In conversation with Vidit Gujrathi, captain of India’s national chess team. Leading from the front, Vidit led India to its first ever Chess Olympiad gold medal three months ago. In an interview later, he said, “We beat 163 countries to win the gold.“India was one of the most consistent teams. There was an incident where we lost the internet and went to the second position from the first position. We showed we can bounce back from tough moments that show our character. The last day we won all games, defeated China, which is a huge deal because they were top favourites having won the 2 Olympiads so beating them gave a lot of confidence.” In the finals, playing against Russia, there was a server outage, and two Indian junior players- Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh- were disconnected and lost the game. After a thorough investigation by FIDE, the governing body of chess, its president, Arkady Dvorkovich, decided that it was fair to have joint winners. The gold medal was jointly awarded to India and Russia.
The Indian team composition:
Men: Vishwanathan Anand, Vidit Santosh Gujarati (captain), P. Harikrishna and Arvindh Chithambaram (reserves).
Women: Koneru Humpy, Dronavalli Harika, Bhakti Kulkarni and R. Vaishali (reserves).
Junior boys: Nihal Sarin, R. Praggnanandha (reserve).
Junior girls: Divya Deshmukh, Vantika Agrawal (reserve).
We spoke with Vidit on various subjects. We spoke about how playing online was completely different from playing in the physical presence of the opposition. As mentioned before there had been Internet issues and what role the fear of an outage plays and how it affects the performance. Below is our enlightening conversation with Vidit.
Question: Congratulations for being the joint winners with Russia. Your thoughts on the tournament?
Vidit: Thank you so much. My thoughts on the tournament are that it was a really big success for India and chess in India. To win a gold medal, which has never happened before on a grand stage, it would be very beneficial to chess. That feeling of winning the gold is amazing and it's a historic moment for me and the team because it’s never happened before, we’ve only won bronze once. So definitely it's a moment for me to cherish.
Question: How was it different playing the tournament online? Did the constant worry of potential network issues added to the pressure?
Vidit: It was not such a big problem for me to play online because there are some advantages like playing from home but when you play there are issues that are out of your control like the internet, electricity and stuff like that. We did face an issue and after that we were very alert and spoke to the electricity board. It was a very unique experience in that sense.
Question: How did you mentor the junior players to ascertain optimal performance?
Vidit: The junior players are very talented, sometimes I just had to take care of their psychology. For example, one player lost and she was very distrubed so I just spoke with her, consoled her. I told her that whatever happens just leave all the responsibility of the performance on me and just focus on playing the game, you’re a very strong player. That helped to take the pressure off from her and there were some chess related activities that wouldn’t have been possible without her.
Question: What are your plans for the long-term future?
Vidit: My long term plans are simple, once the tournaments resume with the over the board tournaments, I will be focusing on improving my rating, as a chess player to get into the world's top five. But before that happens I’ll be focusing on the online tournaments, which includes a lot of rapid and blitz, which is a completely different ball game if you look at it. So, yeah, I have two goals, one is a long term goal and one is a short term goal. And short-term is related to online chess and recently I won a blitz tournament where World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana was playing. So I'm trying to improve my game there.
Question: There is a lot of mental and physical exertion when playing. How do you keep in shape and a healthy state of mind?
Vidit: Definitely a lot of mental and physical exertion. I would say I’m handling the mental part well recently but I do have to work on my physical activity, especially when you’re home and you’re working on the game from home. It takes a lot of effort to stay in shape and do the physical activities which naturally you reduce. I have to work on that, it’s not ideal but definitely on the mental aspect I have been making gradual progress to get tougher mentally.
Question: There has been a recent surge in the following of chess. How are you managing the additional attention?
Vidit: The recent surge in chess is definitely amazing. I mean as a professional chess player I had been wanting to see that and I’m very happy that many people are interested in the game of chess. I couldn't have asked for more. I am trying my best to connect with my audience through my youtube channel and talk to them. They also give me so much support it's so amazing to see. I am very blessed and grateful. I hope it continues and is sustained and more people take up chess and this boom continues.
Question: What are the next tournaments you are looking to participate in? And have you begun preparing for them?
Vidit: As I said earlier, I won a blitz tournament last month where the World No. 2 Cauana was playing. That was a great feeling, to win that. Next is the Asain championship which will be Oct 10-Oct 25. I guess all my preparation will be related to that now.
Question: Who, according to you, are the top three players today?
Vidit: The top three players is a tricky list but it’s pretty obvious who the top player is Magnus Carlsen. He has been literally winning almost every tournament and he has been world champion for 8-9 years. I would consider him the world's strongest player.
Question: What role does technology play in performances? How do you use technology to better your game?
Vidit: AI has come in, the hardware is getting stronger. How we use a calculator to solve a simple math problem. There are engines in chess that solve the moves and help you analyze the game. They are much stronger than humans. So we make use of all the latest technology and AI as well in our preparation. I am constantly trying to keep myself up so technology plays a huge role.
Question: Can you describe the following players in a line? 1) Magnus Carlsen 2) Anish Giri 3) Teimour Radjabov 4) Vishy Anand 5) Levon Aronian 6) Adhiban Baskaran
Magnus Carlsen: excellence, world champion, strongest player
Anish Giri: witty, funny, loves chess a lot
Teimour Radjabov: funny, nice person, and friend
Vishy Anand: the reason of Indian chess scene
Levon Aronian: own style of talking, very aggressive player
Adhiban Baskaran: a beast, known for out of control play
Interviewer: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you Vidit. I congratulate you and the entire team again. And we are rooting for you to become the world champion soon.
Vidit: Thank you very much.