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!

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