for the challenges – by far, the worst thing I’ve experienced in India was the air condition in Delhi. It’s so bad that it’s unbelievable – makes you value more the air at home, though 🙂
Of course, the local players are underrated and you can easily shed a massive amount of Elo points if you’re not careful. And even if you are. But hey, there’s got to be some catch, right?
You hail from Ukraine and are currently staying in Russia. What do you find different about chess in India as compared to Ukraine/Russia?
Chess has been very popular in the USSR, and the countries that were parts of it continue to reap the benefits of the chess culture that had emerged. Whether we’re talking about middlegame and endgame ideas, or take a look at the opening preparation, the players from Ukraine and Russia normally have some advantage on account of being connected to this culture from a very young age.
India is certainly not behind any other country in raw chess talent. The trait Indian players (I mean those below GM level) are mostly known for is, I think, the ability to defend worse positions. Add to that tactical awareness, as well as being underrated, and it’s easy to see why foreign players donate so many Elo points here. Considering the fact that chess is popular and efforts are being made to promote the game and nurture the talent, it’s not hard to predict bright future for the Indian chess team. Bronze medal at Tromso Olympiad 2014 is surely a hint of things to follow.
Let’s take a dive into the past. How did it all begin?
I was five, and my father brought me along to something like a sports center for kids. I think my first choice was some kind of wrestling. But then one day, I looked around and spotted a drawing of a chess knight on one of the doors and asked my dad what it was. And so it started.
Time and again, we hear about the importance of good coaching at the grassroots level. How is the early coaching scene in Ukraine/Russia like? Can you tell us something about some of the most influential coaches you worked with at a young age?
Yeah, Ukraine and Russia are known for their good coaches at every level. I don’t know, I think the best thing a coach can do for a kid that wants to learn chess is not to stifle the natural curiosity. So you have to introduce the important tactical ideas and strategic concepts while helping him or her explore what they like the most about the game. You certainly shouldn’t overdo openings, for one thing. At some moment, of course, you have to start looking into openings more seriously and study closely how they connect to the middlegame and endgame.
I remember fondly the lessons with my first coach, Aleksander Borshchov from Kerch. He’s a very kind and intelligent person and I felt so at home at the chess club that I was completely absorbed by the game. Sometimes we would work beyond any time limit, finishing long after everyone else went home 🙂
After a few years when I was like eight or nine, he told my parents that he had taught me all he could and that I needed to move on. My parents and I moved from Kerch to Simferopol, and I went to study with a few coaches of a relatively higher caliber, but I feel like something was lost along the way as well.
While growing up as an improving chess player, which famous chess personalities had the biggest influence on you?
Honestly, I feel like I’m not strong enough to have this conversation about influences, but as far as I remember, I’ve always been a big fan of Ivanchuk. I was privileged as to get to work with the man himself after we met on ICC one lucky winter day in 2009! The collaboration has had its moments, and we’re still in touch so I’d like to say he remains my biggest influence.
You became a Grandmaster at a young age of 19. What was the journey to the title like?
Well, it wasn’t considered a tender age even back then. Since I got to around 2450, I had been trying to score GM norms in round robin tournaments in Alushta as it was just an hour’s ride from where I lived, and eventually got the three norms in six attempts. As usual, during that period I analyzed my games, worked on openings, solved a lot of different stuff, and even read some books! I remember being particularly impressed by Chess for Zebras by Jonathan Rowson.
What do you consider as the biggest achievement of your chess career so far?
In terms of performance, Kavala 2010 is the best one – 1st place and a 2775 TPR against mostly 2600+ players. But I’ve never had a more successful series of events than this time in India. Add to that getting married and you can say January 2017 was a month to remember.
How do you generally work on your chess?
Actually, I have mostly been busy with commentating for chesspro.ru as well as occasional coaching and didn’t really work on myself lately. Given time, I usually try to refurbish some opening facilities as well as to train myself to calculate better. Often, such work leads to some kind of burnout though, so the timing is really important.
What chess ambitions do you hold for the future?
I have no plans laid out further than March. I will be playing some chess in Sweden (Ed. – Adam is currently playing at Stockholm), and the ambition is just to be able to enjoy the game.
If you had a chance to meet a celebrity of your choice, who would it be?
Hmm… Well, Barack Obama seems to have got a lot of free time on his hands, right? 🙂
A sports quote that you find the most impressive.
“Do I know what product I’m selling? No. Do I know what I’m doing today? No. But I’m here, and I’m gonna give it my best shot.”
