Kramnik and Gelfand train super-talents

by Frederic Friedel
2/3/2020 – Last August former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik trained six Indian super-talents in Geneva. They went on to score remarkable tournament success and GM norms, attributing their performance directly to the training session. The sponsor, Microsense PL, decided to stage another training camp, this time with fourteen players and in south Indian city of Chennai, with two super-GMs. FREDERIC FRIEDEL visited the camp and found it deeply impressive. Here is his pictorial report. | Photos: Amruta Mokal

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Training Camp II

In August 2019, I attended a special training camp that Vladimir Kramnik conducted for six young super-talents from India. The 14th World Champion Kramnik retired from chess in January 2019. A few days after his decision was made public I managed to convince him — the memorable conversation is recorded here — to conduct a training camp for six young super-talents from India.

For this enterprise we needed a sponsor. After several months of searching, Sagar Shah of ChessBase India found Microsense Networks Private Limited. Mr. Kailasanathan, the Managing Director of the company, and a former Tamil Nadu Chess State Champion (in 1972), agreed to fund the project to create world-class chess players in the years to come.

August 2019: Vladimir Kramnik along with six youngsters of Indian chess in Chens Sur Leman near Geneva. In the picture you see, in orange shirts, GM Prithu Gupta (next to Kramnik), IM Leon Mendonca, GM R. Praggnanandhaa, GM D. Gukesh, GM P. Iniyan, IM Raunak Sadhwani, and ChessBase India founders Sagar and Amruta Shah (left).

The camp in Chens Sur Leman was a great success. The kids all enjoyed it tremendously, and at least one of the IMs, Raunak, immediately went on to become full GMs. Vladimir stayed in touch with the students, commenting on their games and giving them further advice. It was Kramnik's level of involvement in the project and subsequent results of the students that convinced Kailasanathan and Microsense of the need to continue these camps.

Kailash, Friedel, Kramnik and Gelfand with the super-talents in Chennai [click to enlarge]

In January this year a second camp was organized, this time in Chennai, India, from where most of the super-talents hail. We had been badgered by parents of young talents who pointed out that their kid was just as strong and deserving as the participants of the first camp. So Microsense decided to double the number of trainees. But Vladimir thought it was far from optimal to work with a dozen young GM talents, and so we decided to call in a second highly experienced super-GM (and former World Championship challenger) to join forces. Luckily Boris was free and willing — luckily for me, because, like Vladimir, he is one of my oldest and best friends in chess.

I decided to attend the second half of the camp, together with my son Martin. It might interest you to know that our Emirates flight deviated from its normal route over Iran – for reasons I do not need to elucidate.

Microsense put us up in the same hotel in which Vladimir and Boris were staying. Both knew Martin from childhood and each morning we had a delightful breakfast together. From there we drove in a limo to the gated villa community that Microsense had organized for the camp.

There was one main house for training and meals, and other houses for the players to live in.

The beautiful training venue [you can click or tap on most pictures to enlarge]

A view from the balcony window of the training site

My arrival, meeting with old friends Gelfand and Kramnik. Looking on are the sponsor Kailasanathan, Kailash to his friends, and three of the super-talents.

This is the general setup of Kramnik working with one group...

...while Gelfand was in the upper storey with the others.

The two groups would alternate between Kramnik and Gelfand, working for six to eight hours per day. Periodically they would get together with both super-GMs for a joint session.

Both had monitors displaying the positions they were analysing, but note that the right side of the screen is covered — the students should not see the analysis of Stockfish or Fat Fritz.

I took off the cover at startup and got a glimpse of Boris's family

Note that parents were not allowed to accompany their kids – only visit occasionally. One such visitor was Akhil Anand, son of the Indian chess god. Anand himself could not come or conduct any training — he was busy playing in Wijk aan Zee. But his wife Aruna did turn up with their son. I spent some time with him a year ago, and he seems to have me in fond memory. In any case he rushed over to "uncle Frederic" and son Martin, and we had a great time with him — while the others worked.

Between sessions and after wrapping up in the evenings there were buffet meals. They were without exception superb, prepared by a special chef hired by Microsense. Incidentally Vaishali's panda t-shirt reads: "I hate mornings!"

Mealtime

One day they served "pani puri" as a snack. Every Indian will know what I am talking about (just google it), you get it at practically every street corner. The hollow round puris are made of deep-fried whole-wheat flour and filled with boiled potatoes, onion, chickpeas and tamarind chutney. You dip them in the spiced "pani" (= water) and put them into your mouth. I was looked after in Chennai by (medical) Dr Raghivi, the wife of GM Vishnu (Gukesh's trainer and second). She warned me about trying it, since the water may not have been boiled before preparation. "But the risk is probably worth it," she added. And your fearless author could not resist. Turns out it was delicious, beyond words, and nothing bad happened.

Periodically there were yoga sessions to keep the kids mentally and physically in balance

After dinner there was the inevitable football session in which, to my great admiration, Boris took part, enthusiastically.

And then, as long as the sun was shining, they could hop into the swimming pool that was in the garden

In the evening, after the day's work, I was inevitably summoned to do my "psycho tests", as one participant called them. Actually they are logical puzzles, optical illusions and magic tricks, which all the participants enjoyed tremendously.

Evening entertainment

In the above picture they are tying to understand how placing a hand over the dividing line between the dark and light surface of an image I had printed out for them turned both areas into the same colour. Look at Raghavi's face — she cannot believe her eyes. You can try it yourself by putting a finger across the middle of the inset image. I wrote an article explaining this: Tricking the Brain. If you are interested in the other pranks I played on the players, and the ones they played on me, I can write a separate article on that.

At night the study and learning continued, with the kids discussing the lessons of the day

IM Aditya Mittal via video call

One player, IM Aditya Mittal (Elo 2427, born in 2006) had suffered an accident just before the training session. He participated in every session every day — via notebook and Internet.

Poor Praggnanandhaa took ill

But Pragg turned up in the evening and even did video recording for Sagar and ChessBase India

Kramnik and Gelfand ordered Pragg to rest and strongly advised against his trip to the tournament in Gibraltar in the following week.

Despite his illness, he went to Gibraltar he did, where in spite of his illness he scored 7.0 out of 10, with a performance of 2632, beating Topalov in the process. This is definitely a lad to watch.

Sagar Shah and Ashwin Subramanian looked after me during my stay, fulfilling every whim I came up with. I did not have to worry about schedule or appointments – the two left me not a minute to worry about. In the end, Ashwin drove Martin and me to our next destination, Bangalore, which took eight hours, with breaks in the most interesting highway restaurants you can imagine.

What an adventure – thank you Sagar and Ashwin!

All the pictures in this article were taken by Amruta Mokal, who is fast developing into a leading chess photographer

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Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.

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