GM Ramesh RB is one of the leading coaches in India. He has been the captain of the Indian men’s team for almost a decade now and was a part of the history-creating, bronze medal winning men’s team in 2014. Besides his role as the captain of the Indian team, he runs an extremely successful chess academy in Chennai, called Chess Gurukul, which has produced most of India’s prodigious talents including Praggnanandhaa, Aravindh Chithambaram, Karthikeyan Murali, and Vaishali, amongst others. He is also the author of the popular chess book Logical Decision Making in Chess. In this interview, The Bridge catches up with the man himself, and ask him about the Olympiad, his role as the captain, the next steps post the Olympiad, and much more.
- Firstly, how do you feel after the Olympiad? What’s your current state of mind?
I am quite happy with the performance. Obviously, it could have been even better had we won in crucial matches and finished higher.
- Coming to the pre-Olympiad training, can you tell us something about it?
The AICF (All Indian Chess Federation) had organised 3 training camps before the Olympiad. The first and the last camps were held in Delhi and the second one was in Chennai. In the final camp in Delhi, we also had Grand Masters (GM) Srinath Narayanan and Shyam Sundar to help in the preparation. The AICF had also provided the team with the access to 4 powerful servers to help in the analysis. Overall, the team was working together, and we all became even closer to each other as a result of these camps.
- This time the Indian Men’s team was the strongest in the history of the country. What were your expectations going into the tournament, and where do you think we faltered in the event?
Yes, this time we had the services of 5 time World Champion Vishy Anand in the team and 2 other players over 2700 rating (GM Vidit Gujrathi and GM Harikrishna Pentala). This was the strongest ever Indian team in the Olympiad on paper. Going into the tournament, we all knew that everyone had to contribute for the success of the team. Usually, the final three rounds would decide the final standings, and if we managed to finish strongly then we had all the chances for the Bronze or even the Silver. This was my expectation before the event.
In the 9th round, we lost a crucial match to Armenia, and in the final round we drew with the spirited team Poland. These two results probably meant we will not get the medal this time around.
- How was it like being with Former World Champion Viswanathan Anand? How did his presence encourage the others?
When the players came to know that Anand would be participating in the team event, they were enthusiastic and excited. For all the members in the team, Anand has been the role model over the decades. He was always ready to crack jokes and keep the mood light throughout the event. We went for long walks on most of the days, and he used to share lot of useful inputs for the young players to learn from.
- Can you take us through your routine during the event? It must have been extremely stressful to watch long games without any breaks. How did you prepare during the event and what was your exact role during the matches?
It was not stressful to watch the games of our players, in fact I enjoyed it a lot!. I watched all the games and tried to guess the moves of our players, and through that tried to understand how they were playing, their form etc. Also, how they were managing their time, were they getting tired, etc. These would be helpful to decide the board orders for the subsequent rounds. This time, we had GM Srinath and GM Shyam Sundar to help in the players’ preparation. In the morning, the two GM’s would come to our hotel, and whoever needed to check any opening variation, would ask the three of us to do that. Before the game, it was mostly checking the opening variations using cloud engines. After the pairing was out in the night, we had a brief team meeting and decided the board order for the next round. In the mornings and evenings, the team members usually went for a walk together. This helped in keeping the team spirit strong.
- Can you share with us the highs and lows of the tournament for you and the team?
The lows will obviously be the two losses we had in the tournament, one against USA in round 4 and one against Armenia in round 9. Also, personally, I felt Vidit was losing his form to some extent after his loss against Fawzy Adham in round 7. I was hoping he will be able to recover well after the loss, which he did by coming very close to winning against L’Ami in round 10 and Laznicka in round 8, but unfortunately both ended in draws. Adhiban played a fighting game with black in the last round against Poland, and a win was very much possible ,but it ended in a hard fought draw.