Not a sports movie, but Zoolander helped me get through 28 games in a row. Sums up my approach in the tour pretty well 🙂
Early bird or night owl?
Nighty night owl. Morning rounds is a human invention I don’t like one bit.
Blitz, Rapid or Classical?
I think rapid is the one I am most comfortable with, even though it doesn’t necessarily translate to results.
The cuisine of your choice.
If I have to pick just one, Indian, of course 🙂 All those fantastic gravies, man!
The Schachbundesliga is to Chess as the NBA is to Basketball or the Indian Premier League is to Cricket. Known for the regular participation of the biggest names in world chess, the Schachbundesliga has a rich history and has grown into an avidly followed league. Players right from Spassky to Caruana have, at some point or the other, graced this fabulous event, which brings together a fine mix of the elite and the rising stars of the chess world. In our bid to decipher the ‘behind-the-scenes’ story of this marquee event, we reached out to the Vice President of the Schachbundesliga – Mr. Ulrich Geilmann. Ulrich provides in-depth information on how the league came into being and its top notch execution, while also providing important pointers for nations wishing to have a world-class league of their own.
Shubham Kumthekar: Hello Ulrich, thanks for agreeing for this interview. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and how did you get involved with the Schachbundesliga?
Ulrich Geilmann: Hello, you’re welcome. I am pleased that the Schachbundesliga now attracts attention outside Germany as well.
My name is Ulrich Geilmann. I am 53 years old and the Vice President of probably the strongest chess league in the world – the Schachbundesliga. Together with my colleagues Markus Schäfer (President), Detlef Wickert (Treasurer) and Jürgen Kohlstädt (Tournament Director), I organize all matters related to the association. We do this voluntarily and understand ourselves as providers for our members.
How did the initial seasons go by?
The Schachbundesliga is an association and was founded in 2007 as a union of the clubs then playing first league. Before that, the league was organized by the German Chess Federation (DSB).
Above all, the far-sighted idea of our founding-fathers was to manage the league beside the DSB, to become more professional and thus perhaps to improve the marketing opportunities for the first-league clubs as well. After discussions, the DSB was largely consensual and we fixed all that in a basic-contract.
The DSB is still represented in our committees and we have voting rights at the DSB. There is a joint commission also. This mainly makes sense because the business of the Schachbundesliga and DSB is intertwined with four regionally divided 2nd leagues.
Overall, this design has proven itself. We work well together, weighing the interests of all members equally.
How has Bundesliga evolved over the years?
From the start, we have worked with our members to improve tournament standards and to be attractive to chess fans.
A big step forward was the compulsory transmission of games on an internet-platform. Here, we were certainly the pioneers in international comparison.
With the renovation of our homepage, which mainly benefits from the work of our two editors Marc Lang and Georgios Souleidis, our external presentation has certainly improved even further.
As a result, the Schachbundesliga has become professional and more interesting from year to year.
With so many teams and players participating, effective coordination plays a very important part. How do you manage to ensure the same?
The coordinating work of the Schachbundesliga is unthinkable without the commitment of our member-associations. They are the ones who assemble the teams and ensure quality. This means an enormous organizational and financial expenditure. That should be emphasized. Beyond the sporting competition, we all move on the same line and, believe it or not, even in the same direction!
Also, the self-administration works well because the board of the Schachbundesliga is team-orientated and cooperates without conflicts.
Bundesliga has witnessed the participation of the top-most players on a regular basis. How do you ensure that the organisation of the event remains of the highest standard?
The central element is the tournament-regulation, which defines the framework of conditions. Everything is regulated, from the quality of the chess-boards, the tables and chairs, through to the excellence of the tournament hall. Somehow, typical German!
How and when did Frauen-Bundesliga come into being? Can you tell us more about the event?
The Frauenbundesliga (woman’s league) was created under the umbrella of the DSB and is still being organized there. But some top female players play successfully in the Schachbundesliga as well.
At the end of this season, there will be a joint event in Berlin. I am really looking forward to that. In preparation, we have started to report about the Frauenbundesliga on our homepage since a couple of weeks. So, if you ask me, it’s more than likely that there will be more cooperation between the Schachbundesliga and Frauenbundesliga in future.
What level of influence have these string of wonderful league tournaments had on the Chess scene in Germany?
Our main goal is the promotion of chess as a sport. The Schachbundesliga sees itself as a central building block. In this respect, we give an exemplary orientation and publicly effective presentation of our competitions.
That’s why, we are a role-model for the whole chess sport in Germany. An important part is fair play and playing without doping. Naturally, we also condemn all forms of manipulation, in particular the use of forbidden technical tools.
