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Saptarshi Roy is India's 51st Grandmaster - Part I

by Shahid Ahmed - 09/03/2018

"It was my desire from childhood that I have to become a Grandmaster.", that's how much ambitious and determined he is. It took him over 13 years to become a Grandmaster after he achieved his International Master title in 2004. He had to leave his hometown and focus on coaching to help him fulfill his dreams, however he had to put temporary breaks on them. He did not become a Grandmaster to prove it to the world. His father and relatives forced him to take Railways job although it drained him all of his valuable time and positive energy after working with unambitious people. His father denied him the coaching he needed as it was difficult for him to afford. He won tournaments and saved his own money to fund himself and play the tournaments he needed to play abroad. Here is a closer look at the life of Saptarshi Roy in a candid interview.

"I can say this now, now that I have become a Grandmaster"

The day I got the news that India's 51st Grandmaster is West Bengal's 8th Grandmaster, I knew that I had to do the interview myself. As we had played several Nationals and Rating tournaments in various parts of the country. I did not know when it would happen, I just knew that I have to tell his story and I would make it happen. I contacted Saptarshi on 24th January 2017 and we setup a meet at his residence on 27th. I met him after a long time and it was my first visit to his place.

Complete candid interview of India's newest GM Saptarshi Roy

Here is a transcript of the interview conducted by Shahid Ahmed at Saptarshi Roy's residence in Kolkata.

Shahid Ahmed (SA): What was going through your mind when you became Grandmaster?

Saptarshi finished with a performance rating of 2603 and increased his rating by 14 ELO points to fulfill the rating criteria by reaching 2500 | Source: chess-results

Saptarshi Roy (SR): It was my desire from childhood that I have to become a Grandmaster. When I became Grandmaster, I felt that I put Indian flag on every country's door. I am very very happy that I won all this thing at the age of 32, after married also I became successful. I became very happy to achieve Grandmaster title and I crossed 2500. In fact, I defeated a lot of Grandmasters also in a row. Because of that, I was very excited. I didn't think that I would beat three Grandmasters in a row. So it was a dream-come-true moment for me. So I am very very happy for this.


SA: Who inspired you the most to become Grandmaster?

Saptarshi's pillar of success: his wife and his mom 

SR: My mother and my wife both inspired me and few chess legends like Viswanathan Anand, Bobby Fischer, Mikhail Tal, their games inspired me a lot to become  a Grandmaster.


SA: What would be your message to ChessBase India readers and fans?

SR: Well guys, keep it up, work hard, listen to yourself, what your heart is saying regarding you. Play as much as possible, every tournament, give your best, don't be scared of your opponent, just do whatever you can. If you are an attacking chess player, attack as much as you can. If you are solid chess player, play solid chess and choose your opening according to your style. Always be focused during the games. Don't think about what people are thinking about you, what other people, what your mother will say if you draw the game, if you lose the game. Just don't think about it all, just play your best, give your best and win the tournaments and become a grandmaster. I will be very happy. Thank you very much.


SA: What is your score against top GMs of the country?

SR: Against Batu (Parimarjan Negi), I have 50% score; against Vidit, I have much higher; against Lalith Babu also I am higher; against Deep Sengupta, I am much much higher; against (Surya Sekhar) Ganguly, I am equal; against Neelotpal, I am much higher; against Sandipan, I have a minus score; against (Saptarshi) RoyChowdhury, I am higher. Against everybody I have a very good score.


SA: What did you realize after going to World Youth in 2003?

Young Saptarshi with former World Champion Anatoly Karpov

SR: I was struggling not because it was first time. Previously when I used to play National and then went to play World, I struggled a lot in World because of the coach.


SA: How did you realize that you struggled because of the coach?

SR: Why people charge in per hour basis? For an hour they charge, Rs 1500 or Rs 1000 or Rs 2000. When I asked some Korneev and all, they said 75 Euros or 60 Euros per hour. Why they are charging like this? What is the thing behind it? The thing is which I realize that they are selling their moves, not only ideas. Moves are equivalent to money, not the time. Whether you know that line or not, that doesn't matter. Who cares? You have to play opponents psychology, not line.


SA: How much 'element of surprise' matter in a game?

SR: Opponent should not be able to guess what you are going to play. You cannot figure it out, okay this guy in this line, he played two games and he played this variation. He is having very less experience in this variation. Rest of the lines, all main lines, he knows everything. So I have to play tomorrow this line which I also never played and he is having less experience. There in that position I have to figure out what he can do, then I have to prepare accordingly.


SA: What would make you happy?

SR: I will be very happy if I can work with more 2600-2650 player.


SA: How did you feel after becoming Grandmaster?

Saptarshi Roy after winning Third Saturday Djenovici tournament and securing his third and final GM norm in Montenegro in November 2017 | Photo: Saptarshi Roy's facebook

SR: I always want to learn. In fact, after becoming Grandmaster, I feel I know only 25% of this game, I still don't know the rest of the 75%. I don't know how good I am in chess. I believe so.


SA: How was it being a coach?

Saptarshi Roy trains young kids in Mumbai | Photo: Saptarshi Roy's facebook

SR: They (parents) don't want his coach to teach some other guy who will be his opponent someday and that guy will play some move which he doesn't know. That is the reason behind that.


SA: Which state in India is stronger in chess?

