Samuel Shankland: My recent jump is most probably the result of years of hard work paying off

Winning the US Championship ahead of Caruana, Nakamura and Wesley So is a fantastic achievement in itself. But when this feat is followed by a dominant triumph at the Capablanca Memorial and a crucial victory at the American Continental within a space of two months, any number of adjectives fall short of describing it! Such has been the performance of Samuel Shankland, who has gone through these tournaments undefeated and has boosted his rating from 2671 to a career-best 2727, which makes him number 27 in the world.

We caught up with Sam post his wonderful run. In this interview, the American GM sheds light on each of his three victories, while also providing an insight into his recently released book and his association with Jacob Aagard. Finally, he imparts a crucial lesson in goal-setting that applies not just to chess but to all walks of life.

The man who has stormed the chess world: Samuel Shankland (Picture: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club)


Shubham Kumthekar: The last couple of months have been outstanding for you. What are your general feelings on winning three strong tournaments (US Championship, Capablanca Memorial, and American Continental) on the trot?

Samuel Shankland: Obviously, I am thrilled with my results! I have only been home for a couple of weeks and I have mostly been resting, but I did look over my games a bit and I concluded that I played very well and also got a bit lucky. I will definitely have to work hard in the future if I want to maintain play of this level.

In terms of the competition, the US championship was a huge challenge. Did you have a specific approach going into the event?

I tried to be a bit less direct. I am naturally an aggressive player who thrives in complications, but nowadays, computers have analyzed almost all sharp main-lines out to a draw. I focused most of my preparation on making sure I could get playable positions with Black, and I was pretty content to accept equality with White as long as there was some fight in the position. This is very atypical for me, but it certainly worked well!

It would be intriguing to know what was going on in your mind before the final round of the US Championship, especially considering Fabiano’s recent last round exploits…

I was a little nervous the night before, but the day of the final game (against Awonder Liang), I felt fine. I knew the stakes were high, but I made the conscious decision to not play the game any differently than I would if it were round 1. What I had been doing so far was clearly working, and I thought it would be a bad idea to try and tinker with my approach because the situation was not a normal one. Also, for the first time in the entire tournament, I got a very pleasant advantage with White out of the opening. This eased my nerves a lot.

All smiles after winning the US Championship! (Picture: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club)

Then came the comprehensive win at Capablanca Memorial. Did the eventual victory margin of 1.5 points come as a slight surprise?

I was surprised that I managed such a high score, but not surprised that 7.5 would win by a lot. In the previous edition, for example, Sasikiran won with 6.5/10, and then I tied for second with 5.5. If 5.5 is often good enough for second, then one can expect 7.5 to be first by a wide margin.

After playing two long round robins, the action shifted to the American Continental, a Swiss event. How did you successfully deal with an almost immediate change in format?

I got very lucky! I certainly struggled in the beginning and earned some points I did not deserve. I had a very dry and equal endgame in round 2, and in round 4, I was completely lost as early as move 18! I somehow managed to win both games, and after that, I managed to hold things together a bit better. I had a small hiccup against Flores but it went unpunished.

Sam’s last move was 25… Rc7. Can you find the spectacular winning continuation that Flores missed in this position?

In general, I have a lot of praise for the South Americans I faced – I was expecting to have to fight tooth and nail to get interesting positions, but for the most part they were happy to fight with me, showing no signs of playing for a draw (something I was a little worried about) or of fear of my rating. I think this is the right attitude for success in chess and I expect a lot of South Americans to get stronger in the coming years. It took me some time to find my groove, but I was playing well by the end despite being quite tired.

Which victory out of the three holds the greatest significance for you?

Certainly the US Championship! Every tournament win is a success, but it is a completely different feeling when it comes ahead of three top-10 players. I am proud to be an American and have dreamt of winning the US Championship for as long as I can remember. It’s gotten tougher every year as our young stars get stronger and stronger and more and more strong GMs switch their federations, and it felt amazing to win the toughest one to date.

Shankland won the US Championship ahead of such distinguished names as Caruana, Wesley So, and Nakamura.

It has been a splendid run, and there must have been a lot of interesting games. Which are your personal favourites from this period – can you tell us something about them?

There are so many interesting games to choose from! In general, my favourite kind of games are ones where I play well in all phases. If I had to name a few, I really like my wins over Awonder Liang, Aleksandr Rakhmanov, and Jeffrey Xiong. In all these games, I got an edge from the opening and felt that I played very well to maintain it all through the game and eventually win, despite some very stiff resistance from these strong opponents.

The stunning final position from Shankland’s victory over Xiong at the American Continental!


Before this purple patch, was there something that you chose to do differently?

I already mentioned trying to be a bit less forcing. I don’t think there was too much else other than that. Most probably, my recent jump is the result of years of hard work paying off. I was stuck in the mid-high 2600s from 2015 through the start of 2018 despite working really hard – perhaps now it’s time to reap the rewards!

Your association with Jacob Aagard is well known in chess circles. What can you tell us about it?