With up-to-date marketing and the use of modern media, we want to create an attractive presentation for our member-associations, in order to open up marketing opportunities as well. The aim is the promotion of a positive and radiating image of chess.
Therefore we support the DSB in its sporting, social, inclusive and educational policy aims. We therefore expressly welcome the establishment and expansion of a competent and sustainable work for youth players by our members.
Whether we are actually successful at all levels is a question that can be discussed. This applies, in particular, to all questions related to marketing. However, I also believe that we are on the right path as a whole.
While many of the top chess nations have leagues of their own, there are others, India for instance, which lack one. What are the most important pointers for such nations to get a league structure going?
Good question. The financial and organizational conditions will vary from nation to nation. Certainly, we had an advantage in the sense that the Schachbundesliga already had the basic structure in place which made our start that much easier. Also, I believe that our approaches can not be transferred without reservation. However, our structure of self-administration as well as the quality standards of our tournament-regulations are good examples (of what can be imbibed by other leagues and nations).
Which Bundesliga seasons, according to you, have been the most memorable?
I have been the team-chef for over 10 years, and I have enjoyed this very much. In doing so, the encounters with the top-players of the world made lasting impressions. Countless friendships have developed.
If you ask me regarding the outstanding sporting-results, I foremost think of the last season. After many years of domination by Baden-Baden, the SG Solingen team managed to win the championship. This made the 2015/16 event extremely interesting.
Going forward, what are the plans regarding Bundesliga? How do you plan to make it even better?
The Schachbundesliga is still open to new developments and wants to adapt to recent changes and needs for our members as well as the interested public. Chess has become an internet sport. We will have to take greater care of that in future. However, we should get better at marketing, because ultimately, money decides quality.
Keeping up with the rising trend of strong open events, the Isle of Man International witnessed the participation of as many as 48 Grandmasters, including such distinguished players as Caruana, Nakamura, Wesley So, Adams and Eljanov, amongst others. Apart from a slight setback in the 2nd round, GM Pavel Eljanov, current World #16 and a key member of the Ukrainian team over the years, remained in full control throughout the course of the event and deservedly clinched the title. We were fortunate enough to catch up with him after this success, with Eljanov bringing his immense experience to the fore and speaking on a wide variety of topics in this highly informative interview.
Shubham Kumthekar: Hi Pavel, good to have you! Congratulations on your splendid victory at Isle of Man. What was your approach like going into the tournament?
Pavel Eljanov: I had no particular expectations. Just two weeks prior to the tournament, I had returned from the Olympiad, which is the most energy-consuming tournament around in my opinion. I did not have time to make any serious preparations – just got to recharge my batteries a bit.
At what point during the tournament did you feel that you might go on to win the event? How do you manage to keep such feelings from interfering with your play?
At the beginning of the tournament, my energy levels were not quite 100%. However, I warmed up round by round and played some good games. I also think getting closer to a tournament victory works in my favour: it boosts my motivation and concentration.
Which was the most satisfying game of the tournament? I liked my game against Shirov the most. I am glad that I was successful in outplaying such a great player, thanks to some sleeky manoeuvres. In particular, 13.Nb1! was a nice move, not only aesthetic but also the strongest. I was very precise in the technical stage as well.
There has been a rising trend of strong Opens in the recent years. How do you compare these events to the traditional all-play-alls? I like this trend, whereby professionals and club players – all take part in one big festival. These festivals usually consist of a main event along with some additional tournaments, wherein anyone wanting to play can participate. For me, it’s much more interesting to follow or play in such events.
Speaking of the tournament formats, what is your opinion about the existing World Championship structure?
The World Championship matches are gradually losing their dynamism and attractiveness, with chess (opening) theory going as deep as the endgame in many cases. As we can conclude from the previous two cycles, the most attractive parts have been the knock-outs and the Candidate tournaments. In these tournaments, players are forced to play more combative and resourceful chess, due to the necessity of beating more than one opponent. I think deciding a World Champion in tournaments featuring eight of the top players (like in San Luis or Mexico) is an interesting and logical solution.
New York 2016. Carlsen or Karjakin? How do you see the match panning out?
Concerning Carlsen-Karjakin, I would like to bring a wrong prognosis of course, but I don’t think it will be an attractive match from the point of view of chess content. Carlsen is clearly the better player and a big favourite on account of his good form and appropriate preparation. What I am really looking forward to is the organisers’ intention to provide virtual reality broadcast. I have already decided to buy a VR gear – I hope I won’t be spending money for nothing 🙂
Let’s go back in time. How did it all begin for you? What is your earliest memory associated with chess?
