Interview: Vidit Gujrathi gives new wings to an old dream among contestants – chess books and being a classical player in the mold of Virat Kohli | Chess news


In November last year, after Vidit Santosh Gujrathi After winning the FIDE Grand Swiss tournament and landing a spot in the prestigious Candidates chess tournament, he offered a rare glimpse into the inner monologue that had pierced his thoughts in the post-COVID years, when the world saw a wave of teenage prodigies from India. .

It was a strange idea, especially since Vidit was only in his early twenties, the age when most athletic careers take off.

Chess, however, operates according to its own circadian rhythms. When the Candidates tournament begins next week in Toronto, the other two Indians accompanying Vidit, 29, in the eight-player field – Praggnanandhaa, 18, and Gukesh, 17, who will be the second youngest player. after Bobby Fischer plays Candidates — are proof of that.

As the average age of the country’s emerging grandmasters grew younger and younger with each passing month, it was natural for Vidit to feel a sense of FOMO. The fear of missing out.

“Among Indians, Vidit is the player who is overlooked all the time because of players like Praggnanandhaa, Arjun Erigaisi, Gukesh and Nihal Sarin. He gets lost among the others so it’s nice to see him shine for once,” said American general manager Hikaru Nakamura, who will be one of the favorites of the Candidates, during the Swiss Grand Tournament after Vidit qualified for the candidates.

When the Candidates tournament – ​​which aims to find a challenger for reigning world champion Ding Liren – begins in Toronto in April, you will be able to divide the contenders into three categories. There are the grizzled war veterans who have already experienced the pressure of the big stage: Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana and Alireza Firouzja. Then there are the two teenage prodigies – Pragg and Gukesh – who are taking part in their first event and have a lot to prove.

Next come Azerbaijanis Nijat Abasov and Vidit, both in their twenties, but who are discovering the Candidates for the first time and know that, unlike the other beginners, they may have less chance of playing against the Candidates.

Vidit, in a sense, is one of the last grandmasters to emerge from the chess engine era.

“I have been using laptops and engines regularly since 2004. I was just nine years old when I started using them. My understanding of chess is a combination of both: old school techniques and modern technology. I grew up reading a lot of chess books. At the time, I really wanted to read chess. I grew up with a classical understanding of chess. The way Russian chess players learned the sport, where things were defined: this move is correct, this is how the pieces should be developed, this is how you should prepare,” explains Vidit. The Indian Express.

Bookworm

Vidit goes on to explain how he constantly finds inspiration in books, even now. For him, reading books opened a window into the minds of other players. Just before crossing the 2,700 rating point threshold, he immersed himself in Boris Gelfand’s positional decision-making during a 16-hour flight from China to Madrid.

“This Gelfand book was 300 pages long, but by the end of the flight, not only had I finished it, but I had also taken notes. Next tournament I might apply all of this to the board. I reached 2700 right after. I give this book a lot of credit. Once, when I was playing a FIDE World Cup, I spent five days reading a book about finals, Learn From Legends, by Mihail Marin. I felt like my game improved a lot because of it. Magnus Carlsen is a great example of someone who still relies heavily on books. He still learns a lot of things from books. He sits on the couch during tournaments and reads books. Garry Kasparov analyzed his own games, he shared his thoughts in books. So you get insight into how the player thinks, rather than just a computer-generated statistic about how good a move is, without any explanation of what the move offers. Yes, it is a slower process. But it gives you an advantage that the computer cannot give you currently,” says Vidit.

Vidit Gujarathi (left) will face Gukesh (second from left) in the opening clash of the Candidates. While Viswanathan Anand will commentate, R. Praggnanandhaa (right) is the third Indian in the fray. (Express photo by Partha Paul)

“Today’s chess players grew up with motors. So they evaluate a board position in terms of numbers. If they move a piece onto a square, this gives them a certain numerical advantage on the rating bar. When I was young, evaluation was based on how “slightly better” a movement was than others because it allowed more pieces to develop.

To further support his point, Vidit makes a cricketing analogy between Suryakumar Yadav and Virat Kohli.

