International Chess Day: For these chess grandmasters, it’s no board game
After 13 years, the game is all set to make a comeback to the Asian Games, which will be held from September 23 to October 8, 2023, in China. On International Chess Day (July 20), meet the 10-member Indian contingent raring to boost the country’s tally.
Chess is all set to make a comeback to the Asian Games after 13 years. This year, the Games will be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23 to October 8, and the Indian squad is all set to make their best move. India has so far won four medals — two golds and two bronzes — in chess at the previous Asian Games.
Here, meet the 10-member contingent comprising five men and five women, who are all charged up to improve India’s tally this year!
Vantika Agrawal, 20
Ranked presently at #1424, this final-year student of BCom (Hons) at Shri Ram College of Commerce (DU) is focussed on making a name for herself at the upcoming games. “I have two sessions of practice in the entire day, for four hours each. Any less time than that would get me nowhere! The first session of practice often begins at 10.30am and ends at 2pm, and the next starts around 4pm and ends at 7pm. It’s only after these that I resort to my books. The idea is to practice the maximum possible moves, and look confident because chess is a mind play,” she says.
Gukesh Dommaraju, 17
Current world #13 among male chess players, Gukesh D is in class XII (studying at Velammal Vidyalaya, Mel Ayanambakkam, Chennai) and has already achieved his target of becoming the youngest grandmaster in the country in 2019; though it lasted only 17 days. “I started playing at the age of 7, and always believed that psychology is the best part of this game that one needs to practice as much possible. If I don’t know what would be the next five [moves] of my opponent after I make a move, then I should already accept defeat! This is what I am working on... The idea is to gain calmness during the six hours of my practice sessions,” he says.
Arjun Erigaisi, 19
World #30, he earned his grandmaster title at the age of 14, and is now only looking upwards after dropping out of college to fully concentrate on the game. He shares, “I spend a significant amount of time studying and analysing various chess openings. I also dedicate significant time to understand my opponents’ game to understand their preferred openings and devise strategies to counter them. I’ve been working on my repertoire and decide which openings to use based on the opponent’s style and their current state of preparation.”
Savitha Shri B, 16
Currently world #1438, among women chess players, this Chennai-based class XI student says, “Solving tactical puzzles is an essential part of my training routine. This helps me improve pattern recognition, calculation skills and tactical awareness, which are crucial for finding combinations and tactics during the game.”
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 17
World #47, Praggnanandhaa made headlines by winning the title of FIDE Master at the age of 7. Presently pursuing class XII (at Velammal Main Campus in Chennai), he says, “I often work with a team of seconds with my coach, who help me analyse positions, discover new ideas, and provide critical feedback. Collaborating with seconds can significantly enhance the preparation process.”
Rameshbabu Vaishali, 21
Ranked world #1380, she’s pursuing BCom (Hons) (from MOP Vaishnav College for Women) in Chennai and strongly believes in the endgame strategy. “While endgames might not seem as flashy as opening novelties, they are crucial in determining the outcome of a game. I’m studying complex endgame positions and daily practice various theoretical endgames, to improve my overall skills because it’s not always the opening that determines the win.”
Harika Dronavalli, 32
Leading India’s contingent at the upcoming games, this World #663 woman chess player believes the game demands mental and physical conditioning in equal measures. “I often start my day with a field sport like badminton to warm up so that I feel physically fit to sit for long hours during the game. This is how I’m preparing and learning to stay settled for longer duration. Often, I resort to mentally conditioning myself to take to training techniques such as meditation and visualisation, to enhance my concentration because when it comes to working under pressure of getting that medal, it’s mostly the mental strength that comes to the rescue,” she adds.
Koneru Humpy, 36
Current World #361, Humpy says, “My preparation will continue until an hour before the game because I prefer to strategise as per the opponent I’m going to face... Right before the game, I spend 15-20 days dedicatedly at the board for at least seven to eight hours per day. This isn’t possible for all the games considering I have a daughter by my side, to be taken care of. Some days, even two hours feel sufficient to brush up the skills before the game.”
Pentala Harikrishna, 37
Currently at World #32, he says: “Previously, I did not like to strategise my openings because I felt at home when both me and my opponent used to be out of opening preparation. This gave me the best chance to outplay my opponent. But, I’ve realised that when I got a bad position in the beginning, I wasn’t able to come out of it throughout the game. Now that I am among the top players, I’m prepping to up my game right at the opening level itself. I’ve recently started to analyse the games I lost, to rectify my mistakes and not repeat them.”
Vidit Gujrathi, 28
World #27 feels the prep is the important aspect as real time situations/match conditions expose a player to face different scenarios. He says, “Post match analysis, after every game, is very important and adds a lot of value. So, I’m trying to work on that and make changes accordingly so this also helps me in the preparation. Also, chess theory is constantly evolving, and I try to stay updated with the latest trends and innovations in the game. I follow recent games, online databases, and chess publications to keep my opening repertoire and overall game strategy up-to-date. I plan to stay focussed on extensive training since the goal is to win nothing but the Gold in all the events!”
Author tweets @maishascribbles