Jacob has been a great coach. I hadn’t had much coaching throughout my life, about 1 hour per week from 1500-2300 or so, and nothing afterwards. He has certainly been instrumental in my development, and I can particularly name calculation as a skill I have really improved while working with him. I still make a lot of errors in sharp positions of course, and I always will, but minimizing them requires constant work.

Your book ‘Small Steps to Giant Improvement’ was recently released. Can you tell us something about it?

‘Small Steps to Giant Improvement’ is a book about pawns, and more specifically about the premise that they do not move backwards. Of course, we all know this as a basic rule, but it has been a topic that I think has been mostly, if not completely, ignored in chess literature. I broke down the five main reasons I believe a pawn may wish to move backwards, but it cannot, and did a chapter on how to avoid each of these unfavourable situations in your own games. I then went back over each reason a second time, with the focus instead on provoking your opponent’s pawns too far forward for their liking. In the end, there is a section on doubled pawns. Pawns don’t move backwards, but they also seldom move sideways!

Sam’s recently released book – Small Steps to Giant Improvement – focuses on crucial aspects of pawn play in chess.

Did the work you put in for the book play a role in your success?

I am not sure, but it would not surprise me. If nothing else, it was a little break for me from the rigors of normal chess study. Sometimes I think I work a little too hard, and having some forced time off may have helped me re-adjust. Still, it has to be said that my first two events after writing the book produced solid but normal results, and it was only several months later that I caught fire.

And do you plan to write more books? 🙂

Haha, someday perhaps! If I have a couple months off from tournament play at some point, I might write a second volume of ‘Small Steps to Giant Improvement’ that could focus on pawn related topics the first volume ignored, such as passed pawns, isolated pawns, etc.

Going ahead, what are your personal goals and plans?

My goal is to be a World Champion. I will almost certainly fail, but I have always believed that one should set lofty goals and shoot for the stars. Even if you come up short, you would have likely reached the maximum you could as per your capabilities. For example, I would be much happier aiming to be World Champion and peaking at #5 than I would be aiming to make the top 20 and peaking at #20.


Half an hour before a game, you are generally found doing…

Mostly reviewing my lines! I am not prepping anything new at this point but trying to make sure I have memorized everything I needed to for the upcoming game.

Your favourite pastime…

I love sports. I go to the gym every day, and I like to watch games on TV. At the moment, I am following the World Cup pretty religiously. I am rooting for Spain (Ed. – as we post, Spain has been knocked out by Russia), but if I had to guess the winner, I think Belgium has the best chance. It has definitely been a very exciting World Cup so far – some lesser known teams have pulled off big upsets – and anything can happen in the coming elimination rounds.

One country you haven’t visited but would love to visit…

There are so many! If I had to pick one, I would say South Korea. Unfortunately, I don’t know of too many chess tournaments happening there, but maybe I can go there sometime for pleasure.

If not a chess player then…

In all seriousness – and this is probably a pretty uncommon answer among chess players – I think I would have done well in the military. I don’t consider myself a super-talented chess player, and I got to where I am mainly by being very focused and pushing myself as hard as I can to be the best I can be. These are the qualities that, in my opinion, make a good soldier. In another life with a different upbringing, where I first met active duty members and veterans as a kid instead of as an adult, I could easily see myself going to the West Point.

One non-chess celebrity that you look up to…

I really admire Antoine Fuqua. He is my favourite film director by far, and most importantly, I admire his perseverance. Much like myself, he is a late bloomer in his field, not reaching high levels of success as a director until his mid-thirties. In an era of people becoming wildly successful younger and younger (especially in chess!), I find it inspirational to see people who find success later in life. It reminds me that despite being old and decrepit at 26, I can still push myself to reach for levels higher than I have reached so far.

Narayanan Srinath: What makes the Kolkata Open victory more special is that it was an Indian tournament with eight Indian opponents!

It is not every time that 27 Grandmasters grace an open tournament in India. However, such was the case at the very well organized 2018 Kolkata Open, which also saw the participation of the great Nigel Short. At the end of nine rounds, GM Narayanan Srinath, who started the tournament as the 14th seed, emerged as the resounding winner. On his way to the title, he notably beat two 2600+ opponents and boosted his rating to 2549, his personal peak.

Post his splendid performance, we caught up with Srinath for a quick chat. In this interview, Srinath describes his journey to the title, provides valuable practical tips, and also underlines the reasons that made the Kolkata Open an organizational success. Read on!

Grandmaster Narayanan Srinath

Shubham Kumthekar: Kolkata Open was one of the strongest Indian opens in recent times. How do you feel about winning such a tournament with a splendid rating performance of 2737?

Narayanan Srinath: It was a wonderful feeling. I can’t remember having a better performance in my career so far. What makes it more special is that it was an Indian tournament with 8 Indian opponents. If I am ever confronted with a horde of dementors and have to conjure a Patronus charm on demand, this would be one of the memories I would go to.

The field at the 2018 Kolkata Open was no ordinary. As many as 27 Grandmasters had participated, including former World Championship challenger Nigel Short! 

Did you have a specific goal or certain expectations going into the tournament?

