Friday, 18 August 2017

The latest International master in the block: IM Sidhant Mohapatra

170 km away from the capital city Bhubaneshwar, Odisha is a small village called Chudamani. This is where a talented lad, and India's latest International Master is from. Yes, you guessed it; we have with us IM Sidhant Mohapatra to tell us about his chess life.

Q: Congratulations! Coming from a small place like Chudamani, it was a tough journey, wasn’t it?

A: Thanks :). Yes, it was really a very tough journey. And I must say Chudamani is not a small town, it’s a typical village area. If you look for Chudamani in the map, it will show you a small area near the Bay of Bengal. Bhubaneswar, the main city of our state where all the Chess Players stay, is around 170kms from my place. So, going there to playing training games or practicing together was very much difficult for me. So, yes basically the journey was quite tough but I learnt a lot of lessons from it.

There lies the village that is Chudamani...

Q:  I’ve heard that you learnt how to play this game by playing against your sisters with a toy chessboard that came free with a health drink packet :) Is this true?

A: I don’t know where you found this out but it's true. It was in the year 2004 when if you buy “Horlicks” you get a chess-set free with it. I was a very naughty kid; I would always be running and hiding and would be troubling my mother. So, to make me sit in one place, my father taught me and my sisters the rules of chess. And I got attracted to the game. After learning the rules, me and my sisters used to play against each other and I would be winning most of the games (they stopped playing chess after that). And then after a week I started winning against my father regularly. So that’s how it all started and I still am a big fan of “Horlicks”

After all, little boy Sidhant needed to be "taller, stronger, sharper"!

Q: It is never easy when it comes to coaching. It doesn’t come cheap. How did you manage? How was your talent ‘unearthed’?

A:  As I have said, my house is quite far from the main cities. So, when I was a kid I used to stay in the hostel of S.R. Chess Centre with Rabindra Kumar Ojha (a very experienced chess player and coach in Odisha), a tutor in the center. Staying there helped me a lot. I had the access to the chess library there. I could read and study many books and I could play practice matches with other strong players. It improved my game a lot. Then after some years I went to RB Ramesh for few camps but couldn’t afford them regularly due to the financial problems. Our state association organized two GM coaching camps from Farrukh Amonatov in the year 2013, which was immensely helpful. But after that, I was on my own for almost 3 years because there were no good trainers in my state and I had to go to another state for training, which was obviously quite expensive. But during these days Swayams Bhai (Swayams Mishra) was always there to help me. He was like a big brother and mentor.

Champion Sidhant in the making!

Q: You went to places internationally. Many players also wish to go abroad. But, it is a costly affair. How did you manage?

A: Actually, I have played few open tournaments abroad. I never had, and still don’t have any sponsor. So, it was very difficult for my father to send me abroad to play in tournaments on his own as we didn’t have a good financial status. Hence, I relied mostly on the tournaments in UAE which were a bit cheaper.

Q: Do you have any memorable incidents?

A: Yes, it was during the Dubai Open this year.  I was paired against GM Salgado Lopez. There was a rest day before the round. After I checked the pairing, I searched for his games in the database and I found out that he is playing almost everything against 1.e4, which is quite obvious for a guy who is above 2600 for many years. So I immediately messaged my coach and asked him what I should do. And on the next day, which was the free day, I with my roommates went to visit the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. By the time we returned, it was already around 8 pm and I was very tired. After some time I got a message from my coach, asking me what I had seen on that day and I replied that I was out the whole day and now I was very tired. Of course, he wasn’t pleased to hear that. He told me that tomorrow you are playing against a guy, who is playing almost everything and today you went out. He was correct as I could not finish preparing against him. And before the game, I was cursing myself that I should have prepared on the rest day. But I won that game and beating a player like him was always memorable.

Q: How do you go about your chess preparation?

A: Since last year I have been working under Vishnu Prasanna. He is a great player and a great coach too. He bought the confidence back in me. He brings around lots of positivity in me. I learned a lot in my camps with him. We normally have a camp in every 3-4 months. And besides that, I play training games with my friends, which are equally helpful as well.
What else does one need when he is by his coach? With GM Vishnu Prasanna.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: In my spare time, I like to watch movies or anime, listen to songs and go out with my friends. But most of the time, I would be sleeping.

Sidhant's favourite anime, Dragon Ball Z

Q: Which particular player do you idolize and why?

