Monday, May 26, 2014

Chogging: The Ultimate Workout!

It was a lazy sunday morning. I woke up feeling not so great. But as you already know, physical fitness is a key aspect of a chess player's life. I have a daily routine to go for a jog early in the morning. But today it was already 8.45 am. The sun was shining brightly as if trying to dissuade me from losing those important calories to keep myself fit.
For some people listening to music is a way to jog when they are bored. But this was off the agenda for me. I hate to jog in enclosed spaces like a park or a garden where I have to make the same rounds and see the same scenery again and again. It's really monotonous. I like to run on the roads. Just run anywhere. No real thought. The cars honking, dogs barking, changing scenery somehow motivates me to keep running. So, listening to music is not really an option as my ears need to be alert for any vehicular traffic. How was I to motivate myself to get out there and get my adrenaline pumping?

The sun has its own schedule to keep! It doesn't always try to accomodate you!

As I was reluctantly tying my shoe lace, I found a chess book lying near my table. "Domination in 2545 endgame studies" by Ghenrikh Kasparyan. This book has a story behind it. Once in the Air Marshall Subroto tournament in Delhi in 2007 at night when all my room-mates (Atul Dahale, Rahul Ved, Chinmay Kulkarani and Sameer Kathmale) and me were about to sleep, entered in the room IM Anup Deshmukh. He told us that if you wish to improve at chess, there is one book which you must solve in its entirety many many times. Such was his faith on this book that he guaranteed our improvement.
No money for guessing what the name of the book was: "Domination in 2545 endgame studies". I searched for a hard copy of that book for many years after that tournament. But in vain. And as luck would have it, after getting married, my wife bought this book in "dahej" (dowry!!).

I am still trying to figure out why is there no queen on the cover of this book!!

An idea struck my mind. I don't really like listening to music while jogging but how about solving a study from this book. I opened a random page from the book and there was the position in front of me.

It's White to play and Win. (Study by Kubbel)
I recommend those sincere chess players out there to solve this position taking 15 minutes on the clock but if you do not wish to break the rhythm of this article you might as well leave this one. After all there are another 2544 endgame studies left in that book to solve!!

I had a glance at the above position and closed the door of my home behind me. I made a small rule for myself. I wouldn't stop jogging until I had solved this one. A position with just major pieces cannot really be so tough, I thought to myself. After all a knight is usually the biggest enemy of a blindfold solver. Its weird movements are not so easy to envision when you are running in the middle of the road with all the chaos around you. I was happy with the position I had selected.
I was confident that today I would have to run no more than four kilometres. That would take me around 25 minutes.

As I started my jog, the first thing was to see the position correctly in my head. I spent two minutes trying to accurately setup the pieces and at the same time see where the checks were coming from. I can check the black king from a2, c2 and d4 while black can check me from f5 and d7.
By the time the position was firmly in my mind I had already run a kilometre.
I first played 1.Qa2+ Kb5 2.a7. 

Black has now two ways to defend. Can you find them?

2..Qf5+ 3.Kh2 Rh8 is the easiest way to draw. Because if 4.Qb2 Ka6 5.Qh8 Ka7 and White cannot hope for more than a draw.
This was enough for me to scrap the idea of 1.Qa2 but there is also another way for black to draw. After 1.Qa2 Kb5 2.a7 Qg7! (Note, not Qg6 because of 4.Qb2+ Kc5 5.Qf2+-) 3.Kh2 Qg3 4.Kg1 Qe1=.

By now I was somewhere around the 2 km mark. The initial checks weren't really working so I changed my mind to 1.a7. Mind you that when you are jogging it's quite difficult to keep utmost focus because there are various obstacles in the path which you have to tackle with. It's very possible that the honking of the cars can break the flow of your thoughts.

Around the beginning of the third kilometre I had understood that 1.a7 has to be the right first move!

In the starting position after 1.a7 I checked the natural move 1...Qh8 (1...Qg8 is also met in the same way) This was easy meat as after 2. a8=Q Qa8 3.Qa2+- The game is already over. Could it really be so easy? 
Of course not! 1.a7 is met with 1...Qf5+ 2.Kh2 Rh8 But wait.... 3.Qa2 Kb5 4.Qb2 wins the rook but after 4...Ka6 5.Qh8 Ka7= it is a draw.
But instead of 3.Qa2+ I quickly saw that White has a killer 3.Qd4+ Kb5 4.Qh8 and now the 'a' pawn is queening. Black can try for a last chance with perpetual with 4...Qg5 but after 5.Qb2+ Kc5 6.Qc1+ Kd6 7.a8=Q Black has no perpetual check as the e1 square is controlled.