As I stated in my earlier interview for Follow Chess, I generally prefer not stressing on result goals. This is based on the general credo that ‘It’s not worth spending much time/effort on things outside one’s control’. I prefer to focus on the process goals. In this tournament, my aim was to try and exert more effort than my opponent at every level, beginning from the preparation. I also tried to consciously try new things as much as possible in an endeavor to get out of my comfort zone and grow.

At which point in the tournament did you feel that you had the title firmly in your sight?

In 2011, when I began training with GM Kunte, one of the first things he taught me was tournament strategy. He told me that, if I have a certain aim, say scoring 7.5 out of 9 rounds, and if I bring myself to 6.5/8 in 6 tournaments, then 3 times out of 6, I’ll achieve the goal of 7.5/9. This helped me a lot practically because back then, I used to get adversely affected if things took an undesirable turn in even one game in the earlier parts of a tournament.

Since then, the general thinking about my tournament strategy has been to think about the tournament situation only in the last 1-2 rounds. It wasn’t different this time. Only after getting to 7/8 did I really think about the championship.

Looking back, were there any specific things you did before or during the event that played a role in your victory?

I don’t think there was anything special that I did. However, as Jim Rohn stated, “You are the average of the five people you most associate with”. In my case, I usually spend most of my time training/working with players of my strength or stronger than me, for example, the little devil Nihal Sarin. It also helps to be surrounded by a great support system – family and friends. Apart from this, I had a three-hour long flight just a couple of days before the tournament, where I re-read ‘Mindset‘ by the Stanford Professor Carol Dweck, which in my opinion is something of a must-read for people interested in growth. Aside from the young kids who’ll benefit a lot from inculcating the growth mindset early, it is also important for parents and coaches.

Which were your favourite games from the tournament? Can you tell us something about them?

I didn’t outplay any of the GMs wholly convincingly. However, I liked the game against Abhijeet Gupta the most. I think I equalized normally from the opening and I don’t think I was worse at any point. I felt that position was balanced at most stages and he could’ve taken a repetition, but he overextended. But overall, I felt that the quality of the game wasn’t too bad.

Can you find the move that Srinath played in this position?

As for the game against Karthikeyan Murali, I was out of the book after 5 moves. I think I played well for the next 10 moves and had a sizeable advantage after 15 moves. But then, I lost the thread completely. The position worsened gradually and with 30 seconds each, it went from -.5 to -5 until things took a very fortunate turn. The quality of the game left a lot to desire, but I think that’s a byproduct of trying new things and is part of the learning process. I think playing a lot of blitz games before the event against quality opposition helped a lot in handling the 30-seconds-each situation, apart from improving my tactical alertness.

With this victory, you have now reached your peak rating. What are your future goals and plans?

I don’t have any specific result goals as far as the playing part is concerned. Playing chess gives me a lot of happiness and that’s my prime motivation. Having said that, chess is a fascinating game with a lot to learn, and one of the goals is also to constantly learn new things and play better than I do now.

I train more than I play these days, and I find a little more meaning in that. However, it hasn’t been straightforward to give adequate time towards this, so I am now exploring ways to find a way to be able to teach a larger number of students by using my personal methods. The launch of Premier Chess Academy in Delhi and Avant Garde Chess Academy in Malaysia is only the first step in a journey of thousand miles.

The next ChessMine event will be stronger, more entertaining for spectators around the world, and of better quality. Ideally, I envision a tournament where players get to share the arena with some of the best in the business, broadcast to millions with commentary by people like Komarov, opportunities for C-suite executives to exchange notes with the best Indian players, and a certain former world champion present. I am not sure if I and my mates can execute all of the above but this is what we are aiming for. We’re looking for dates at sometime around November.

Kolkata open, as we noted earlier, was a really strong open. What do you think needs to be done to encourage the regular participation of a good number of strong GMs in Indian opens?

I don’t think there’s any magic secret to this. The fact that so many Indian GMs participated in Kolkata Open is no accident – they simply provided the best conditions I’ve experienced in India so far.

1. Strong GMs and a strict rating floor: In general it’s undesirable for a player focussed towards growth to be the first seed of a tournament. This is the reason we don’t have our Indian team members playing in India. But if there were a handful of 2700s, I am sure they would also love to join.

2. Quality accommodation and conditions: In Kolkata, the GMs were accommodated in five-star hotels that were very near to the venue. The overall average quality was high for everyone.

3. One round per day.

4. An excellent hall that had good lights and a fantastic ambiance.

5. Excellent support staff for the organizers who took care of the players the way Indians take care of guests. Some of the volunteers even took the guests for shopping apart from ensuring seamless organization and making sure that all the exigencies were met.

My special thanks to Dibyendu Barua and DBCA for making this wonderful event happen.

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

International Women’s Day: An interview with Aruna Anand

The name of Aruna Anand is taken in chess circles with a sense of admiration. Having been Vishy Anand’s manager, support-system and a guiding light, apart from being his life-partner of course, Aruna has had a lion’s share in the sparkling career of the Madras Tiger. By playing multiple roles and taking charge of different aspects of her and Anand’s life, she facilitated the creation of the right environment for Anand by allowing to him focus majorly on his chess – something that is absolutely essential for a top-level chess player.