A: I like Bobby Fischer’s game a lot. I like the way he handles the position and craves for activity. The way he plays the Spanish Opening. The love for light-squared bishop. His endgame magic with Taimanov. His love for chess. The attitude to win (Sac, Sac, Mate!). And the fact that when I was a kid most of the books I read were about him.

The two legends who inspired Sidhant.

Q: You have inspired many chess players from small towns. A word of advice?

A: Well I would like to say to them that, there is nothing impossible in this world if you work hard and believe in yourself.

...and you'll get here someday!

Q: Finally, which do you think is your best game?

A: Well there are few good games I have played, but I think my games against Srinath in IIFL Mumbai 2016 and Salgado Lopez in Dubai Open 2017 were quite good.

(game Srinath vs Sidhant)

This game of Sidhant vs GM Srinath Narayanan, where Sidhant got his second IM norm, is a truly beautiful Sicilian Najdorf! But wait, there is more to come...

(game Sidhant vs Salgado Lopez)

Thank you for joining us on this interview. Congratulations once again! We wish you a pleasant future ahead.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Chess Species Classified!

Disclaimer: This article is based on real-life incidents and should not be taken offensively. This is taken from observations over time and NOT on any specific individual or on his/her traits. Your discretion is advised. 

Chess is always fun! I’m sure you will agree with me on it. Apart from winning, losing, emotions and atmosphere there is something else that spices up the game. I have an unusual habit of observing players that come by. Trust me, I am not being judgmental or sarcastic, but this is just part of me which I am born with. My mother often complains that I get distracted by this, but I can’t help but watch people and ‘admire’.

In all these years of playing chess, I have classified them into these types. Again, no fingers pointed at anyone.

Mr. Take your time: These people appear just five minutes before the walkover time when you’re drooling for that free point. They will slowly sit down, put the bag aside with no rush, put the coffee aside carefully, comb their hair neatly, fish their pen out, fill their scoresheet without any hurry, adjust the pieces on their fingertips as if they are meant to be kept as decoration, take an enormous breath, shake hands and finally, painfully play ‘e5’ and feather-touch the clock. Phew!!

Mr. Why so serious: They appear serious as if they had a bad morning, they never smile and they give a very cold and lifeless handshake. They don’t eat anything themselves and dislike their opponents eating as well. Any sound from another board and they will sulk while looking at that board with a pointed look. They dislike their opponents shaking their legs or pressing the clock hard. Win or loss, their expression is always the same- stony.

Ms. Perfectionist: Why ‘Ms’ is because it is more often girls than boys. They are pretty punctual, they carry a lot of stationary, as big as the cabin luggage all neatly kept on the table. They have impeccable handwriting and their movements are graceful, be it eating or drinking. They appear calm and do not show their emotions quite easily.

Mr. Made for eating: They generally carry a kitchen with them. They will munch and chew and repeat. Better are those polite ones who offer you their food. As if that wasn’t enough, you can see them after the game is over chomping on more food! Unmoved by the result they continue chewing.

Mr. Midget: These guys are better not messed with or underestimated. They are barely higher than the table yet they have an air of menace around them. They appear disinterested and clumsy, often accompanied by a runny nose, scattered footwear under the table, pen marks all over them and a half eaten pen. Never try to fix their ways; they know the rules very well. Beware!

Mr. Pins under their seat: These are the guys that rarely sit. The moment you write down your move and look up they are on the other side of the hall, spectating on other’s games. Their frequent standing sometimes gives the impression of winning. They seem to find the washroom so interesting that they go every alternate move. When they sit, they change their posture every ten seconds from Spider-man to Superman to Batman.

The Baby Bones: I say ‘Baby Bones’ but it is nothing to do with age. When it isn’t in their favour, they panic, they shake their legs vigorously, they start asking for draws, their eyes become red and they sniffle. When it is over, they become inconsolable. Nevertheless, they are fine ten minutes after coming out of the hall.

Well, isn’t it fun? I am sure, you too might have come across these types as well and maybe many more.

Honestly, I never had any problems with my opponents so far. None of them have tarnished the image of this game as far as I know. Chess has always been a royal game and has earned its respect as a gentleman’s game. After all, what is a game without these diversities!



Monday, 20 February 2017

Chesspreneur : Not child's play


Chess has been part of my life for the past five years. And in these lovely five years journey, I have learnt that Chess is not just a sport. It taught me patience, speed, faster decision making and most of all balancing loss and win. Mr. Frederic Friedel (CEO of ChessBase) has once said, "When a student learns chess very early, he/she not only learns to think logically, and think ahead, but mainly to concentrate on one subject." So success in this sport cannot be counted in the number of trophies you earned. But I feel that this beautiful game has not earned as much recognition as it should have.

