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Muralikrishna Gangaraju - the man who powered chess in Ponnur and created India's National Champion

by Sagar Shah - 23/06/2018

I created a National Premier Champion from scratch - how many chess coaches can boast of this fact. A very few for sure! One such dedicated coach is Gangaraju Muralikrishna from Ponnur in Andhra Pradesh. He moulded the talent of GM Lalith Babu and made him the player he is now. He also carved an IM from his hometown of Ponnur - Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad. In this article we get to know G. Muralikrishna in more detail, what are his training techniques, how did he work with Lalith and we also interview Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad, who became an IM in 2017.  

When you talk about some of the biggest talents in Indian chess in the current generation, the names that come to our mind immediately are Praggnanandhaa, Nihal Sarin, Gukesh, Prithu Gupta etc. If you go a few years back then it would be Aravindh Chithambaram, Karthikeyan Murali, S.L. Narayanan and others. And then if you were to shed a few more years, this group of players would include names like Vidit Gujrathi, Adhiban, Sethuraman and a few others. Let's talk about the this group of players born between 1992 to 1994.


As on today Vidit has crossed 2700 and is looking to make a leap into the world elite. Adhiban and Sethuraman have both crossed 2650 in their careers and are looking to launch themselves to the 2700 mark. However, there is one name that we are missing here and that is GM Lalith Babu. In 2014, just four years ago, Lalith had a rating of 2594. At that point Vidit was 2610, Adhiban was 2609, and Sethuraman was 2579. These four players were considered as India's best talents. In fact in 2014 when India won its first team medal at the Olympiad, it was Lalith who was in the team along with Adhiban and Sethuraman and not Vidit. Today Lalith's rating is 2529. What really happened? What changed? Perhaps it was the pressure, perhaps it was the distraction. Lalith wasn't able to make tangible progress in his career. In fact from his games and results it seemed as if he was moving backwards. But that doesn't mean we can discount this 25-year-old from Andhra Pradesh. Six months ago Lalith had one of the biggest breaks in his chess career. He became the National Champion of India. In a very strong Round Robin tournament, Lalith fought with some of the best players of our country and won his first National Premier.

Lalith Babu with the National Champion's trophy after winning the title in Patna, Bihar | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Later, in 2018 Lalith became the National Rapid Champion and also finished 2nd in National blitz. How did he do it? How did Lalith manage to turn things around and produce, what was perhaps, the best performance of his career? After the national premier tournament, when we asked Lalith this question, he revealed the secret, "Two months ago I went to Ponnur, the town of my trainer Muralikrishna Gangaraju. G. Muralikrishna is the one who taught me to play chess since I was a young boy. He is more than a coach for me, he is like a parent. When the National Premier was approaching I decided to spend two months before the tournament in Ponnur. G. Muralikrishna has his chess academy in Ponnur where he has developed many strong students. Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad is a very good player from there who recently became an IM. There are also some girls who have a rating of 2100+. There is also YVK Chakravarthy who is an upcoming player. In general we spent a good amount on chess, solving positions and working on the game, but mainly it was just igniting the love for the game, making me feel hungry to play some good chess. Physical fitness was also given a lot of importance as we played table tennis whenever we had free time! When I won the tournament I called my coach immediately because he has played a huge role in this success." 

Coach of Lalith Babu - Muralikrishna Gangaraju

Who is Muralikrishna Gangaraju?

A man who has created one of the finest players of our country should be known better. G. Muralikrishna is a 46-year-old chess coach. Educationally he was a commerce graduate and joined as a coach in Mr. Kosaraju Sivaprasad's Academy 'SPACE' (Sivaprasad Academy of Chess Education) in the year 1996 in Vijayawada. Mr.Sivaprasad served as a secretary for Andhra Pradesh Chess Association for nearly 20 years. He was also an International Arbiter. Unfortunately, in the late 90's he passed away. After that, Muralikrishna started his career as an independent coach at Vijayawada.

Two of Muralikrishna's best students - Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad (left) and Lalith Babu (right)

Says Muralikrishna, "There is a small incident that I would like to mention. When Humpy and Harikrishna became grandmasters, our state Government held grand felicitation in Hyderabad. So I travelled all the way to Hyderabad along with my student Lalith Babu, who was very young, to attend the function. After the function Lalith was very much motivated and told me that he wants to become a Grandmaster.

That's G. Muralikrishna on the right. But can you guess who the little boy on the left is? Hint: He is not Muralikrishna's student, he had just come to Ponnur with his grandfather and played a practice game.

It's amazing how one thing leads to another. Muralikrishna continues, "When Lalith became Grandmaster in 2012, Balu (Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad) was motivated to become a grandmaster! In 2009 when I moved from Vijayawada (where I worked as a chess coach for nearly 14 years) to Ponnur (my home town) which is a small town in Guntur District, I had a desire to produce master level players from my home town. After Balu's achievement my dream came true. Usually strong players emerge from big cities only, but the point to note is that he reached this level being trained in Ponnur, which is a small town."

Two guys who have powered chess in Ponnur! Coach Muralikrishna with Balu

Going into nostalgia mode, Muralikrishna remembers, "In 2003 it was a dream for everyone to have their own computer at home. At that time Lalith's mother bought a desktop on installment basis. Later it became great asset for us for our training. I used to go to the internet center every Tuesday to download Twic in floppy drives and we would analyse those games in our academy! I think it was in 2005 when we downloaded Playchess for the first time. That is when the id Anji was created." Playchess users would recall the domination of Anji (Lalith Babu) in our online prize money tournaments! "It became our daily pratice session to play lot of blitz games on Playchess with the account Anji. In 2009, when I moved to Ponnur, many students started to join my academy, coming from cities like Guntur, Hyderabad, Vizag etc, but we continued our affiliation with Playchess. Balu loved to watch live games in Playchess."

