"The biggest win of my career"

by Sagar Shah
11/16/2023 – At the age of 29 years, Vidit Gujrathi did something very special: he won the FIDE Grand Swiss outright and with it a spot in the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2024. In an personal conversation with Sagar Shah, Vidit speaks about what the title means to him, the role of his family and parents, and reveals his trainers. This Podcast gives an insight into the personal side of this world class GM.

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When Vidit Gujrathi won the FIDE Grand Swiss 2023 and booked himself a spot in the Candidates 2024, we decided to do a podcast that same evening in the Isle of Man. Due to technical problems the recording was lost. I asked Vidit if we could do the podcast again in Mumbai when he was back in India. And magnanimous he agreed. This time the production went well, and the result is the video below. 

Partial transcript of the interview

Sagar Shah: Hello, Vidit! It's been two days since you won the Grand Swiss. How's life?

Vidit Gujrathi: Now that I've won, I wanted to enjoy it for a couple of days and that's what I did. No stress, just trying to live the moment and have fun, honestly.

SS: Vidit, what does this win mean to you? Is it the biggest win of your career to date?

VG: Yeah, there's no comparison. Just before this tournament, I was thinking, when was the last time I actually won a tournament? I had to go back to 2019. It felt like something was off. I definitely know that my strength was more than the results have shown. So, winning this event gives a lot of confidence.

Did you at any point in the event start to feel that you were in your best form?

Definitely! The three wins after losing the first round gave me a lot of confidence. The Gupta game was a little bit shaky in that sense that I gave him some chances in the opening, but then later on I played well and next game I won with black pieces against Kollars. As you know, it's very difficult to win games with black. And then Shirov, it was a dramatic style victory, flamboyant victory, and then I was in the leader's pack. So already I felt like certain recovery was done. Of course, the job was not finished until the last round, but it gave me confidence that you know I'm playing good chess. Even at that point, I was not thinking about tournament victory or something like this.

And you were handling stress and anxiety in a better way. I remember in the death match (against Anish Giri in 2022), your heart rate would go to 160, 170 in those critical moments.

Even in this tournament, I did not really feel that amount of anxiety or stress. Probably the penultimate game I felt like I'm so close now, then these thoughts came but until then I was relaxed and despite having these thoughts, I managed to play well. So that's a lesson for me. I wouldn't say I did something different for this tournament, I was just doing my routine, here it clicked.

There were some negative comments related to it and your performance. Did that impact you?

Initially, yes. It did impact me. After I lost to Erwin, there were again negative comments.

Vidit's first-round loss against Erwin l'Ami

Interview with Vidit after his win against Hans Niemann

Did all the young talents coming up in the chess world, ever put you under pressure?

Initially, yes. I was India number two and then fell to number five. It took time for me to adjust. It's not easily accepted, you question everything. Then you have fewer events, because there are only limited number of super events, with limited Indians, and they go with the youngsters, of course. You just feel that everything is going wrong. You start to question - am I too old for this now? But as time passes, things normalize. The youngsters are upcoming, they are playing way above their rating strength. At the age of 29, I was thinking that am I old because the age gap is like ten years or more. You can feel the difference. But then you have players like Anand, and he wins some great games and tournaments, even at the age of fifty. At Norway Chess he defeated Magnus Carlsen in the Armageddon, and he had like three or four minutes extra on the clock. He was just playing with his hand. What a legend! You just learn and take inspiration from this!

Vidit, I have felt that you have reinvented yourself as a player, not just in terms of results but your playing style which was quite positional. But now you are ready to attack, you are ready to go into the unknown zone, even in your World Cup match with Etienne Bacrot, when you just needed a draw and  you sacrificed a piece. Is this something that you have tried to consciously change within you?

Yeah, I think it's Vidit 2.0. But I had such games before. I think top players have a tendency towards one kind of game, but they can play well in all types of positions. It's not like I can only play one kind of chess. But sometimes a tendency overpowers. And you steer the game into certain kinds of positions. But I'm glad that I was able to play all kinds of chess. That's one of the things I was thinking during the tournament, when I was winning. What can make this better? Maybe if Garry tweets that he liked my games! Because there were some Sicilians, some g5-g4s. That would be nice!

One of the finest games of Vidit's chess career - his win with the black pieces against Deac Bogan-Daniel in the penultimate round

When you were young, you had read all of Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors book series. You were in love with those books, right? You read them cover to cover.

The thing is I was in love with his books and games, but I was not able to play like him! That's the reason why here when I played some aggressive games. I thought if he tweets, it would make my day.

The Vidit Gujrathi vlog on winning the FIDE Grand Swiss 2023 + becoming a Candidate!

Now that you've qualified for the Candidates, how do you see your life changing in the next few months?

I have not really given it a concrete thought. I have a couple of events in December, then in probably in January. I'll also have to think about how to do the training session. So, the one clear thing which has changed is like there's a clear goal now - the Candidates, and you have to win it. So, you align all your actions accordingly. 

What do you think are the chances of any other Indians making it to the candidates? Right now, we already have two, you and Praggnanandhaa, in the open candidates. Who else do you think? 

I think Arjun was playing really well. He came very close. But I don't see how he can make it because there's only a rating spot left, and the FIDE circuit. Gukesh is ahead of Arjun. So, the best chance, if anybody has from Indians, is Gukesh. But mathematically, I don't know the odds. It's tough, but if anybody has a chance, it's Gukesh right now.

There are a number of interesting Fritztrainers by Vidit in the ChessBase Shop.

Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.