I was thinking about this for quite sometime. How could I spread the awareness? How could I get people interested in this game? How could I make people to get better? I wanted to introduce chess to more people, spread the joy and help people to explore their inner strength. It would be so much better! But how do you do this? Then I hit up on a brainwave. There was going to be a local neighborhood fair called Powai Fest on the weekend. On inquiring, we got to know that we could put up a stall. 

Image result for powai fest 2017 logo
 The Powai Fest,an event  organised by Rotary  is popular with voice of Powai, Fashion Fiesta,and other contests with musical nights and other enthralling programs.

 I named my stall Chaturanga(Sanskrit word for Chess). It was a stall meant for chess. You could pay Rs 50 and play a blitz game against me; if you win you would get prizes. But you could also go over to the second part of the stall containing products of ChessBase India. There was Fritz and Chesster: Learn to play Chess and ChessBase Account. They both were appropriate because there were many beginners in Powai who were interested in chess and some who wished to enhance their chess abilities. As it turned out, many people already liked chess; they just needed that one good game to be interested to learn it.

Right from the naming to the banner to the prizes to  advertisement, I just loved the experience. I was in touch with Chessbase  India officials for all the information and they were happily involved in this.
Under Constuction.

My stall Chaturanga, where you could play or buy!

Come one, come all!

Age means nothing in Chess!!
Displaying IMG_0574.JPG
What a feeling when getting a prize for tournament in your local neighborhood
My stall was visited by ChessBase India's founder IM  Sagar Shah, and Co founder Amruta Mokal

There were some incidents that were quite startling. Once a gentleman had come to play a game against me and lost. Then after sometime, determined to beat me, he played again and lost again. Right before I ended for that day, he walked over and played one final game. By then we had got to know each other a bit. He lost this game too. On the next day, surprisingly, he was waiting for me even before I had reached the stall! I must say, chess is just too addictive! We ended up playing twice more. For his determination and love for the game, I gave him a ChessBase account of three months.

 After a few customers, I already felt like a skilled entrepreneur, which was obviously not true; I had completely lost count of the number of games that I had played and I was immersed in explaining the products. Business was fun, although not child's play!
CM  Aditya Mittal, India's rising star player visited the shop.
What a great feeling when your chess buddy, Ketan Patil, travels miles, just to encourage you! Priceless!

My friends Kavya,Kavin  Aditya are always by my side.
I think that I can now safely come to the conclusion that my idea did work satisfactorily. Many of the people who had visited my stall had wanted to know exactly what Fritz and Chesster was. There were so many who would play chess against me just to learn how to play or that were re-kindling their spirit for chess which they played abundantly in their youth. There were some very good players who were playing to warm up and beginners determined to beat me.  It was amazing to see just how many were secretly interested in this lovely game. I had a great time interacting with people. There are few  things I could have improved upon like advertisement and more appealing audio visual.  I am sure I will soon learn that.

What fantastic two days of my life! As my all time favourite author R J Palacio says in her book 'Wonder',

"The best way to measure how you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average—though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success."

Keep playing!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book Review: Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

Last Chance to See is a book written by Douglas Adams (an English author and humourist) and Mark Carwardine (a zoologist). It comes under the genre of travel and wildlife. 

Douglas and Mark travel the world finding rare animals. Be it a mild kakapo or a ferocious Komodo dragon, Douglas and Mark are trying to raise the population of these creatures from passing on to extinction. This book is a humorous and factual book where the reader understands the danger of certain animals due to poaching.

If you are an animal lover and keen on wildlife, then this is the book for you! Even if you haven't the slightest idea on what this kind of a book is like (like me), it will still enthrall you with it's humour and story.

The story starts with Douglas 'not expecting' the fact that he was travelling to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine to find the aye-aye which no one had seen in years. It then unfolds into their journeys and their stays in various places.

The best parts are when Douglas and Mark miss a flight, or Douglas unable to cope with mosquitoes, or his ignorance of birds or one of those moments when the person you are speaking to doesn't understand what you are saying and you don't understand what he is saying.

Personal views- The book is one of the many other great books by Douglas Adams and, I think, is just as good. Once you get drawn  towards the book, you won't rest until it's over. So sit back and explore Komodo, Mauritius, China and more!