The highs were the big wins against Netherlands in round 10 and Canada in round 3, and defeating the in-form Czech republic team in round 8. Adhiban played fighting positive chess throughout the event, and Sasikiran scored 4 points in the last 5 games he played, which was good. Anand’s win against Ragger and Eric Hansen was a big boost for the team as whole. We all saw how dangerous he can be in close quarters. Harikrishna took the responsibility of playing with the black pieces in his last 4 rounds and made fighting draws against strong players and also scored a win with Adly in round 7. This enabled the other players to press for wins with white pieces calmly.
- You have been the coach of the team for quite some time now. How was this Olympiad different from the previous experiences? What keeps you motivated to be a part of the team till date?
Yes, I have been with the Indian team for almost a decade now, and I have learnt a lot personally, both as a coach and as a player. I try to share what I learn with the young generation of players whom I work with. This time around, the presence of Anand was the main difference, of course. He made it a memorable event to remember for life for all the team members.
Over the last few years, I have been talking to the players and getting to know about their needs and passing it onto the AICF. The AICF has been proactive in meeting all the reasonable expectations of the players and my special thanks to Secretary of the AICF ,Bharath Singh, and the President of AICF and Chairman of RAMCO group, who were the sponsors of the Indian team. I believe that I have helped in forming a close bond among the players, and they all rely on and help each other in preparation before every round. There is an overall positive team spirit in between the games. I try to give my observations about the players and suggest possible improvements in their general approach to the game.
- How do you as a trainer prepare for different players? On the one hand, you train with GMs like Pragg and Aravindh and on the other, you work with the main Indian men’s team. How does the process work for you?
I have been a full time chess coach for more than a decade now, during which I have worked many talented young players from our country. Currently, I am working with talented players like Praggnanandhaa, Aravindh Chithambaram, Karthikeyan Murali, Vaishali, etc. Working with the Indian team players is a different experience. Obviously, these players are much stronger than my other students, but we learn mutually from each other. I have had many long discussions with individual players in the team and hopefully have contributed in the learning process of these players. Contrary to common belief, even very strong GM’s have problems in different parts of the game, both technically and psychologically. I try to help them to the best possible extent from my end.
- What are your thoughts for the future Olympiads? Where do you see the Indian team going from here? What needs to improve?
I think that we have laid a very strong platform for the team. Most of the issues concerning the players like their financial expectations, training needs,room arrangements, etc have been addressed to their satisfaction. The players’ ratings in general is increasing from Olympiad to Olympiad. I think that we should go from strength to strength from here on. Though some might feel, despite fielding the strongest team on paper in terms of rating, that finishing 6th looks like a let down, but what we have to realize is that India is now among the top teams in the World and others will not take us lightly. However, there are still other teams in the world that are stronger than us. We are still probably a decade away from becoming the strongest team in the World as per rating. So, it is a story in progress.
- Now that the Olympiad is over for the next two years, where does the team play next? How do they keep in touch for the next Olympiad?
The players are all professionals, and they keep playing in other major events around the world. Immediately after the Olympiad, players like Vidit, Sasikiran, and Harikrishna have been playing in the European Club Cup and will be playing in the Isle of Man beginning today(20th October). So, the players are always in touch with each other in between Olympiads.
- What are your next training events? You have also written a well-received book-Logical Decision Making in Chess. Are you working on a second book?
I will be focusing on my academy (ChessGurukul) students from here onwards. Due to commitments with the Indian team, I have not been able to spend quality time with my other students, so I will try to make it up for that in the coming months. Yes, I have written a book in the past and am planning to write a series of books on chess training shortly.
- Finally, what can you say to the players who want to improve and hope to earn a spot in the Indian team in the future?
Self belief is extremely important for any aspiring player who wants to make it big in chess. Having doubts about one’s ability is not good at all. Work hard and practise in a way that you are learning well to become stronger and stronger. Participate in tough tournaments, and don’t pay attention to rating fluctuations in the short run.