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, we caught up with Aruna for a quick chat. Read on to know more about the superwoman of Indian chess!

File photo of Aruna Anand and Viswanathan Anand | REUTERS.

You have been a major pillar of strength behind one of the world’s greatest chess players of all time – how will you describe your journey? What sacrifices did it entail?

I think it has been a lovely roller-coaster experience that we will always cherish. The happy memories are easy to remember. The difficult moments define your relationship more. I think Anand had to more of the hard work… However, we think of it as an equal partnership – both sides just put in their best.

What are some of your qualities and/or your experiences that hold you in good stead when managing multiple facets of your life?

Multi-tasking, patience (Anand may find it hard to agree!), and the ability to just get the job done.

How does Anand’s life revolve around his wife-cum-manager? 🙂

It keeps revolving… We enjoy being parents, being a couple, and being sportsperson-manager. And they are all connected.

Having seen a World Champion up close, can you outline a few qualities that define a world-class sportsperson?

The ability to never give up, to feel responsible for your own failures, and to understand that the family is always by your side.

Who are some women and their qualities that you admire?

There are many. I think women who have achieved a lot of success not only had to deal with big problems but also a lot of day-to-day issues, which sadly are clubbed as women’s duties. We have a lot of great women chess players & it would be nice to see them continue after marriage and strive higher.

What would be your message to girls aspiring to make it big in sports or their chosen field?

I think Anand’s word on this is to enjoy the challenge.


What are your favorite hobbies?

Dancing, painting, and baking

Who is your favorite sportsperson? (Apart from you know who!)

Zidane and Federer

How many languages do you speak and which are they?

Tamil, Hindi, English, and Spanish … German is very much a work-in-progress.

Women author(s) that you would like to recommend

Jhumpa Lahiri and Isabel Allende

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.

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.

Srinath: “I much rather prefer performance goals over result goals.”

We caught up with Srinath Narayanan for an interview, who just recently crossed the 2500 rating requirement at Sharjah Masters to become a Grandmaster.

His story is mixed with glory, success and setbacks. A very talented and persistent player, and a hardworking person, he shares with us his experiences and how he conquered the challenges to become a very strong player he is today. His journey wasn’t easy, but he sets an example that with the dedicated effort and love for the game, it is possible to attain even unattainable goals.

India’s new Grandmaster: Srinath Narayanan

Rucha Pujari: Congratulations Srinath on becoming a Grandmaster! You have had five GM norms to your credit and many times came close with the rating. What went right at Sharjah Masters that helped you cross the 2500 barrier?

Srinath Narayanan: Thank you very much Rucha 🙂

I think there were a few things that I decided to do differently towards the end of 2016. Firstly, I felt that I needed a different coach, a new one who can give me a new perspective and who didn’t have prejudice about my chess. I had been interacting with GM Andrey Deviatkin for a couple of years prior to 2016, and we had talked about my game at times. I asked him to help me from around September 2016. I immediately increased around 15 points and made my 4th GM norm in the very next tournament. It took me a while to really agree with the changes he suggested, but after a disastrous IIFL tournament at the end of the year, I thought “why not? It can hardly get worse” Things became easier after that and this was one of the significant changes.

Secondly, there was a conscious decision to play in stronger tournaments. In the whole of 2015 and 2016 put together, I had faced only 11 opponents above 2600. Add 2014 and it’s just 17. However, in 2017, I’ve already faced 13 opponents above 2600 and quite a few between 2550-2600 as well. So I think it was a combination of these two factors, and I think the change of choice of tournaments in particular made a big difference.

Russian Grandmaster Andrey Deviatkin following Srinath’s game during IIFL Mumbai tournament, Dec 2016.

The living legend, Vishy Anand tweeted on your success. How good did it feel?

It was one of the best feeling! I don’t think it’ll be an exaggeration if I said that it felt better than getting the GM title itself 🙂 It also felt great that he was still following my results.

You must have had many hurdles to cross in your journey of becoming a Grandmaster. Can you describe any one difficult problem you have had to deal with, and how did you handle it?

Absolutely, there have been several hurdles that I’ve had to cross. One which comes to my mind is that for a long time I had difficulty when I came close to a goal or a milestone. For example, I’ve lost several times when I needed to make a draw to get a norm or in similar circumstances.

I overcame this by training myself to stay in the present and not dwell too much on these external goals even when I wasn’t playing. This is of course easier said than done and it took me a long time to train this.

How was your journey from a chess prodigy to a Grandmaster? Also we are interested to know how your game developed in the process.

The journey was quite difficult, like climbing a steep mountain. My career was quite smooth till around the age of 14. I had become an IM by that time and I was seeded 2nd in the World Under 14 in which I finished 7th. So I was definitely quite up there.

Around 2008, things changed quite drastically when my sponsorship was discontinued by Sun Group, a multinational company based in Russia, due to recession. As a result I didn’t have much coaching during 2009-11 and also the foreign tournaments stopped. This changed my career quite a bit, as I dropped about 100 points. This also affected my self confidence. I started working with GM Abhijit Kunte from 2011 and it helped immensely. He helped me regain my confidence and self belief, and I started to climb up again. Between 2013-16 I was again stuck in a valley, but I think this was because of being unable to play strong tournaments due to limited funds. I managed to change this approach in 2016 and now I intend to be more judicious in this regard.

