With the teen trio of D. Gukesh, Arjun Erigaisi and R. Praggnanandhaa busy making up for the time lost due to the pandemic and briskly climbing up the rating ladder, Indian chess never had it this good.
If Gukesh and Arjun have joined Club 2700 in rating and currently figure in the world’s top-25 list, Praggnanandhaa is closing in. Moreover, his online victories over Magnus Carlsen have contributed significantly to bringing in new followers for Indian chess.
The three, along with Nihal Sarin, Raunak Sadhwani, Leon Mendonca, R. Vaishali and the 15-year-old B. Savitha Shri, the latest recruit, are all part of the Westbridge Anand Chess Academy (WACA). Clearly the cream of India’s talent is blooming under the mentorship of Anand and the five-time champion has every reason to feel elated. Speaking exclusively to The Hindu on Wednesday, Anand elaborated on his role in grooming these hand-picked players.
“I think we (at WACA) are just an extra layer of support. We try to take a lot of practical issues out of the way. I try to provide guidance that maybe even the coaches appreciate.
“The main relationship would still be between the coach and the player, because it’s also personalised. Quite often, I work with the coaches R. B. Ramesh and Vishnu Prasanna. Thanks to the conversation I had with N. Srinath, we got Arjun (Erigaisi) in. During a chat with Shyam Sundar, he mentioned Savitha Shri and I thought that was a good idea. So I interact with them.
“If I cannot ask the player, I can even ask the coach, ‘what do you think your player will need in the next tournament?’ I will then see if I can arrange that material. So that sort of thing.”
Ranked second behind Anand, Gukesh underplayed his massive leap of 112 rating points since March 1 to reach 2726 on September 1.
“The last couple of months have been great and I’ve improved a lot. I think it was the result of the hard work done during the pandemic. Also, I have been continuously working hard and my confidence has improved. The Olympiad gold (on the top board) was obviously a very special achievement. I do set goals, but the main one is to perform at my best every time.”
Praggnanandhaa said he was not under any pressure of expectations despite his recent exploits. “I thank my family and Ramesh Sir for helping me (deal with the rising demands from the media and fans for his time) because they control everything. That helps me really focus on chess.”