I grew up in a chess family. My dad was an International Master and a well known chess books publisher in the Russian language (Dvoretsky’s books, amongst others, were published by him). My mum also used to play chess, but at a more modest level (about 1800 ELO). I made my first steps in chess thanks to her. At that time, we used to learn from some chess books meant for kids. Then, we started travelling together to my early junior championships.
Growing up, which authors and players influenced you the most?
In the mid-90s, when my father began publishing, I used to help him with the proofreading of Dvoretsky’s chess books. That way, I absorbed a lot of quality chess information. I still think that those books are top class and beyond comparison.
Roundabout the time you became a Grandmaster, computers had started taking over. What has been your approach to using computers? How can up and coming players use computers to improve their play?
This is probably the most important question for young players aiming to play chess at the professional level. It is an extremely deep topic and I can speak on it for hours together. In brief, I suggest that any young chess player should not overuse the chess engines and stay away from concentrating too much on the study of openings. The most important thing for a chess player is to develop his/her own algorithm of finding (good) moves. To have a good mentor and to read good chess books is, in my opinion, essential for every player.
You are well-known in the chess fraternity for your opening expertise, having helped Gelfand more times than one, as well as Carlsen and Mariya Muzychuk. How do you go about preparing your openings? It’s not a secret that more or less all top players work on openings constantly. Everyone tries to anticipate and be one step ahead of his/her competitors. I am no exception to this. I try and choose openings that suit my style.
Considering the opening boom and the rapidly developing engines, what are your views about Chess 960? I have played Chess 960 only once – in Mainz a long time ago. I think it’s funny. Also, there are a lot of positions which simply lack harmony and are bad for black right from the first move. I think there is a lot of space to tweak the chess rules (without changing the initial position) in order to increase the effectiveness and attractiveness of our game. The simplest one (but hardly the most effective) is to cancel stalemate. In any case, classical chess still excites me very much. I believe there are many years to go before our game gets emasculated. However, an inner motivation of any chess player and appropriate formats for events are very important, as I noted earlier.
What, according to you, has been the defining moment(s) of your career? There were a few. But I would say that the turning point – from where I started to work on chess much more professionally – was the Calvia Olympiad in 2004, when I became an Olympiad champion for the first time. I got a strong boost and realised that being 21 years old, I was still in the very beginning of my path.
If there is one thing that you would like to tell aspiring chess players around the globe, what would it be? 🙂 To enjoy the process and to not despair after failures. In any activity, there are ups and downs.
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.
A few weeks back, Kenya witnessed a Chess bonanza – the Nairobi Gymkhana Millionaire Chess Open. Kim Bhari, a prominent Kenyan organizer, handled a couple of aspects of this breakthrough event, which was graced by GM Maurice Ashley himself. In this interview, Kim speaks about this amazing tournament, a few upcoming Kenyan talents, Chess activities in Kenya, and his unique, creative hobby!
Shubham Kumthekar: Hello Kim! The Nairobi Edition of the Millionaire Chess came to a conclusion a few weeks ago. Can you tell us something about the event? How did it go?
KB: The event was a resounding success with over 190 players taking part. Kenyan chess players were delighted to have GM Maurice Ashley in Nairobi. His commentary thrilled the huge crowd that was following the games.
SK: Speaking about Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, how huge was Grandmaster Maurice Ashley’s support and his presence at the event? 🙂
KB: Chess players were delighted by his presence. But what’s more important is what he did outside of Millionaire Chess. GM Ashley visited Sports Outreach Programme which is located within one of the disadvantaged areas in Nairobi. Here, he interacted with many young chess players and inspired them as well.
SK: An event like this involves a lot of behind the scenes work. How did the team hit upon having an event of this stature and how did the timeline unfold?
KB: The event was run by Nairobi Gymkhana Club and Waridi Chess Ventures. The main sponsor was Kasparov Chess Foundation but a number of other sponsors also came onboard including East African Contractors, Isinya Feeds, Filmline, Masai (K) Ltd and AMS Properties, Terrian Chess Academy and Kenya Chess Masala.
I was involved in the event only with respect to getting the registration portal and carrying the live transmission of the top 5 boards.
SK:CM Wachira Wachania of Kenya emerged as the winner of the first edition of this unique event. Please tell us something about the champion 🙂
KB: CM Wachira Wachania is a 38-year-old player and has represented Kenya in the 2006 Turin Olympiad where he scored 50% and obtained the CM title. He is a businessman and a father of two boys.