Going into my 4th kilometre I had understood that to 1.a7 Qf5? was a mistake. That left the only natural move 1...Qd7+ 
By the process of elimination and almost running 4 kms for nearly 22 minutes I had come to the conclusion that 1...Qd7 was the only choice for black.

Now I had to play 2.Kh2 and black is also forced to play 2...Rh8. Now there is no Qd4+. And the normal idea of 3.Qa2 Kb5 4.Qb2 Ka6 5.Qh8 is met with 5...Ka7=.
What is white to do here?

The 9.30 am sun was beating down my head now. I was running at the speed of 9.5 km/hr. Into my 5th kilometre I was sweating profusely. In my head I saw no way to break through in the position. Like a laptop which starts making noise when you put on the Houdini for a long time I was panting hard. Not only was I physically tired, mentally too I was getting drained. But I couldn't stop as yet. The answer had to be found. It was the ultimate mental+physical challenge for me.

As I neared the end of my 5th Kilometre and 32 minutes of jogging, I saw a brilliant idea. After 3.Qa2 Kb5 I will play 4.Qb2 Ka6 and now instead of taking the rook on h8 I can go 5.Qb8!!

A thorough flow of fresh energy descended upon me as I saw this move for White.

I am threatening 6.a8=Q hence black has to take the queen. 5...Rb8 and now the theme which makes every chess player happy no matter whether he Magnus Carlsen or some unrated player : UNDERPROMOTION. 6.ab8=N!! +-

Promotion to a Queen only draws but making a knight wins! 

5.5 kilometres had been completed. It was a day when I didn't want to run and it was already 36 minutes since I started! The sun which was beating down on me suddenly started feeling wonderful. Cool breeze started to flow around me. While around the 5 km mark I was thoroughly exhausted,now fresh energy started flowing within me. 
It was my mind who said that I was tired. The moment I had found the answer, my brain had such a feeling of ecstacy that it forgot all the tiredness and was filled with excitement and energy! The famous quote of "it's all in your mind" came to my mind!! :)
Even though I could have stopped the moment I had found the answer, I kept going on! I didn't want this run to end. It was special. I had fought tiredness to find the beautiful combination! Finally when the run ended these were my statistics.

7.24 kilometres in 46.08 minutes.

This was by far my farthest run, the previous one being 6.2 kms. I agree that the speed was a little on the slower side but when you are calculating complicated lines and at the same time dodging the traffic, you will tend to slow down.

I enjoyed my run so much that I decided to give a name to what I had just done. 
Chess+Jogging= CHOGGING is the word that I came up with. Chogging is the ultimate test of your physical and mental faculties. 

Tired and exhausted yet happy after my first successful attempt at Chogging.
(for the very observant viewer I would like to mention that the clock in the background does not work and it is on 12.45 since times immemorial!! :D)

While physically you stretch yourself to the maximum by jogging at a good pace, mentally your brain is working at full capacity trying to navigate the difficult lines of a study. 
I recommend CHOGGING to every serious chess player. It will help you build your stamina and when in a game you are in a tough situation, these moments of pushing yourself to the maximum will help you to fight back.

Chogging is a bliss which only chess players can experience. So what are you waiting for?
Pick a study of your choice which is not too easy(I recommend this 2545 book), put on your sports shoes, and out you go to have a wonderful workout for not only your body but also your mind! 

Keep this in mind and work hard each and every day! 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Chess in Mumbai. Then and Now.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see the above picture. Immediately the tune of Tan ki Shakti, Man ki Shakti, Bournvita!starts to ring in my head!
Bournvita is the name of a brand of malted and chocolate malt deink mixes which is very popular in India.
But what is this doing on my chess blog? What is it's relation to the game of chess?!!
Well, back in late nineties and early 2000s, there was a man called Vinay Shetty who brought the world of Inter-School Chess in Mumbai and Cadbury Bournvita together.

Vinay Shetty: The man who revolutionized chess in Mumbai.