With regard to my game, I think I started out as a tactical player who could play quite fast. This was due to solving a lot of tactics and playing a huge number of weekend rapid tournaments in the early stages of my career. As my career progressed, I was influenced by different coaches at different parts of my career. Like for example, after working for a few months with GM RB Ramesh, I became vastly improved in openings. At different stages, what I studied defined what my strength and weaknesses were. When I improved in one aspect, the other would be relatively weak, which would become apparent over a period of time. Then I would work on the weaker to part to bring about a balance.

Srinath became International Master at the age of 14, and achieved remarkable success from his young age.

Can you share with us some of the turning points of your career? In retrospect, were there any moments that made you feel that this game, this field is what you want to pursue?

My first turning point was probably when I won the State Under 7 in 2000. This was what gave my parents the confidence to continue to support me in Chess in the first place. A couple of years later, I became the Youngest FIDE rated player in India. At that time it was hailed as an achievement because the number of rated players in India were limited and the minimum threshold for gaining rating was 2000. Then of course the biggest achievement was winning the World Under 12 Chess Championship in Belfort.

However, honestly I don’t think it was such external things that made me choose chess. My love and passion for chess was there from the beginning, and it just felt natural that I would keep continuing playing the game. There may have been negative thoughts of a fleeting nature, but I never seriously considered doing anything else.

If you have to pick one, what is one key event that changed your professional life in a positive or negative way?

Well, in terms of positivity, I think it was winning the World Under 12 in 2005. It gave me a lot of funding, support, recognition, and made it much easier to become an IM.

In terms of negative event, it was the loss of sponsorship in 2008 due to recession.

Recently you made a witty tweet regarding cheating in Chess. On those lines, do you think the future of Chess is in danger?

Yes, absolutely. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that the future of chess is in danger, however this is a very serious menace. India has taken serious measures and is probably in the forefront in tackling this problem. For example, I see that in Indian tournaments, the mobile phone rule is strictly enforced in all the tournaments I’ve played recently and the arbiters have been vigilant.

However, I feel that there may have been some instances where people have managed to evade the net. It’s easier when a person cheats obviously and regularly, as the officials can keep vigil and nab the suspect at some moment. But, there can be more intelligent ways to cheat, like for example, cheating in only specific games, or specific moments, and these are much harder to detect. And even if a person is suspected, proving it is a whole different story.

Such instances can have a major impact on the victim. When you get outplayed like that, it can possibly shatter a person’s self confidence and cause a lasting impact, even if temporary. I think this is something that must be taken quite seriously and fought with all resources.

One effective way to make this difficult would be to have a policy where the games at the lower level (below 2700) are broadcasted with a 15/30 minute delay. This’ll eradicate one way of cheating – receiving communication via a micro device. Without being able to receive communication, a prospective cheater has to rely on methods that has greater risk of being caught. I feel that this is a very serious and necessary precaution.

What one or two things do you have in your training that are keys to your success? How would you a guide an upcoming player to improve at Chess?

I feel that it is very useful to have a good partner to work with. I find that this makes a major difference, compared to working on one’s own all the time. While it’s an extremely useful skill to be able to work for a long time on your own, usually collaborating with a  good partner makes one’s work at least twice faster and more productive.

As far as what areas to work on goes, I think this is something very subjective. Once a player has decent basics and starts playing at a standard level, they usually develop certain tendencies that becomes a constraint to progress. Therefore, I think it’s very important and essential to constantly analyze one’s own games and draw conclusions. The pattern found in the list of mistakes can give a good idea of the strengths and weakness.This gives a good indication on the areas to work on. ‘Pump up your rating’ by Axel Smith explains this process well. The late Russian IM and legendary coach Mark Dvoretzky has also written about this.

What is your next goal? How are you working in that direction?

For now, my goal is to keep progressing the way I’ve this year so far. I’ll be looking to play more of such strong tournaments, and keep working on my weaknesses and try to improve my strengths. In general, I much rather prefer performance goals over result goals.

“For now, my goal is to keep progressing the way I’ve this year so far.”

What is success, according to you?

I’ve never thought about this really, but I suppose success is a feeling of accomplishment, wherein I manage to achieve what I want.

I haven’t thought much about success, because a few years ago I came across the following lines which made a deep impact in my mind:- “”Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.” From Man’s search for meaning by Viktor.E.Frankl and this is the philosophy I choose to adopt. A similar philosophy was also suggested in the movie 3 idiots and it is something I’ve written in detail in the paradox of work.



Any one country you have enjoyed playing in?


A book you like and you would suggest reading, to a friend.


What is the one thing that annoys you the most 😛   


What was the best advice you were ever given?

Enjoy the present.

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!

Bharat Singh: You have to showcase your players as stars!

Bharat Singh Chauhan is a name that is synonymous with Indian chess administration. However, his contribution is not limited by boundaries. Not only is he the CEO of the All India Chess Federation (AICF), but also the Chairman of FIDE’s Technical commission, Commonwealth Chess association & Deputy President of the Asian Chess Federation!

