Peter Heine Nielsen: “The last 14 years have been an interesting, unexpected adventure!”

Danish GM Peter Heine Nielsen has carved a name for himself as the most successful second of modern times. An expert theoretician, he was part of Anand’s team for ten years, helping him to four consecutive World Championship titles in the process. In the last few years, Nielsen has been Carlsen’s second and has guided him to a couple of World Championship titles as well. While today Nielsen is mainly involved in seconding Carlsen, he also boasts of an illustrious chess playing career. He reached the prestigious 2700 landmark in 2010 and is the first and only Danish player to have achieved this feat.

In the following interview, Nielsen sheds light on the job of a second, explaining the all-pervasive role a second plays. He shares his experiences of working with Anand and Carlsen, while also reminiscing his first interaction with a young Carlsen who answered every question posed but was eventually more focused on eating Nielsen’s pizza! Finally, Nielsen talks about the game of Shogi, his new-found love. Read on to know more about the ‘big Dane’!

 GM Peter Heine Nielsen (Photo: Wikipedia/Stefan64)

Shubham Kumthekar: You are one of the most successful seconds around in world chess. How do you feel about it and what can you tell us about it?

Peter Heine Nielsen: I feel very lucky to have worked with two of the biggest chess talents in the world, who as well as being true champions, are kind and interesting persons as well. At the age of thirty, I would have never guessed that my life would have such opportunities, but the last 14 years have indeed been an interesting and unexpected adventure.

How do you approach seconding?

I started working for Anand and Carlsen when they, at the respective times, were already the best players in the world. It obviously meant they did something right. As such, my role has always been to support the direction they wanted to go in. There is a major difference between being a football coach, for instance, where you are dictating the strategy, and coaching in an individual sport, where the player himself is the one in charge.

Apart from helping with the actual chess, what role does a full-time second play in a player’s success?

Our role is to be supportive, and generally, you also see the players and their seconds sharing a strong friendly relationship. Being supportive is crucial apart from providing concrete preparation. Such support can range from discussing psychological elements to helping the player distract himself from the chess events by going bowling or by playing basketball. It is a second’s role to do his best in helping a player get ready for the next game in every sense.

“You generally see the players and their seconds sharing a strong friendly relationship” (Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour™)

You worked with Vishy for a good 10 years, winning four World Championships! Which of these victories was the most challenging of the lot?

All of them were memorable! But clearly, the match with Gelfand went wrong in many ways. For a start, we overprepared by working three months straight and practically not managing to use any of it in the match. On the verge of collapse, Vishy managed to raise his game, and we seconds found some interesting ideas when it mattered. Now, it feels like good memories! But at that time, it was obviously very shaky.

One event that absolutely stands out from your ‘Anand days’ is team Anand’s 40-hour ride to Sofia. Can you share some memories of this interesting incident?

It is my best team-building experience ever! We had great fun using a magnet chessboard and my tablet computer to go through some Catalans, and without engines, we started looking at some new concepts that were even used heavily in the match. As it was a rather long trip, we also found space for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Of course, the trip was tiring, and we lacked the necessary time to settle in at the venue. Even so, it was easily outweighed by raising our spirits and by bonding as a team.

From the Anand days: A dinner after Anand’s 2007 World Championship triumph in Mexico (Photo: Frederic Friedel)

Let us talk about Magnus. You have worked with Magnus since he was very young. How did you first meet him?

I saw him at a tournament in Gausdal. But the first time we spoke was at a junior camp in Oslo. I was responsible for teaching the older group but had about an hour with the youngsters, including Carlsen and Hammer. Magnus was basically answering any question posed, and at the lunch-break, he was somewhat annoyed that I had no extra material ready and seemed more focused on eating my pizza instead. Which led to my first general impression of Magnus – a very talented and a very curious kid.

Magnus approaches openings in a unique, fresh way. How do you contribute to it?

Well, as stated earlier, my role is to support his approach. I might tell him that my computer does not seem to approve (an idea), but we try to be positive and support his creativity.