Muralikrishna and Technology 

Says Muralikrishna, "A lot of the students in my academy use ChessBase and Mega Database. Nowadays these things are essential for every professional chess player. We use 'ChessBase' premium account' to play practice games. Every student of my academy must have a premium account on 'Playchess'. It is mandatory in my academy. Engines play an important role in opening preparation. In this case we should thank Playchess because of cloud engines. Not everyone can afford a strong computer so, if we want to test some opening preparation we always use the help of Playchess in this way."

Two of Muralikrishna's best students - Lalith Babu and Dhulipalla Chandra Prasad

What a coach! What dedication. Muralikrishna Gangaraju worked at the grassroot level, created students from scratch, worked with them whether be it a weekend or a weekday. All of this was possible only because of his love for the game of chess. He wanted to create champions from the place where he taught and he gave it his all to achieve it. One of the things which we have to note is how Muralikrishna remained abreast with the modern technology in order to ensure that his student's improve. In spite of being at a small town called Ponnur, he was able to bridge the gap because of technology. A coach like G. Muralikrishna deserves our deepest respect.

An interview with the 'Prodigy from Ponnur' - Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad

Calling Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad a prodigy might not be the most accurate, because he started playing chess really late - at the age of 14 years. He was able to become an IM at the age of 21 years in 2017. In 2017, Balu also completed his Bachelor's degree in Computers at K.V.R, K.V.R & M.K.R college, Khajipalem, near Ponnur. His father Mr.Ramesh Babu who is a teacher in ZPH School, Ponnur and his mother Ratna Sri who is a Superintendent in PBN College, Nidubrolu supported his chess career with all the had. Balu used all of his spare time to enjoy chess. He rarely watched TV and movies. His passion and love for chess made him to reach one of the important destinations (IM) in a short period.

Balu is the first IM from Ponnur, a small town in Guntur district 

Here's a short interview that we conducted with Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad:


Q: Balu, you are considered to be a great expert of London System. Who taught you that opening and how do you work on it? 

A: Win with the London System by Sverre Johnsen and Vlatco Kovacevic is the first book I used to prepare the London structure. Later we bought more material from different publications. GM Henrik Danielsen's material on London at ChessBase (downloaded version) is also one of the important collections on London. I follow top players games on London regularly.

If you are ChessBase Account Premium member you can watch the entire one hour of Henrik Danielsen's video on the London for free from here. If you are not a premium member then you can become one for just Rs.1499 from ChessBase India.


Q: What is your biggest strength as a chess player?

A: I think I am a good positional player. I have great affection towards chess and in general a very disciplined person.


Q: What is your aim in chess?

A: My next target is to become GM.

Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad's parents who have always supported his passion for chess

Q: Who are your favourite players in the chess world?

A: I worship Viswanathan Anand. P.Harikrishna is my hero in chess, because of Harikrishna's Grandfather Shri Rangarao garu's native village, Prathipadu (where Harikrishna learned chess) is just 30 kilometers away from our town Ponnur. (All of the students in Muralikrishna's academy are Harikrishna's fans.) I also frequently follow Kramnik's games.

Q: Which are the books that you worked with your coach or on your own in chess?

A: Best of Karpov by Markland, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual, Advanced Chess Tactics by Psakhis, Calculation by Jacob Aagaard and other Quality Chess publications are the books we regularly use.

Balu with his brother! 

Q: Who are the other good chess players from Ponnur?

A: My coach G. Muralikrishna's brother Mr.G.Sudhakar who is working in endowment department is a passionate chess player from Ponnur. His best student Mr.Surya Kotha brought laurels in the early 90's by getting selected in the Acharya Nagarjuna University chess team twice. Later Surya moved to Hyderabad for higher education. He won State Championship there and was selected twice for Osmania University Chess Team. Venkateswara Rao Garu and, A.Shyamsunder are the other players from Ponnur.

Some of Dhulipalla Bala Chandra Prasad's best achievements:

1. Gold Medal in School Games Federation of India's National Under-19 Chess tournament held at Tadepalligudem ,Andhra Pradesh in 2013.

2. Gold medal in Rapid category in ASEAN Age Group Chess Championships (Under-20) 2015 held at NTU, Singapore in June 2015.

3. Won Andhra Pradesh State Challengers Chess Championship (Selected for Nationals) held at Guntur in July 2015.

4. 2nd place in National Universities held at TMBU, Bihar in Jan 2016.

5. 1st place in ICON All India Fide Rated Tourney held at Vijayawada in May 2016.

6. 2nd place in National Challengers Chess Championship held at Noida, Uttar Pradesh in July 2016 and selected for National Premier.

7. 1st International Master Norm with Tournament Performance Rating 2520 in 2nd ONGC International Grandmaster Chess Tournament held at Hyderabad in 2013. He beat GM Vishnu Prasanna, IM Ravichandram Siddarth, GM Drazic Sinisa and IM Vahe Baghdasaryan

8. 2nd International Master Norm in World Junior Chess Championship held at Bhubaneswar in August 2016. He beat IM Mousavi Seyed Khalil.

9. 3rd International Master Norm in XXV Open Ciutat De Montcada Open held at Barcelona, Spain in June 2017. He beat IM Fernando Fernandez, GM Aimen Rizouk.

10. 4th International Master Norm and achieved International Master title by crossing 2400 Rating in XL Open Internacional Barbera del Valles held at Barcelona, Spain in July 2017. He beat IM Fernando Fernandez.