SK: Who are some of the brightest young talents from Kenya?
KB: Riya Shah, who is 16 years old, will be representing Kenya at her 2nd Olympiad in Baku. She is the current Kenyan Women’s National Champion.
The other youngsters are Timothy Mbabu (13) & Sumit Deshpande (15), both of whom are rising rapidly.
SK: How popular is chess in Kenya?
KB: It is still not as popular as I would like it to be. There are various reasons for this. Nairobi Chess Club was formed in 1958 and it remained the only organization until 1976 when the Kenya Chess Association was registered.
Chess is a fringe sport and has only recently started to get some government attention.
SK: You’ve been an active player yourself, having represented Kenya at the 1998 Elista Olympiad. How far has Kenyan Chess and African Chess come in all these years?
KB: I was the Vice Chairman of the Kenya Chess Association and left in 1999, only resuming getting involved in chess in 2007. Kenyan chess is now growing rapidly over the past 3 to 4 years. The main reasons have been the new chess officials, who have been much more supportive of the many chess organizers promoting the game in various regions.
Some of the names that come to mind are Weru Watson in Nyeri who regularly hosts events with over 300 kids, Andrew Owili who organizes the Kisumu Open, Humphrey Nyongesa who organizes the Bungoma Open, Erick Oyugi of Sports Outreach and Daystar University. Other organisations include Terrian Chess Academy and Nairobi Chess Academy, with both of them being accredited by FIDE.
Besides, over the past 10 years, the Kenyan Government has been supportive of chess by providing funding for teams to travel to various events.
Another reason for the rapid growth of Kenyan Chess has been the advent of Facebook and Twitter. These social platforms have done wonders in terms of publicity and promotion.
There has also been great support from the Kasparov Chess Foundation in terms of Kasparov’s visit to Nairobi in July 2014, GM Nigel Short’s visit in 2015 and the donation of 5,000 chess sets.
FIDE has also been very helpful in the recent past, as we had GM Georg Mohr who conducted a Trainers’ Seminar where over 20 Kenyans obtained certification. Kenya has also received a subsidy of over Euro 7,000 to facilitate the team’s travel to the 2016 Baku Olympiad.
SK: You’ve been involved in Kenyan chess administration and organization for well over 20 years now. Can you tell us something about being ‘behind the curtains’?
KB: I was a Committee Member of the Kenya Chess Association from 1994 to 1996 and then Vice Chairman until 1999. I just seemed to be lucky in those days in attracting sponsors. I managed to get Hindu Council of Kenya, Delphis Bank (now M Oriental Bank), International Casino as sponsors for various events during that period.
I was voted out of office in 1999 (KCA) and concentrated on my business and MBA exams. I returned to chess administration in 2007 and decided to run all the activities via Nairobi Chess Club which has continued till date. I have been Chairman of the Nairobi Chess Club since 1993.
I have found it much easier to get things done at club level as the pressure is less and it is much easier to organize.
We organised the first internet match in Kenya wherein ‘Kenya Simbas’ played the famous ‘Wageningen Chess Club’ of Holland. We also organised GM Dimitri Reinderman to visit Nairobi in 2011 and the “Battle for Migingo” between Uganda and Kenya, which was held twice.
SK: What, according to you, are the prerequisites of a good tournament?
KB: Planning, planning, planning! The other key points are good time-keeping and making sure that players who register on the day of the event play from round 2. This was a problem from many years ago and it is only now that players realise that some organisers will take entries on the day of the event but the players will start in round 2.
Honesty is another important point. If you promise a cash prize of “x” then you must pay “x” and not something else.
Willing to fund the event from your pocket at all times. There have been many events where the financial planning goes wrong when the number of players are not what you budgeted for and then the event makes a loss.
Transparency – At the end of every chess tournament I put up a summary of the income & expenditure for all to see what happened on the financial side. I have seen that potential sponsors like this disclosure.
Marketing – This is another vital aspect which must start at least 6-8 weeks before the event. I use Facebook and Twitter to do this for all my events.
SK: Last but not the least, with the Chess Olympiad round the corner, what do you think about Kenya’s chances?
KB: There has a lot of political wrangling which will affect the results. One of our key players CM Ben Magana has pulled out of the team due to personal reasons and this will affect the team.
SK: Your favourite cuisine(s).
KB: Indian & Greek.
SK: Three must-visit places in Kenya.
KB: South Coast, Mombasa (beautiful beaches), Masai Mara (during the migration) and Samburu Game Reserve.