Always watching, always supporting. (Photo: Lennart Ootes / Grand Chess Tour™)

What, in your opinion, is Magnus’ mantra to success?

I think Magnus is successful because he is clearly the best player! Of course, he does a lot of things right as well and has a great support team. But at the core of it all are his unique chess skills.

Talking about aspiring players, how can a developing player make the best use of the engines and related tools to improve his game?

I am not sure I have the right to speak on this one. I have worked with two players, who were already number one when I started. Of course, I have some thoughts, but they are not really based on experience. I used to be one of those who pushed the computer to the limits and squeezed out as much value as possible in the opening phase, but these days I also seem to recommend understanding things, even some endgames. I guess I am getting old 🙂

You have been playing minimal active chess in the last few years and are mostly involved in seconding. How does it feel – do you ever feel the urge to play more? 🙂

Not the slightest, actually. Apart from, like most others, having fallen out with my federation, I also think working for two great players as Anand and Carlsen makes you understand your own limitations 🙂 And I enjoy following their games much more than my own, and would rather see them play an opening idea than use it myself. Still, what feels the worst is the rather steep decline in my playing skills. It is not at all a pleasant sight looking at one’s games when one has the feeling that the games used to be on a considerably higher level, and now they are not. Like with most players, I do actually believe that focusing on it would lead to considerable improvement. But most likely, we will never know if that is the reality or I am just lying to myself.

How did you come across shogi?

I was introduced to shogi by Jacques-Marie Pineau, a Frenchman living in Tokyo, who is like a bridgehead between chess and shogi in Japan. When I visited Japan in 2013, he organized a chess-shogi session with the legendary Yoshihara Habu, an honour I did not understand the full extent of back then. But then, I got completely fascinated by the game, and I still am. 

The initial position in shogi, a Japanese chess variant.

Just a few weeks ago, I came back from the international shogi festival in Kitakyushu, Japan. I guess my level in shogi is about 1800, which is quite decent by European standards. But the game gives me a lot of pleasure. I follow the opening discussions and big title matches even if it is challenging to do so without reading any Japanese or because of the fact that the games are played at odd hours due to the considerable time-difference. But that is what fans do, I suppose?

I interviewed Tisdall last year, and he seems to enjoy shogi as well. Then, I saw a picture of Pelletier playing it… What, do you think, draws chess players to shogi?

I would actually twist the question and state why people stay away, if okay? There is absolutely no money in Western shogi as the players are so few and the level is so low compared to Japan. So the environment is of enthusiastic hoppy players, who travel Europe at considerable expense to play tournaments. Also, it is hard getting used to dropping from expert to beginner as well as the fact that learning shogi does require getting used to the pieces which are written in Kanji etc. There are a lot of roadblocks, and if you are not determined and dedicated like a month to it or so, you will drop out.

So why are some drawn to shogi at all? Well basically, it is a great game! I will say it is better than chess in many ways – no draw problem, all games are complicated fights, and ultimately, it always comes down to mutual king-hunts. The material is more fluidly valued, and initiative and king-safety are much bigger parameters in shogi than in chess. Also, the journey of learning a game from scratch is very interesting. You start realizing how hard it is, and how many misunderstandings you have to overcome on the way in order to achieve even a decent level. If anything, I now respect my chess understanding much more than I used to! GM Tiger Hillarp Persson, who plays Go, made a very relevant point that it is very useful as a teacher (of a particular game) to learn a new game, and realize how things look from the beginners’ perspective. It is fun to learn new things. In shogi, I feel that my skills are improving, while in chess… it is painful to talk!  

Last but not the least, who do you see as Carlsen’s probable challenger in the next World Championship? 🙂  

I look forward to knowing who he will be. But till then, I will relax from thinking about it 🙂 I hope MVL will qualify to the candidates (Ed. – In the end, MVL did not qualify) because then, we will really have the top six rated challengers in the Candidates. And then, let the best man win!


Favourite Cuisine…

Being back from Japan recently, I will have to say their food is lovely.

