Vladimir Kramnik training six Indian super-talents

by Sagar Shah
8/16/2019 – It is a new development that will boost Indian chess beyond measure: Vladimir Kramnik, the 14th World Champion, has started to work with six talented Indian youngsters in a training camp that will be held in Chens-Sur-Leman, France. It is the first of four sessions and is sponsored by the Chennai-based company Microsense Private Limited. ChessBase India has played a pivotal role in bringing all of the elements of the camp together. IM Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal will be accompanying the youngsters.

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The Kramnik-Microsense India Chess Program

On January 29th 2019, after the final round of Wijk Aan Zee, the 14th World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik decided to retire from competitive chess. It was the end of an era. The end of a career of a genius who was able to dethrone Garry Kasparov. Kramnik was the world champion during on of the most tumultuous times in the chess world. When no one thought Kasparov could be beaten, Kramnik did it. When he was in a must-win situation against Leko in the last game of the 2004 World Championship match, he won it. When the intense match against Topalov took place in 2006, he managed to overcome all the mind games, and beat his opponent in a playoff. With his experience and ability, Kramnik has a lot to offer to the chess world!

The ChessBase connection

Frederic Friedel, the co-founder of ChessBase, is a close friend of Vladimir Kramnik. He called him a few days after his retirement announcement.

Kramnik"You want me to continue playing, I know..." Kramnik said.

"No, I applaud your decision," Frederic replied — much to the surprise of Vladimir, who had been taking calls from his best friends expressing contrary sentiments. "Now you will have more time with your wonderful wife and beautiful children," Fred continued, "and can record some DVD with us. But most importantly: how about training some super-talents, giving them access to your deep chess understanding."

"Sounds interesting," said Kramnik, "but who are these talents? How old are they?" Frederic told him that they would range between thirteen and fifteen years. "And will I be able to pronounce their names?" Vladimir knew exactly whom Frederic was referring to.

"I have one standing next to me," Frederic said. "Gukesh, twelve years old. Like to play a few blitz games against him on Playchess, check out his talent?"

"No," said Vladimir, "I know his games very well — and I hate losing in blitz! This boy is going to be in the top ten in five years from now — and World Champion in eight."

Really? "But only if you train him, right?"

"If I train him he will be World Champion in ten years." That's Kramnik humour for you.

I must mention that Frederic visited India in January and had seen first-hand the incredible chess boom in the country. Visiting the IIFLW tournament in Mumbai he interacted with youngsters like Gukesh, Savitha Shri, Aditya Mittal, Pranav.V and many others, and in the months that followed hosted a number of them in his house in Hamburg.

Frederic Friedel at Gukesh's house in Chennai in January 2019, after which...

... in April, Gukesh and other young talents (Savitha and Siddarth) got endgame training with Dr Karsten Mueller in the ChessBase office in Hamburg.

The future of chess is here, was the opinion of the man who had over three decades of experience in the world of chess. Frederic felt that if Kramnik with all his knowledge, were to train some of these, it would really give these youngsters a chance to become world-class players. Kramnik agreed:

I think the current Indian chess crop is the strongest generation in the world now, maybe the strongest ever in any one country. India has got some really very talented kids with a very big potential of being top players, maybe even World Champions in the future. I am now retired from chess and not playing competitively anymore, but it means a lot to me that I can share my knowledge with the most promising juniors who can achieve something big in the future.

Once Kramnik was on board with the idea the onus was on my (Sagar Shah's) shoulders to find a sponsor. Naturally, training with Kramnik is not cheap and one cannot expect these young talents to be able to spend a huge sum of money. After scouting for a sponsor for some time I discussed the idea with Mr. S. Kailasanathan, the Managing Director of Microsense Private Limited, a global technology company. Microsense is not new to the field of chess. In fact the company has been sponsoring chess talents in the country for many years now which include GMs Adhiban, Vidit Gujarati, Sethuraman, Aravindh Chithambaram, Gukesh, Iniyan, Arjun Erigaisi, Praggnanandhaa, Prithu Gupta, and IMs Leon Mendonca, Raunak Sadhwani, and Pranesh, Jubin Jimmy, Pranav Venkatesh, Rakshita Ravi, Savitha Shri, Om Kadam, and Sreeshwan Maralakshikari.