Another book by Douglas Adams is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which is another comedy sci-fi novel divided into five parts.

That's it for the book review on Last Chance to See. Hope you all enjoyed!

Keep reading!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Book Review: Crossroads by Vinayak Mittal

Hey everyone!
Fourteen year old boy, Vinayak has written a book! These are my reviews on Crossroads. Enjoy!

Crossroads by Vinayak Mittal

Suröta clan has hopes on finding important information log lost in the Arctic. Jaden, a ten year old boy, Frank, a teenager and Jaden's best friend, Rose, A girl who can excels in stealth and Athur, the teen king of Suröta, all meet together and set off on this deadly voyage. On the way they face mythical creatures, powerful enemies, allies and much more! But can they find this information and, for Jaden alone, can he find his father? Find out in this book by Vinayak Mittal, aged 14.

I would recommend Crossroads to all fiction lovers and it also has a touch of fantasy. This is also enjoyable for comedy. It has a taste on the olden times (Katanas and swords). It has a great plot and is very enthralling for everyone out there!

Personal experience: I really liked the characters, their goof-ups, sacrifice which you will find out as you progress through the book. I have a good liking to Olden timed books, so to me, reading this was an execellent pastime. It could have had less amount of  interventions. Sometimes there are abrupt ends to important parts, but it is still relevant to the story and does not make any major changes.

I would also like to add that this book is extraordinary, if looked from the point of view that it is published when the author, my buddy Vinayak, was thirteen years old. So, hats off to you, Vinayak, for writing a splendid book of the kind. I am also awaiting the sequel Crosstimes. Wish you all the best and may your writing go a long way! 

Keep reading!
Avathanshu Bhat

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Joy of losing

Come on, who wants to lose?? After all the purpose of a game is to win. It really is terrible to walk out of the tournament hall while watching out of the corner of your eye your opponent telling all their friends about their victory. Those fake handshakes, and fake smiles on your face. No one enjoys losing!

But what I feel is while winning will get you more achievements (or maybe even fame) losing makes you wiser. It also helps in remembering your flaws more precisely than the wins.It is hard to recollect wins as easily as it is for a loss.  I remember those mini heart attacks than those winning shots!

Losing gracefully is the first step towards joy. I remember an incident where I was in Taiwan for Asian Schools and I was in a forced mate position (my opponent could mate me in the next move). I still had plenty of time left on my clock. I decided to wait there because I didn’t want to come out as an early loser. Also they were distributing chocolates at the other end and I would miss it if the game ended then. And just when I thought my plan was going to work, the arbiter came and said, “If there is nothing you can do and now, you have to make a move now.” I went red in the face and had to make my move leading to my loss. Later on, I went to the arbiter and sheepishly admitted that I was waiting till my time was about to run out and called my opponent, asking if he wanted to analyse. Voila!! What I got in return? Beautiful game analysis, pat on my back, a good friend who was my opponent few minutes back, and handful of chocolates! This is when I tasted the joy of losing for the first time. And it means a lot to me even now.

So now what does all this mean? Losses make you stronger and wiser. I have lost many games than won. Losing has its own charm. It can make you understand and retrospect mistakes occurred in past. After all losing isn’t as bad as most people think. It is soothing to hear “its okay boy! We can still try next time!” It gives you an opportunity to buck up. Sometimes it is painful, but there is nothing better than analysing with your coach who is always on your side. After all what’s a big deal in analysing an already won game?

So just enjoy the way it goes. How boring the life would be if there were only wins. No wonder chess has black and white, both equally important. Let us celebrate both. Is there anything more precious than your mama’s hug at the end of a lost game? Is there anything more pacifying than your papa’s calm voice miles away? Is there anything more soothing than having someone else to share your misery with? Is there anything more heavenly than that extra cheese pizza, or that day out at the movies after a loss? 

Losing is fun when you have lovely people around and  a free mind to accept the challenge.

Keep Playing

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The life of a young chess player

The Life of a Young Chess Player

I never imagined that chess was going to be part of my life when my mother opened a chess board gifted by somebody to me on my fourth birthday. She knew little chess and was able to teach me how to play. But that interest didn’t last for long as most of the time we ended up in messing up the place with pieces scattered all over the house. A chess sir who taught me in kindergarten told my parents that I was doing well in the game. He even gave me a CD for practice. My parents ignored it. They thought it was just a marketing trick. The CD went straight to scrap, and the chess pieces were back in their pack.
Bobby Fischer teaches Chess was the book that really got me interested in the game. My father had bought it for me and we would sit down and try to solve the book. I was so interested in it; the book only lasted for a day with all the positions worked out.
My first chess book

My mother enrolled me for a small chess club called Lighthouse where I began to learn even more about this wonderful game. Around then my mom was wondering about playing a tournament in Mulund organised by Mr. Vaze. My coach Pushkraj advised me not to play as I was still too much of a beginner. But my mom thought that it would be a great experience.