I had a chance to meet him when he came to Bangalore. We discussed a lot of technical things, apps and stuff. Finally we got down for some Q & A about Indian Chess and where things are headed!

Bharat Singh Chauhan with yours truly Asim Pereira

Asim Pereira: (Given your involvement with FIDE & Asian Chess) Are you still actively involved with AICF & Indian Chess?
Yes yes. I am involved in policy making and long term element planning. I am involved in almost all the things.

What are India’s chess goals or what are we trying to achieve at the highest level? What is the aim for the next few years?
To be very honest with you, in AICF we feel that its ‘Chess for everyone’. Ofcourse medal in Olympiad, world champions are some goals which any federations should have. But we give more priority to chess for everyone, so that more and more people can play.

We have substantial FIDE rated players and we have overtaken France…

(interrupting) we are number one in the world!

…so at some point should we also be focusing on getting more people in the world top 100 and getting existing GMs into 2700 and that kind of thing?
As I mentioned regarding hunt for medal, this is very important actually and we should concentrate on that kind of tournaments (Editor: Closed round robin, elite events etc). Unfortunately it requires a lot of money like Tata Steel, Bilbao, Dortmund all are big budget events.

So this is my personal opinion: if someone asks me to add fifty thousand chess players or running this one-two tournaments in a year, I would prefer to add fifty thousand people. I personally feel we are doing service to the society with fifty thousand people added to Chess. So I give more importance to that.

I know its a requirement for federation and our players that you should have such tournaments as Bilbao & Tata Steel, but unfortunately we are not able to concentrate, but very soon we are going to have some category tournaments.

Bharat Singh: but very soon we are going to have some category tournaments. Click To Tweet

In fact we started few in Airport Authority but not such a large level. But now we have lot of players already in the top 20-30 and recently I saw Adhiban (Editor: Adhiban finished joint 3rd in Tata Steel Masters 2017 ahead of many higher rated elite players) is doing well and our team played so well in the Olympiad (Editor: Indian men finished 4th and women finished 5th). Their standard has gone up. So maybe we should have some tournaments like these. Maybe atleast one or two big tournaments in a year where we can bring our players to this level.

With my limited interaction with some of these IMs and players, what I have realized is one of the problem and challenge is not having good strong tournaments in India with say a cut-off of minimum 2200 or 2300 which will give strong exposure to players. Else you end up going abroad to play. Recently there was a Marienbad tournament in Czechoslovakia where 3 Indian players participated in Round Robin tournaments (Editor: Marienbad GMa & GMb).
So some kind of tournaments like these? Maybe not absolute elite, not Bilbao not Tata Steel, but some kind of round robin tournaments which can help people gain rating and norms?
Actually round robin tournaments were organized earlier and they were doing well, but we had some problems with the round robin tournaments at lower level. Grand Master round robin tournaments may be ok. But nowadays we have 5-6 Grand Master events in the country. And some norms were gained there. And our neighbouring countries also have events.
I mean there are lot of opportunities for the players to achieve norms in India also. But I told you the reason why we stopped this. We have brought Chess to such a level, we don’t want a bad name and get back to this (lower) level.

Recently I did a bit of study (Editor: Details in the post here). By Nov 2016 India really had a good user base. But per 100 players, the amount of Titled  (GM, IM..) players that we had was lowest amongst the Top 10 nations. But the observation there was that once our players are Titled, we are good at getting Grand Masters from amongst the Titled players. Which means once our guys become Titled, the guys really go on to become GMs. So our focus should have been to get people to earn more titles because maybe then that (becoming GM) would happen automatically?

Rank Fed Titled Rated Titled/Rated (TPR) %
1 Russia 2443 60893 4.01
2 USA 724 13677 5.29
3 China 147 2072 7.09
4 Ukraine 539 8803 6.12
5 India 302 59088 0.51
6 France 405 44797 0.90
7 Azerbaijan 128 2710 4.72
8 Armenia 113 1353 8.35
9 Poland 377 18529 2.03
10 Hungary 458 9619 4.76

Table1 : Top 10 nations with total Titled + Rated players and their ratio

Rank Fed GMs Titled GMs/Titled (GPT) %
1 Russia 236 2443 9.66
2 USA 90 724 12.43
3 China 39 147 26.53
4 Ukraine 87 539 16.14
5 India 44 302 14.57
6 France 49 405 12.10
7 Azerbaijan 24 128 18.75
8 Armenia 37 113 32.74
9 Poland 41 377 10.88
10 Hungary 54 458 11.79

Table1 : Top 10 nations with total GMs + Titled players and their ratio

We have lot of things to do. I don’t say we are perfect and we are very fine. There is lots to be done. I don’t want to say people in the past have done bad or good but I just want to remind you in 2005 we had only 10 Grand Masters and now we have 48 odd Grand Masters and lot of IMs. Those days, IM was a real luxury. Manuel Aaron was the only IM for a long time.