A book that has had a major influence on you…

Bent Larsen’s 50 selected games. I always travelled with the book in my back during my youth. But in general, his overall writings influenced not just me but a whole generation of Danish chess players, which turned out to be the strongest generation we ever had, exactly for that reason. Of non-chess works, I like Thaler and Sunstein’s ‘Nudge’ a lot.

A song both you and Magnus love listening to…

At camps, most often it is the Marseillaise.

If you had a chance to meet a non-chess celebrity of your choice, who would he/she be?

Angela Merkel, I will say.

If not a chess professional, then?

I quite liked the two years I spent studying at university; so probably something in the academic world.

FIDE World Cup 2017 – A Preview

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!

Fact Sheet

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.

The full list of participants can be found on the official website.

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.

Pairings Tree:


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:

Magnus Carlsen

The biggest attraction of World Cup 2017 – the World Champion himself! (Picture: Lennart Ootes)

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.

Levon Aronian

Currently an unstoppable force – Levon Aronian (Picture: Lennart Ootes)

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?

Sergey Karjakin

The defending World Cup Champion – Sergey Karjakin (Picture: Lennart Ootes)

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.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

The Frenchman whose middle-name is ‘Consistency’ – Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Picture: Lennart Ootes)

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.

So, who are you rooting for? Comment down below!

GM Bassem Amin: “Games won with black make all the difference in open events!”

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.

(Picture: Abu Dhabi Chess Festival’s Twitter)


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.

11-year-old Gukesh D of India held Bassem to a draw in the very first round of the Abu Dhabi open. The game can be found here.  (Picture: Priyadarshan Banjan)

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!

Bassem’s precise and powerful 17. Qd2!

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!

From a seasoned campaigner (winner!?): Games won with black make all the difference in open events.

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!

Bassem will be spearheading the Egyptian as well as the African challenge at the upcoming World Cup. (Picture: Abu Dhabi Chess Festival)

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!

You can also read this interview in our Follow Chess App!

ChessMine – A promising inception and a progressive vision

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.

The minds behind ChessMine. (Centre) Priyadarshan Banjan; (Clockwise from the top left: Hinduja Reddy, IM Vishal Sareen, GM Narayanan Srinath & Likhit Chilukuri)


 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.

Apart from the more strategic innovations, the ChessMine team was also creative with the finer aspects of the execution!

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.

Such distinguished Indian players as Vidit Gujrathi, Sethuraman and Abhijeet Gupta, amongst others, had assembled for the debut ChessMine event.

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.

Well, the kids do enjoy quick chess, don’t they! 12 y/o IM Nihal Sarin is one such blitz enthusiast.

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!

Mr. Shashi Kumar, the CEO of Akshayakalpa, sponsored a chunk of the prize fund for the Chessmine Rapid & Blitz held in Bangalore. (Picture source:

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.

The ChessMine Grand Plan

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.

A visual from the ChessMine Academy at Delhi, with renowned trainer IM Vishal Sareen (extreme left) leading the way. (Source: ChessMine’s Facebook Page)

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 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)

 You can also read this interview in our Follow Chess App!

Kishan Gangolli: “My main aim is to become an International Master”

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!


The top final rankings at the IBCA Asian Chess Championship 2017. What stands out is the commanding lead with which Kishan clinched the title. (Source:


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 🙂


Kishan with the champion’s trophy at the AICF-B National A 2016. This was his third consecutive National A title, with the fourth one coming in 2017.

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.

Sri Krishna Udupa – Kishan’s first coach and a strong visually challenged player himself. Interestingly, the two faced each other in the fifth round of the recently concluded Asian.

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.

Darpan Inani – one of the most popular visually challenged players in the country.

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.

Mr. Charudatta Jadhav has been one of the biggest pioneers of visually challenged chess in India. Not only this, but he is also the Head of Accessibility Center of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services. Such a phenomenal figure!


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.

Kishan aims to become an International Master and to make a career in chess.

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.



Favourite food

I like sweet dishes, especially Kheer.

Favourite pastime

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.

Tukhaev: “You need to be prepared to take more risks in order to win swiss events”

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.


