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R.B. Ramesh’s Chess Gurukul: a nursery where chess champions blossom

In a game of chess, one is constantly forced to make choices. For every promising move, there is an alternative that looks as good.

R.B. Ramesh had made a living out of taking countless decisions over the chessboard. But in 2008, the Chennai-based Grandmaster took more time over a move than he had ever done before. For, that decision would impact not just one game.

Momentous decision

Finally, he made up his mind. He decided to give up his job at Indian Oil Corporation and take up a coaching career.

A job with a public sector petroleum company is every Indian chess player’s dream. Not only do such companies pay very well, but also take care of the expenses of a player’s career.

At 32, Ramesh could have gone on playing for many more years (when he became a Grandmaster in 2004, he was only the 10th Indian to get the title). But, he felt he would be more comfortable as a coach.

“My first assignment as a coach — though a temporary one — was in 1998, when I was asked by the All India Chess Federation to accompany the National team for the Asian junior championship,” he recalls. “I was just a couple of years older than the winners, Tejas Bakre and S. Vijayalakshmi.”

Mentor to life-partner

A year later, his ward, Aarthie Ramaswamy, won the World Under-18 championship. That was the first World title for India after Viswanathan Anand’s World juniors in 1987.


“Aarthie’s parents had asked me to train her,” he says. “Her success made me feel that I could make a difference to a player.”

In Aarthie’s case, the difference he made went beyond the chessboard. He married her in 2003 and they became India’s first Grandmaster couple. She now helps him run his academy ‘Chess Gurukul’ in Chennai.

It has become a nursery for Indian chess. Some of the country’s brightest prospects like R. Praggnanandhaa and Aravindh Chithambaram are its products.

Ramesh has trainees from overseas, too. Players from countries like Spain, the Netherlands and South Africa work with him, not to mention the NRIs from across the globe.

His wards have so far won 35 medals at World age-group championships, 40 at Asian championships and 35 National titles. He has also been the coach of the Indian senior team.

He had helped India win its first ever team medal at the 2014 Chess Olympiad. He was the coach at the last Olympiad as well, though the team couldn’t reach the podium, in spite of the presence of Anand, who usually stays away from the biennial tournament.

Inspired by Anand

It was the genial genius from his hometown that inspired Ramesh to take up chess in the first place, at the age of 12, several years later than most. Though his elder brother G.B. Prakash was already an excellent player, it was Anand becoming India’s first Grandmaster in 1987 that made Ramesh think seriously about chess.

Some three decades later, India has 65 Grandmasters. But among them, Ramesh is one of the very few to take up full-time coaching.

“We need more Grandmasters as coaches,” says Pravin Thipsay, India’s third Grandmaster. “Most of India’s coaches are weak players. While they can be good with beginners, they can hardly be effective when they work with strong players. So it is nice that somebody like Ramesh becoming a full-time coach.”

Ramesh is glad that he has. “Sometimes I feel I should have taken that plunge much earlier,” he says.

Missing the joy

He is concerned that today’s kids do not enjoy chess as much as those from a previous generation. “That is because of the parental pressure,” he says. “The kids are scared of losing, so they try to draw when they should be going for a win.”

Still, sometimes you would come across someone like Praggnanandhaa, who is not bothered by defeats at all. Such players could not have hoped for a better mentor than Ramesh.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2022 10:38:12 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/a-nursery-where-chess-champions-blossom/article29861109.ece