S. Kailasanathan with Gukesh, who 48 hours earlier had gained a full GM title, at twelve!

India has had many strong players in the past. However, no one has been able to come close to the achievements of Vishy Anand. The current crop of talents which include GMs like Nihal Sarin, Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh, Prithu Gupta, Iniyan, Arjun Erigaisi, and many others have to be nurtured and given the right exposure at the right moments, to ensure that their chess careers keep up to their talent. Microsense's vision is also similar: "We would like to have a galaxy of Indian chess stars in world top ten and twenty, a world champion in the men and the women's category, and in world team events," said Kailasanathan, speaking to ChessBase India. "The coaching camp by the legend Kramnik is an exciting development. It perfectly matches what we hope to achieve. Six players in the age group of 13 to 16 will attend the camp from August 14th to 25th. If things go as expected, every intention is that this will be a long term association with Kramnik and the players will benefit from long term mentoring and coaching. We see this as a national program dedicated to the nation."

Six of India's brightest talents will train with 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik (clockwise from top left): GM P. Iniyan (2517), GM R. Praggnanandhaa (2569), GM D. Gukesh (2528), IM Leon Mendonca (2401), IM Raunak Sadhwani (2493) and GM Prithu Gupta (2493)

It was decided that the camp would take place in Geneva where Kramnik lives. Parents accompanying each youngster was financially and logistically impractical, so it was decided that Amruta and I would take care of the six players. Our role is twofold: to ensure that the best facilities are given to the youngsters and Kramnik; and to report on the camp and make sure that we are able to share the experience with chess fans across India and the world. After all, when was the last time you saw a former world champion train future world champions!

This is where all eight of us will stay for ten days, and also where the training will take place. It was decided that the place should be as close to nature as possible for an ideal chess camp.

The living room of this beautiful villa!

So what will be the main aim of the camp? Says Kramnik:

In the first session I would like to get to know the players personally, to talk to them, to answer the questions that they have on their mind. We will be touching upon all the aspects of the game including opening, middlegame and the endgame. I am going to prepare very seriously for the camp. I will give my insights of how I prepare psychologically and professionally for chess tournaments and I would share with them my views on many issues of professional chess. I will also be sharing secrets which only top players are aware of because of their experience of playing chess at the highest level. I will also prepare some specific lectures for the camp and allow the kids to play with each other and then later analyse these games in detail.

This is not the first time that Kramnik would be a part of such a camp. Many years ago he was a student at the famous Botvinnik school.

I have good experience of training already as I was a part of the Kasparov-Botvinnik school as a student, and in the past I have been working with the most talented kids in Russia. That being said, I will be going through the games of the participants in detail before the camp, so that our work can be extremely effective. I am pretty sure that this camp will be very useful for the young talents. If everyone is happy after the camp — the sponsors, the kids and myself — then we will continue doing more such sessions in the future. My main aim with this is to make sure that I can help to realize the potential of young talents and help them reach the top in the chess world.

When Vishy Anand was informed about the camp he was very enthusiastic. It's no secret that Vishy and Vlady have been good friends for many years now. As a part of a great gesture from Anand, he asked me to set up a group call with all the six participants. In it he spoke to them about how they can make the best use of the camp and learn from Kramnik in a more effective way by preparing for the camp beforehand. After the call Raunak Sadhwani said:

I really liked his advice on how to choose lines according to your opponent. It's a very important question, because if we choose wisely, prepare according to that, we are confident, we will play well. Planning and preparing and implementing are the most important things. Its is a special skill, and if we learn that skill from Kramnik sir, it will be really great.

Two weeks ago the world's youngest GM D. Gukesh played at the Biel Masters 2019, and then went to play at the Riga Masters in Latvia. In between he had three days, and he went over all of Kramnik's games to prepare for the camp. "In our group call with Vishy sir he said that we should play out positions from Kramnik's games and then see where you think differently from Kramnik. These deviations, if discussed with Kramnik sir, will help us improve our understanding."

IM Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal

The ten-day training program began on August 15th and will have a rest day in the middle. The players have arrived from India on the 14th. At ChessBase India, our aim has always been to power chess in India. We think that these training camps with Kramnik will play a pivotal role in helping to improve the overall chess level of these youngsters.

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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. 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 website, the biggest chess news outlet in the country.

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