Picture courtesy:

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!

The final round battle at IIFL Mumbai – Adam playing Bernadskiy (Picture courtesy:

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.

Adam was off to a flying start at the Chennai open, retaining the lead right till the end.

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!

A tough position in an open event? Maybe you are doing it right! (Picture courtesy:

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.

Adam in action during his final round game against Swayams at the Delhi Open (Picture courtesy:

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.

(From L TO R) GM Adam Tukhaev, Nathan Alfred, yours truly and GM Valeriy Neverov.

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.

A modern classic: Chess for Zebras by GM 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 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 – An Interview with Mr. Ulrich Geilmann

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.

Mr. Ulrich Geilmann, the Vice President of the Schachbundesliga
Mr. Ulrich Geilmann, the Vice President of the Schachbundesliga.


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.

Former World Champion Vishy Anand has long been associated with Baden Baden - unarguably the strongest team in Schachbundesliga over the years.
Former World Champion Vishy Anand has long been associated with Baden Baden – unarguably the strongest team in Schachbundesliga over the years. (Picture Courtesy: Lennart Ootes via Leuven GCT)

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.

The third round of Schachbundesliga 2016/17 in progress at the Frauenhofer Institute in Bremen, Germany. (Picture courtesy: Chess24 Twitter)

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.

OSG Baden-Baden - The defending Frauenbundesliga champions.
OSG Baden-Baden – The defending Frauenbundesliga champions. (Picture Courtesy:

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.

The current defending champions SG Solingen ended Baden Baden’s decade-long dominance by winning the 2015/16 season of the Bundesliga. (Picture courtesy: Guido Giotta via SG Solingen)

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.

Eljanov: Enjoy the process and never despair after failures

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.

(Courtesy: Harry Gielen via
(Courtesy: Harry Gielen via

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.

(Courtesy: Lennart ootes Facebook)
Eljanov: “Getting closer to a tournament victory boosts my motivation and concentration.” (Courtesy: Lennart Ootes Facebook)

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.

Eljanov scored a crucial victory over Shirov in Round 6. (Courtesy: Isle of Man Chess Facebook)

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 🙂

Pavel: What I am really looking forward to is the WCh organisers' intention to provide virtual… Click To Tweet
The World Chess Championship match between Sergey Karjakin (L) and World Champion Carlsen (R) will be played out from Nov 11 to Nov 30.
Karjakin (L) vs Carlsen (R) – The action commences on the 11th of November!

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.

Late IM Vladimir Eljanov, GM Pavel Eljanov’s father, was an Honoured Coach of Ukraine and a chess book publisher of repute. (Courtesy:

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.

A young Eljanov at the Amsterdam Chess Tournament of 2005, where he emerged victorious. (Courtesy: Frits Agterdenbos via
A young Eljanov at the Amsterdam Chess Tournament of 2005, where he emerged victorious. (Courtesy: Frits Agterdenbos via

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.

Pavel: I suggest that any young chess player should not overuse the chess engines Click To Tweet

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.

The victorious Ukrainian team at the Calvia Olympiad, 2004. Eljanov scored a respectable 6 points from his 8 games.
The victorious Ukrainian team at the Calvia Olympiad, 2004. Eljanov scored a respectable 6 points from his 8 games. (Courtesy:

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.

Pavel Eljanov's message to aspiring players: enjoy the process and do not despair after failures Click To Tweet


If not a chess player, then…
A doctor.

How does a normal day of GM Pavel Eljanov look like?
Chess, family time, some sports etc.

Movies or the Theatre
TV series – my bad, I know 🙂

Early Bird or Night Owl
Night Owl.

The most influential (non-chess) book you have read till date.
Hard to choose one. From this year’s reading, I very much liked ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’ by Oliver Sacks.

Captains take the Blitzkrieg!

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!

Jovial & colourful: Ramesh (India) and Tisdall (Norway)
     Two colourful personalities: Ramesh (India) and Tisdall (Norway)

About Baku

The most exciting game played by a member of your team…

ico_ramesh  1) Shankland-Sethuraman! 2) Mamedyarov- Harikrishna

(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)

ic_tisdall  Magnus’ game vs the Philippines raised my pulse the most.