Recently I was in Budapest and Grand Master Csaba said, if they play Indian players below 18 who have gone there to play, they feel very scared. The below 18 players are very strong. And they say that Indian rating is 200 points lesser than FIDE because standards are more. That is possible because we have lot of rating tournaments since 250 odd FIDE rated tournaments or held in a year.

We are able to get money, whatever way the money comes. Lot of money is coming and going to the players through FIDE rated tournaments. Atleast we are able to provide opportunity. We send biggest delegation to Asian youth championship, where titles are given to the winners. Our major titles like CM/FM come from there. We don’t have specialized youngster-events or Title events.

Mumbai tournament has come up further for young children which is a good beginning (Editor: IIFL Wealth Mumbai tournament had a Under-13 age category section with a huge prize fund of 8 Lakhs Indian Rupees). I would say we should have atleast 5-6 more tournaments for school children or young people. That will give more titles.

I know that data for Titled players, but its also essential to have more rated players.

Yes ofcourse, there are so many tournaments which have exploded recently. So there is a lot of opportunity to get initial rating. But maybe if the IMs or 2400 guys who are stuck had some tournaments.. or say Praggnanandhaa, if he played strong round robin events instead of playing under-age category events? Lets take an example of Jeffery Xiong the World Junior Champion from US. He recently played in the Tata Steel Challengers. (Editor: Jeffery finished a credible 3rd inspite of being the youngest participant!)! If our players get that kind of exposure, that would be really amazing. So do we right now have any plans to have some kind of round robin events?

I explained there were certain issues regarding round robin tournaments. But will be definitely doing category events; for GM tournaments or elite tournaments. But I don’t see any immediate plans to have round robin rating tournaments or IM round robin tournaments.

Bharat Singh: I don't see any immediate plans to have RR rating tournaments or IM RR tournaments. Click To Tweet

There is a lot of opportunity. We encourage them. We don’t stop people going for round robin tournaments. If they get an invitation they go. But in India there were issues and some other issues were reported. I mean we cannot do policing in all the tournaments. There are more than 500 tournaments in a year. How can we do policing for all the tournaments? But we have to try our best.

I personally feel we are able to give so much money and opportunity to the players. Ofcourse playing in India, even the Indian GMs feel that the standards are very high and they find it difficult. I don’t know if you have noticed. Lot of Indian Grand Masters don’t play in Indian tournaments. But they will go and play similar kind of tournaments with similar standards and lesser prize money outside India. I don’t blame them. But the strength of the youth in our country and the strength of our young players is really very good. Everybody abroad including foreign GMs are scared of (young Indian players).

Is there a plan for a league structure, for children, middle guys, to get experience? Has this been thought of in the future?

We already had negotiations with many people. And there is already Maharashtra league which is successful (Editor: Maharashtra Chess League (MCL) completed its 4th season last year). It is happening and it is a wonderful thing to happen for Maharashtra chess. We had plans. But again we don’t want to go the Millionaire way (Editor: The highly publicized Millionaire Chess will not be organized in 2017 due to lack of sponsorship). We want to start a sustainable tournament with a sustainable plan and policy. The person who is organizing tournaments should not conduct for a year and stop. We want somebody to organize for alteast 10 years. So we are already talking (to organizers) since a year. More money for the players will attract more people to Chess.

When we used to play Chess, most of the people in the society compared it to gambling and that one should not play chess. Now, every household ladies proudly talk that their son/daughter plays Chess and if he/she got a medal. Atleast in the metros, winning medal in a chess tournament is kind of a status symbol. Many people talk about it. But we want more and more people introduced to Chess. Anand did it (popularized chess) in a big way, and lot of youngsters like Praggnanandhaa, Murali Karthikeyan, Aravindh Chithambaram, Parimarjan Negi, Aryan Chopra are contributing to develop chess. And to introduce more people to chess, we have to make it more lucrative to parents and players. More money, more respect, more professionalism will attract more people. There is no doubt about it. If you want to grow in Chess, you have to showcase your players as stars.

Bharat Singh: More money, more respect, more professionalism will attract more people (to Chess). Click To Tweet

You know when India won the world cup (Editor: he probably meant the 1983 world cup), the Cricket Board didn’t have money for the press conference. And look at what the cricket board is today (Editor: BCCI is apparently the richest cricket board in the world)! So people have to learn that you have to showcase your players as stars. You have to respect your players.

People have to learn that you have to showcase your players as stars and respect your players. Click To Tweet

Yes that is a good point, to have stars. What Magnus Carlsen has done is single handedly put Norway on the Chess map. Anish Giri for Netherlands. Caruana/Nakamura for US. So if our guys get into that league of say top 20-50, wouldn’t that automatically become a nice circle such that players get to the top and then others follow and take inspiration from it?

Anand has done a big thing. Now people are talking about Harikrishna, people know Harikrishna, people know Praggnanandhaa, Aravindh Chithambaram etc. I mean you go to the lay man, taxi man, everybody will know. Even in Europe if you go to any taxi driver, they will tell you 10 names about Indian players (Editor: Obviously not an easy claim to verify!). Many people take it as their ideal and start playing.