“My chess is very solid, supported by excellent opening preparation and a classic way of playing. You wouldn’t see me in completely unorthodox positions on the board. I play a very orthodox style. There will be chaos on set, but it will be controlled chaos. Look at Suryakumar Yadav, the shots he hits. That’s not what I would do. This is not the classic way of doing things. But it still works, because it’s the modern way of doing things. I would rather be a player who plays the coverage drive. You wouldn’t see Virat hitting the wicketkeeper or leg-bender with cheeky shots,” says Vidit before adding, “In my chess, I try to expand that. If you remain a classic player, this is a limitation. I’m trying to break that mold now. You have to play all kinds of shots. My tendency is to play classic shots. But I want to become a jack of all trades. »

Break with the model

This break from its set model is just one of the things that powers Vidit 2.0, if you will.

Over the years, Vidit has adopted a routine every time he sits at the board: he sits in his place, eyes closed, hands under the table, head down. Like a monk in a business suit.

Vidit Gujrathi meditates before the start of a match during the FIDE Grand Swiss 2023 event. (PHOTO via FIDE/Anna Shtourman)

This routine sometimes surprises opponents. During a game of the Tata Steel Chess tournament in Wijk Aan Zee, Vidit faced Nepomniachtchi with white pieces. The clock was already ticking when Vidit began to meditate for about a minute before making his first move, e4, which is one of the most common first moves with White. It was a move the Indian had probably decided to make the day before. But the simple ploy of letting the clock tick while completing his routine was unique. This kept the opponent waiting.

In a sport where body language matters a lot, this routine also gives him an advantage, Vidit believes.

“I have a routine before games that I do just to get in the zone. It doesn’t matter what the world does or what they say. I don’t care,” Vidit said.

Vidit Gujrathi plays a fast game in FIDE Rapid and Blitz tournament. (PHOTO: FIDE via Lennart Ootes)

“I think body language makes a difference. My psychologist once told me that chess players have this typical pose when thinking about a position in a game (where they place both palms on their temples, deep in thought)… it’s not a good pose to have. This has a negative effect, you are more vulnerable. Having a straight back in matches is important. These things give you less nervousness when playing. Sometimes, out of habit, I place my palms on my temple, then I have to remind myself to stop.

Using body language to intimidate the opponent was a game that former world champion Garry Kasparov exploited particularly well. The Russian glared at his opponents and knocked pieces on the board. All this would add to his personality, already established because on the chessboard, his pieces tried to invade the opposing defenses with ram blows.

Vidit Gujrathi Mumbai Press club. (Credit: Amit Kamath)

At last year’s World Rapid and Blitz Championship, at least three players told Vidit that his handshake was much firmer than before, an unconscious signal he sends to his opponents that he is more confident than ever in his form.

“It creates an impact on the opponent. It’s done unconsciously. I’m not trying to break the opponent’s hand or anything like that. When I played against Magnus Carlsen, I felt like he had a very firm handshake. You see the same thing with Carlsen’s body language when he was on the board. You also felt this with Garry Kasparov. You can feel this aggression. From a psychological point of view, it creates an impact,” he says.

Another thing he’s worked on over the years is shaking off losses. It paints the portrait of a nine-year-old child who, one day, reacted to a defeat by throwing a tantrum in the hall of the hall.

“I have never been the most gracious loser. I can admit it. In my childhood it was worse. I used to cry. I remember one game after a loss, when I was nine years old, I walked into the hotel lobby and threw down my slippers, one of them flew in. a direction and the other went in another direction,” he says. “I even bought a punching bag once when I was young to eliminate all that frustration. I still don’t accept defeat well. I won’t say that I have peace of mind when I lose. But my recovery time became faster. I bounce back faster after defeats. When I lost the last lap at Wijk aan Zee, I was upset for up to an hour. The residue was there, but I wasn’t worried about it.

If he is now more confident on the chess board, it is also certain that he does not want to have a chess career as long as that of Viswanathan Anand. He says there are too many things he likes professionally and he’s going to try, even if it means ending his chess career in about ten years.

But at the end of his career, is there anything he would like to be remembered for?

“World champion, that would be great!” ” he smiles.

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