(Editor: Magnus playing White found himself defending a position with a pawn down, but eventually managed to draw the game)

One game result that you would like to change…

ico_ramesh  Sethuraman – Korobov to 1-0!

(Editor: Sethuraman’s loss meant that team India lost to Ukraine 2.5-1.5 in an important round 9 match)

ic_tisdall  Aryan Tari’s loss vs Romania. Or have Hammer win in round one, and hope that changed his entire event. But when you’ve had a fantastic result, you aren’t that eager to tempt ‘fate’ or change history.

Sethu-Korobov: The calm before the storm! (Source: Facebook – Gopakumar Sudhakaran)

Knowing the teams

The funniest guy…

ico_ramesh  Adhiban!

ic_tisdall Probably Aryan. He kept trying to convince us his Iranian roots made it impossible for him to concentrate against Iran, for one thing. And he was good at it. Magnus is a joker too.

Team Norway’s funny guy #1: Aryan Tari! (Source: Wikipedia)


...and their funny guy #2: The World Champion himself! (Source: Tisdall's Facebook)
…and their funny guy #2: The World Champion himself! (Source: Tisdall’s Facebook)

The funniest guy in Team India!? Ramesh: Adhiban! Click To Tweet

Tisdall: Aryan kept trying to convince us his Iranian roots made it impossible for him to concentrate against Iran… Click To Tweet

Team’s workaholic…

ico_ramesh  All of them work really really hard.

ic_tisdall  I don’t think we have one. No one overdoes it. Both Norway and Magnus have a more pleasure-driven approach to learning, so we tend to have playaholics.

The philosopher…

ico_ramesh  Harikrishna

ic_tisdall  I suggest Nicolai Getz. He’s very calm and reflective.

Philosopher in Team India? Ramesh: Harikrishna Click To Tweet

Philosopher in Team Norway? Tisdall: Nicolai Getz! Very calm and reflective Click To Tweet

The biggest foodie…

ico_ramesh  Adhiban

ic_tisdall  Me. You may want a player, but I think this one is clear. I have even worked at a stove!

Adhiban: “Hmm… Lemme see… What should I have for dinner tonight…” (Source: Facebook – Gopakumar Sudhakaran)











Who do you think would fare the best in a show like Fear Factor?

ico_ramesh  Vidit

ic_tisdall  Magnus, purely on competitive grounds.

Vidit: "I knew I'd be chosen!" (Source:
Vidit: “I knew I’d be chosen!” (Source:

Team’s favourite pastime at Baku…

ico_ramesh  Walking together as a team and sharing the fun and pains.

ic_tisdall  Swimming pool meetings would be my guess.

(Co-authored by Shubham Kumthekar and WFM Rucha Pujari)

Tisdall: “Norway just played, there were no fancy strategies!”

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.


Norway’s captain – Jonathan Tisdall (Source: Susan Polgar Twitter – @SusanPolgar)

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.

Young but formidable – The Norway Chess Team. (Source:

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.

Team Peru (L) vs Team Norway (R) from Round 7. Starting with crucial victories over Turkey and Peru in Rounds 6 & 7 respectively, the Norwegian unit racked up a scintillating finish. (Source: Susan Polgar Twitter – @SusanPolgar)

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.

Tisdall: Magnus uses a lot of energy being the team leader, and works to inspire and gather the team.. Click To Tweet

Team Norway’s spearhead – World Champion Magnus Carlsen (Source: Lennart Ootes Twitter – @LennartOotes)

SK: How did you go about captaining the team? 

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.

Last-minute talks… (Source: Susan Polgar Twitter – @SusanPolgar)

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.

The initial setup of Shogi, also known as Japanese Chess. (Source: Wikipedia)

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.

GM Tisdall on Chess960: I have a feeling it might become a big thing in the future Click To Tweet

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.

GM Tisdall: Endgame knowledge should be a higher educational/training priority Click To Tweet