Such was the magnitude of these Inter-school chess tournaments that nearly 2000 students used to take part in different age categories starting from U-8 going up to Open category (10th standard). Every year as the Diwali vacations would begin, each and every student who knew chess in Mumbai would reach the Probodhan Thakrey hall in Parle to play the Bournvita inter school chess tournament. The organizers would go from school to school to distribute their circular and cover as many schools in Mumbai as possible! The result was that right from the strongest chess playing kids in the city to the players who didn't even know to move the pieces but just were inquisitive about chess, would come to play in this gala event.

Why was this tournament so popular? There was absolutely no prize fund. But, then when did kids ever need money to motivate them to play chess! The children would get caps of Bournvita which they would proudly wear to the tournament. There would be 10 coupons given to the participants, and every coupon would entitle them to a glass of Bournvita! And of course cadbury Dairy Milk chocolates would be distributed. The tournament would be conducted so tastefully that it would be a real bonanza for the children. And not to forget, elite sports personalities would be called to give away the prizes.

Dhanraj Pillay the hockey superstar giving away the prize to Prachi Thite.

The trophies would be in the shape of the king, so exquisitely made. And winners would get goody bags and at the same time coaching from some elite IM or GM of India. Overall it was such a wonderful arrangement that chess in Mumbai was in full bloom. Superb players with phenomenal chess playing skills were being churned out in every tournament and the moment they would play in a rating events, they would often gain a rating of more than 2000 Elo points.

Cute is the right word!! 
One of Mumbai's most famous coaches Dhanesh Shrikhande with winners of Bournvita Inter school tournament 2002. (from L-R) Filisha Shah, Aditya Udeshi, Abhishek Ravi and Prasanna Rao. (Credit)

I, personally began chess at a late age of around 11 years. When I played my first Bournvita inter school tournament in 2001, I just couldn't come to grips with the fact as to how good these winners were. For example, there was a player called Amogh Kamli (who is still my very good friend). He won the U-10 category. A real monster calculator on the board and he had this amazing appetite to win game after game. When he played the National U-12 in 2002 in Chennai, he beat the prodigious Parimarjan Negi with great ease. The players from Mumbai were really strong. This can be attested to the fact that the last 2 IMs from Mumbai Aditya Udeshi and Prasanna Rao are both the products of Bournvita chess!
There were many other good players like Rahul Ved, Snehal Bhosale, Sachin Kamath (he won the bournvita championship so many times), Meghan Gupte, Ameya Kamli and many others.

In a city filled with affluence, Mumbai boasts of only 1 chess Grand Master. And that was GM Pravin Thipsay. The Bournvita inter school tournaments had come to change that scenario. 
But as is usual with success stories in India, petty politics got in the way. The Inter School Bournvita tournament was shut down, I think in the year 2004/5. Since then Chess in Mumbai has witnessed such a slump which cannot really be expressed in words. You did not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that due to the absence of Inter School Bournvita tournament, there were no strong players being produced in the city.


But recently in Mumbai, the organizers have tried to fill the gap of a full fledged inter school tournaments by holding 1 day rapid events (mostly on sundays). The rapid event would begin around 10 AM in the morning. each round would be for around 15-20 mins and there would be around 8 to 9 games. The tournament would end around 8 PM in the evening.
Just 2 days ago on the 4th of May, I played a rapid tournament in Shivaji Park, Dadar. Just to give you an idea of the these 1 day tournaments are, I decided to compile a few pictures and write on it.

Amruta Mokal, my wife getting ready to play her 1st tournament after marriage!

The tournament was held in a hall adjoining the biggest park in Mumbai- The Shivaji Park in Dadar.

The first prize of the event was Rs.10,000. 2nd place 7,000 and 3rd place 5,000 going all the way up to 30 places. The last prize is 500 Rs. The time control was 15 mins + 3 secs and it had 9 rounds.

The tournament was extremely strong with 2 IMs Aditya Udeshi (2428), Vikramaditya Kulkarni (2346). Sagar Shah (2309), The rapid expert of Mumbai: Rakesh Kulkarni (2223), Pune's Chinmay Kulkarni (2262), Mithil Ajgaonkar (2198), Amardeep Bartakke (2130), Atul Dahale (2150) etc.

The Rapid specialists: From L-R Gopal Rathod, Chinmay Kulkarni from Pune, Amardeep Bartakke, IM Aditya Udeshi, Rakesh Kulkarni.

Just imagine this, the first round began at 11 AM in the morning and every round takes 1 hour to be completed along with next round pairings to come. That's 9 hours. Add to it the lunch break and prize distribution ceremony and the tournament ended around 8 PM in the evening. Phew! What a gruelling day of chess it was!
The tournament was filled with excitement with a three way tie at the top. Mithil, Sagar and Rakesh all finished with a score of 8/9. However, Mithil Ajgaonkar won it on a better tie break.