Q: But maybe if these youngsters had an opportunity of playing strong or testing matches? Recently Wei Yi was playing Rapport. The Chinese association invites foreign players to play 4 or 6 games against their own (Editor: And Ding Liren played Wesley So). In a way these guys are just conditioned and prepared to face a future World championship match. But our guys say Praggnanandhaa or Aravindh Chithambaram might not have got an opportunity to play such a tense match.

I think in our system, in our country everybody thinks that Govt. of India should do everything. Govt. of India cannot put one person for securing one person. One police man cannot be there with every lady (Editor: probably referring to the recent spate of crimes against women in some Indian cities). People of this country have to work together. Europe has so many tournaments. There, people take it as a social responsibility. Like Tata has taken the steel company (Editor: India’s Tata group acquired Corus in 2007), but they have an agreement to continue what the previous company was doing (Editor: We have reached out to the Tata Steel Organizers for more details on this). Whether they have sold it or not, whether they have become bankrupt, whether it is a profit making venture or not, but they have to continue the social responsibility.

You go to Spain and towns like Benasque have a lot of tournaments. I had a big discussion with them to understand how they do this. They said they have people who have to do this under social responsibility. In our country, we all kill our responsibility. We don’t think what we have to do for the society. Everybody talks about their rights. Nobody talks about their duty. If people think that only federation should do this thing, it is practically impossible.

Bharat Singh: In our country..Everybody talks about their rights. Nobody talks about their duty Click To Tweet

According to me, whoever is contributing to our federation are doing a reasonably good job, leaving their personal and professional things aside. Presently I think our federation is doing very well. The endorsement comes from the people. The appreciation comes from the performance of our players and our growth in Chess. But still, I am not saying I am satisfied. Still there is lot of work to be done. And how will it be done? If people think only AICF should do it, it is wrong. We all should do it!

Lets say if somebody wanted to help out like this. What kind of support can we expect. Say some enthusiast, has passion for organizing tournaments?

Full support. AICF has got a pretty open policy. If you want to organize a tournament, do it. But once again, we are very open, we allow everybody to organize tournaments, but there are a few things to follow. We cannot allow liquor, cigarettes in our tournament publicity, not have them as sponsors. Also the prize money for the players should be secured. You cannot announce 50 Lakhs and run away. It happened in a few places abroad also. We make state association responsible. If you (state association) are forwarding us a tournament request, then the state association is responsible for the prize money. One incident happened in Gujarat. One person ran away with 5 Lakhs prize money. He did not give the players. So Gujarat association paid for it. 5 Lakhs money was paid to the players. So we have to take care of their interests. we are very open with the rest of the things. We encourage people to come into chess and run the tournaments.

Recent National premier in UP. What went wrong there. What could have been done better? (Editor: The event ran into venue crisis, which had to be changed after round 2. Couple of players withdrew from the event)
One thing I can say is that the players were not on the wrong side. It was messed up by one of the organizer. They did not take full precaution. We have taken steps already that such thing does not happen. Its very unfortunate, but players were not wrong. I am sure about it. I went there personally for the closing and met all the players and discussed. I saw all the facilities that association has offered. They had some local issues. The inspection was done. The school were the championship was happening was perfect. The players liked it. 2 rounds were played and suddenly there were issues (with the venue.)

(Editor: This tragedy made national news. You can read about it here and here.)

Does AICF usually check the background of who is organizing the event and if its the first time.
UP chess association has already organized many events. Even National B (Challengers) was done very nicely. The school where the championship was held is a world class school with good facilities. I had also visited it personally and saw all these things. It was perfect. But suddenly this political thing happened.
I don’t blame the players. It is the organizer who should have taken care.

Similarly heard there was a problem with the Maharashtra Chess Association? What happened there and whats going on right now? (Editor: Although this did not make much news, the Maharashtra Chess Association was dissolved and an ad-hoc committee created in its place)
There were issues for a long time. There are guidelines from the sports ministry. (Editor: Per clause 3.19 of the guidelines, State level associations which are affiliated to the National Federation should have a minimum number of affiliated district-level associations (say 50% of the districts in the State).) We should have 50% affiliated districts in the association. There were anomalies and serious things happened. AICF had warned them again and again. AICF gave them a long rope for a long time. They did not do it. And in the past 6 months they started fighting each other. The President and secretary were fighting each other. President called one meeting. Secretary called another meeting. They cancelled the meetings three times. And finally the commissioner stopped both the meetings. Nobody can operate the accounts. Players cannot play tournaments. You cannot send entries. Who will send the entries? Who will give permission to the players? So AICF had no option but to make an Adhoc committee and run the affairs.

Has this affected the players?
It is in the best interest of the players. The basic mantra for development is we have to go to the grass root level. All the districts should be affiliated. Districts should have all the Talukas. But Maharashtra is such a vibrant state. They don’t have 50% districts affiliated? What a joke!? They were fighting each other, lot of issues. There is no option.
We have dissolved the body. A 5 member committee is working. They look after the day to day affairs till the time its all sorted.

It is again very unfortunate. People fighting and players getting affected. Its like a mother and father fight and the kids get affected.

Bharat Singh Chauhan with FIDE President Illyumzhinov
Bharat Singh Chauhan with FIDE President Illyumzhinov