Chess is set to make a comeback at the Asian Games after 13 years. This year the games will be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23rd to October 8th and the Indian team is ready to give their best. India has won four medals – two gold and two bronze – in chess at the last Asian Games.
Meet the 10-strong contingent of five men and five women, all tasked with improving India’s record this year!
Vantika Agrawal, 20
Currently ranked 1424, the BCom (Hons) senior at Shri Ram College of Commerce (DU) is focused on making her mark in the upcoming games. “I have two practice sessions of four hours each throughout the day. Less time would get me nowhere! The first practice session often starts at 10:30 am and ends at 2:00 pm, the next starts around 4:00 pm and ends at 7:00 pm. Only then do I go back to my books. The idea is to practice as many moves as possible and look confident because chess is a mind game,” she says.
Gukesh Dommaraju, 17
Gukesh D is currently ranked 13th among male chess players in the world. He is in Class XII (studies with Velammal Vidyalaya, Mel Ayanambakkam, Chennai) and has already achieved his goal of becoming the country’s youngest grandmaster in 2019. although it only lasted 17 days. “I started playing at the age of 7 and have always believed that psychology is the best part of this game that needs to be practiced as much as possible. If I don’t know what the next five would be [moves] my opponent after I’ve made a move, then I should already accept defeat! That’s what I’m working on… The idea is to find rest during the six hours of my practice sessions,” he says.
Arjun Erigaisi, 19
The world No. 30 ranked GM at age 14 and is only looking up after dropping out of college to focus on the game. He says: “I spend a lot of time studying and analyzing different chess openings. I also spend a lot of time understanding my opponents’ play, understanding their preferred openings, and strategizing to counter them. I’ve been working on my repertoire and I decide which openings to use based on the opponent’s style and current level of preparation.”
Savitha Shri B, 16
This Chennai-based grade 11 student, currently ranked 1438 in the world for female chess players, says: “Solving tactical puzzles is an essential part of my training routine. This helps me improve pattern recognition, arithmetic skills and tactical awareness, which are crucial for finding combinations and tactics throughout the game.”
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 17
World No. 47 Praggnanandhaa made headlines when he won the title of FIDE Master at the age of 7. He is currently attending Class XII (at the Velammal main campus in Chennai) and says, “I often work with a team of seconds along with my coach who…” Help me analyze positions, discover new ideas and provide critical feedback. Working with Seconds can significantly improve the preparation process.”
Rameshbabu Vaishali, 21
Ranked 1380 in the world, she is aiming for a BCom (Hons) (from MOP Vaishnav College for Women) in Chennai and firmly believes in endgame strategy. “Although endgames may not seem as flashy as opening novelties, they are crucial to the outcome of a game. I study complex endgame positions and practice different theoretical endgames every day to improve my overall skills, because the opening doesn’t always decide who wins.”
Harika Dronavalli, 32
The world No. 663 chess player is leading India’s squad for the upcoming games and believes the game requires mental and physical fitness in equal measure. “I often start my day with a field sport like badminton to warm up so I feel physically fit to sit for hours during the game. This is how I prepare myself and learn to stay calm longer. I often resort to mentally preparing myself for training techniques like meditation and visualization to increase my focus because when it comes to working under pressure to win that medal, mental toughness is what really helps me ‘ she adds.
Koneru Humpy, 36
Humpy, currently world No. 361, says: “My prep will last up to an hour before the game because I prefer to strategize according to the opponent I’m going to play against… Just before the game I spend 15-20 Days with dedication at least seven to eight hours a day on the board. That’s not possible in all games considering I have a daughter by my side to take care of. On some days even two hours is enough to brush up on skills before the game.”
Pentala Harikrishna, 37
Currently ranked 32 in the world, he says, “I used to not strategize my openings because I felt at home when both I and my opponent were outside of opening prep. This gave me the best chance to outplay my opponent. But I noticed that I couldn’t get out of a bad starting position during the game. Now that I’m among the top players, I’m preparing to improve my game right in the opening phase. I’ve recently started analyzing the games I’ve lost in order to correct my mistakes and not repeat them.”
Vidit Gujrathi, 28
The world No. 27 believes that preparation is the most important aspect as real-time situations/game conditions present a player with different scenarios. He says: “The analysis after each game is very important and offers great added value. So I’m trying to work on that and make changes accordingly, so that helps me to prepare as well. Also, chess theory is constantly evolving and I try to keep up to date with the latest trends and innovations in the game. I follow current games, online databases and chess publications to keep my opening repertoire and general playing strategy up to date. I intend to continue to focus on extensive training as the goal is to only win gold in all competitions!”
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