With a score of 8/9, Mithil Ajgaonkar won the tournament and was richer by Rs.10,000

Just missing the first place, the second prize went to Sagar Shah (yours truly) who bagged Rs.7000. It was a great honour to receive the prize from the great GM Pravin Thipsay.

My very good friend Atul Dahale, who had travelled from Pune (around 200kms away) finished 11th and Amruta Mokal was surely the best female player scoring 6.5/9 and finishing 14th.

Around the playing venue I could see a lot of nice scenes with parents taking great care of their children. I managed to click a few very interesting pictures!

"Son, How will you be able to play good chess without enough energy!"

"Dad, I am scared of my opponent!" "Take it easy, my boy!"

A little girl with her team of seconds!

Happy after a hard day's work. Amruta with her very cute student!

After almost 10 hours of intensive chess, it is obvious that each and every player was totally tired and exasperated. The little children who were present in such huge numbers were all excited after the tournament too, but I am sure they would be deep in their sleep on their way back. The heat, pressure and 9 rounds in a day takes away a lot from you! However, there is the sweet feeling of having achieved something!

That's how the chess culture in Mumbai stands as on date. Such rapid events are held almost twice a month and all the budding talents of the city play in it. I think mainly it is because there are no other opportunities to play in the city.
The following according to me are huge drawbacks of playing rapid tournaments for young and upcoming players.

  • The time control of the tournaments is 15 mins + 3 sec increment. Its obvious that one cannot think in depth under such time controls. Bournvita tournaments were atleast for a duration of 1 hour each. One of the parents argued with me that students should also be able to take quick decisions in less time. I don't agree with her because first and foremost one should learn the art of thinking in depth, speed comes later. If a child regularly keeps playing rapid tournaments 2-3 times a month, it is bound to affect his thinking process, as he starts taking short cuts in calculation. 
  • One cannot write the games in such a short time control and hence there is no chance of analyzing the mistakes or learning from them once the games are played.
  • Though there are strong players playing in the tournament which didn't happen during Bournvita days, I have hardly seen a 10-12 year old kid beating an experienced rapid player. I think it is more to do with the fact that players like Rakesh Kulkarni, Vikramaditya Kulkarni, Amardeep Bartakke etc are not only strong players but also experts in rapid play which gives the young kids absolutely no chance to win against them.
  • 9 rounds in a day is just too much to maintain a high level of play.
  • Prize money never really motivates a child and hence prize money should not be taken into consideration according to me.
  • Such rapid tournaments are good for seasoned players who have a good opening repertoire and they want to try out new lines and systems. It gives them a good opportunity to have playing practice.
  • One final point I wish to iterate is that after the game and in between the rounds, there is so little time that players hardly analyze their games with their opponents and thus miss out on the opportunity to learn what their opponent was thinking.

All in all I think Rapid tournaments are fun to play and can be the good change from the normal 4 hour time controls. 
Rapids should be used a side dish. However if you make it your main course, then it won't come as a huge surprise if your growth in chess will be stunted.
As my father rightly points in terms of cricket analogy: A test match cricketer, can always learn the art of playing well in T20 matches. But a person who has started his career with T20 matches will never have the temperament to play test match cricket. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and many others are examples of this fact.

The organizers in Mumbai need to have a vision that rapid play is not going to create another GM from the city. Though there is no real activity happening in the city apart from the Mayor's cup which will be held this June, the trend is starting to change a little.
Praful Zaveri, who is a coach and organizer in Mumbai, is holding a tournament from 8-16 May in Kandivli with a World championship like time control of 2 hours for 40 moves then another hour for next 20 moves and 15 mins up to finish. 7 hour game in all.
The wonderful thing is that there is only 1 round every day. Such a tournament must be played with great concentration by the children and each and every game should be analyzed carefully. You can find all the details about the tournament over here.

Praful Zaveri, an organizer in Mumbai with a vision.

It won't come to me as a surprise if many of the games between young kids would get over within 2 hours. However, the change from rapid and quick thinking to indepth and accurate thinking won't be easy. A start has to be made and I hope organizers with a good vision like Vinay Shetty and Praful Zaveri will come forward and bring back the beautiful culture of Inter school chess tournaments in Mumbai.