That was when I first tasted the reality of how grueling it was to be a chess player. Yes, the coach was right. The venue was jam-packed with kids running around, anxious parents peeping through the glass window to look at their kids’ game, the security guards trying to chase them away and the arbiters inside disciplining the kids and people struggling to secure the chairs. Nevertheless, when I got one of my first certificates for scoring 3.0/7, it was all that was needed to make my day. Maybe the passion for chess inside me was budding.

My mother was the first one to figure this out and she knew that it would be best to put me in an academy. She soon found some good chess players going to a training centre in Thane. It was a tough decision to enroll me there as it consumed up money, time and energy. Powai (the place where I stay) to Thane is almost 18 kilometres away from my home. But my parents decided it was worth the risk and thus began our Powai-Thane-Powai ordeal.

Those classes held under Abhijit Joshi were great fun. I think that was when I started taking chess seriously. We used to drive all the way almost every day, and I played games under dim light, mosquitos everywhere, being so hot and sweaty, with the fans sometimes not working. But I never complained. Whether it was hot, cold, raining or I was sick or I had exams, I would always be there at 6.30 p.m. sharp. Sometimes I would go to a camp in the morning, rush home, take a small break of half an hour to one hour and then immediately rush for the evening class. I would be very tired when I came back. But still I never gave up and continued going to the Thane classes for a year and a half.
In between I played State U-7(Aurangabad), Nationals U-7(Pondicherry), Sangli and Jalgaon. In simple words my chess grind had just begun!  Success was far from me, yet, I was not bothered about the outcome. I still cherish those memories. In fact, I remember some of the games, such as the first round of Nationals U-7 where I was up a queen for a rook and was completely winning. When my opponent threatened a back rank mate, I pushed my a-pawn instead of the h and got duly checkmated! What days they were!
Yay!! I got a certificate! at Pondicherry 2011

My parents thought we needed to take my passion further and then we found IM Sagar Shah. This was the turning point in my chess career. Unfortunately, Sagar thought that I would be too much of a beginner for his Saturday classes, though he did say I could go to Amruta Mokal (A WIM-elect, and a chess photographer), his fiancée at that point and now his wife. Of course, in three months’ time, I was promoted to his class!

Amruta Mokal Shah and Sagar Shah are the coolest people I know. They are not just coaches, but my family. We as a team work upon chess: we share wins, losses, miseries, victories. Staying in their house for almost six to seven hours, having lunch together, exchanging stories, cracking jokes are all the things that make the class fun.
Asian school at Taichung Taiwan 2013

Framed with India's finest young chess players at world youth chess championship ,Al ain UAE 2012
Punctuality, right mannerism, perseverance and honesty are some of the qualities that I have learned along with chess from them. And that just winning doesn’t make you a champion, being a good human being comes as a responsibility. They took me under their wings the way I am, not bothered about my flaws.

So in these five years journey with chess, what have I gained? No, I am not a state or a national champion. My name has not appeared in TV or newspaper. But I am proud to be what I am. I am exposed to a lot of realities in life probably more than many kids of my age have had. I have travelled to many places – national and international for chess. I made new friends during my trips. I have met lot of people who have devoted themselves to chess. I have tasted the bitterness of a loss and the sweetness of a win. This beautiful game has given me an identity which we have built through all these years for me and my family.
My chess family

Chess is not just a sport or a hobby to me. It has become a part of my life, my routine, my everything. Yes, I miss my father terribly when I go for tournaments (usually my mother accompanies me). I miss my school, teachers and friends.I also sometimes miss going to the lobby to play with my friends, videogames, sleepovers and birthday parties. But when I see the 64 squares in front of me I forget everything. I do not want to stop here. I love this game; I love the people around me. I can give my entire life to this no matter how much hard work goes into it. Of course I always have a beautiful family,  loving coaches and my school to support me.
My school (Podar international Powai) always supported and loved me unconditionally

Here I remember a quote from one of the movies I saw when I was younger:
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”
Winnie the Pooh from Winnie the Pooh movie