Saptarshi's student Rajdeep Sarkar became National under 15 champion | Photo: Saptarshi Roy's facebook

SR: Kolkata (West Bengal) kids are more creative, Chennai (Tamil Nadu) players are hardworker. But Kolkata has more creative players. Because Chennai parents are more focused about their wards.


SA: What is your advice to the parents?

SR: Kolkata parents are more focused towards other wards. That is the main thing. I am not afraid of anyone. So I can say all these after I have become grandmaster. This is the main reason. I am not criticizing anyone. But for guidance I can say that, if they will focus on their own child and they can see what is their error. If they can put more effort, more abroad tournaments with coach , 100% they will get result. There is no other excuse. If they can't do, they have to struggle in future.


SA: Tell us about your work in Railways.

SR: After becoming International Master, parents forced me to take the job in Railways which I was not much interested. In fact, my relative forced my parents that this guy should take this job and all. They don't even know what is chess. They forced them and my father said, you have to go to your job. Then I went and saw all old people are sitting and their is no future. They are doing the same job which I am doing, I don't know what is the motto. Next day when I went, I just realized that I am not born for this job. I asked myself, what am I doing here? Still after 5-6 years when I lost interest in my job, I was getting money for the job, but money is not the issue.

Then I checked myself, I told my parents, I will play for a year and I will prove it to you that I can earn more money by playing without doing the job. I don't want to say that the job was bad. I am saying that the job is not good for a chess player. Because chess player needs some kind of a job which provides mental relaxation to the player or they should go and just sign. If you tell a chess player to do the job of a TTE (Travelling Ticket Examiner) or a commercial clerk, that he has to sit in a counter to give ticket to other people, that doesn't work for a chess player. How these guys force divisional manager or others to do these kind of job I wonder. There is no answer from them. They will say, we have a vacancy for this, you guys come and do all these things. The TTE will stand for 8 hours and collect. Where will be any energy left after that?

From the age 18 to 25 years, I lost all my energy because of this. That time if my parents supported me and I worked with grandmasters, maybe I could have become 2500.


SA: Why did your rating remained stagnant at 2400+ between 2004 and 2017?

SR: From 2004 to 2017, I remained 2400. That is the big reason I lost my way. After the age of 25, I realized that, now I have to listen to myself. I know more about me which no one can understand. I cannot kill myself like this. If the office people will suck all my positive energy, then I can't do anything. Any hardwork I do won't make sense. Then I stopped going to Railways. I didn't leave the job, I just stopped going. I was not feeling interested. I told them many times to do better things and all, they said they will do but they didn't. I said I am not interested now, I should focus on myself.


SA: How was it working with Kolkata kids?

SR: Kolkata got many talented kids. I saw few parents who were more focused on their son, one of them is, Sayantan Das's father. That guy is very very serious about his son. He always said positive about everybody and he was always focused about how I can improve my son. That thing always helped Sayantan to go ahead. Sayantan was working with me since 2006, he used to come to my home. He used to sit where you are sitting now and we used work for 3-4 hours. That guy did everything. Now he has got 3 GM norms and has great psychology for the game than other people I could say.

The thing is that, the other people are doing a big lobby saying things about coaches and players. Your son is better than this guy, some parents are saying to others, your son has become FM now, why does your work with that IM? Your son is better than IM. You go to other coach. That parent doesn't want that guy should work with the IM and he would be much stronger than his son. The parent also is so gullible that she believed and she did the same. Now the son is the one who is struggling. How come the parents be like this? I don't understand. How will the son do now. Sometimes the parents tell their ward, "What, you can't win your match? I am spending so much for you." Spending means they are sending their son to abroad and they feel that they are doing a lot of things.


SA: Difference between expectation and reality.

SR: They are not spending much on coaches, they (coaches) will know the value of the things. They only feel that if my son will go to abroad and play, without coaching is fine, because sending them is a big issue. Like they are sending to the college, they will study and pass, get the certificate as if that's an easy thing. 

When I went to Serbia, the organizer also said that a few months ago, some parents came from Kolkata, she was saying that, "All grandmasters are like this, my son is missing IM norm, I sent him by spending so much money and my son is not getting anything against grandmaster". She feels that her son deserves to win every match against grandmaster and he will get all IM norms without coaching and after every match, the mother is saying to the son, "What are you doing?  You don't know how to win." The grandmaster says, "How will he perform? What is this thing? Every game you can't behave like this. Chess means mental peace is required. So I have to be mentally focused no matter whatever be the result. Even if I lose, it doesn't matter, tomorrow I will give my 100% ". That state of mind is required. Teenagers have a lot on their minds, I know. After that if parents also say these things then it is not a combination for IM or GM norms. I don't think so.


SA: When did you start coaching?

SR: I started very early. It was 2003 when I started coaching. It has been fifteen years and I have worked with many people, around 300-400 kids. I know the kids psychology very well. Whatever the kid wants, I know how to put it inside their brain. That is the main way, you have to understand the student's psychology and teach accordingly.

Whatever you are taking is fine, that doesn't matter. But you have to be very loyal that what you are taking, you should give more, double to be exact. Then it will reflect in their result. Sometimes their is an issue with the student, very young student may not understand your explanation and all, they may suffer but their base is becoming strong.

I think I am the only grandmaster in India who is having students from unrated to 2500 rated players. Nowadays, when I work with the unrated, I usually go to their level, I don't expect them to be in my level. I understand what they need, if they want to see three-four move calculation, I do that. I explain them accordingly.


SA: When did he move from Kolkata to Mumbai?

SR: I am quite happy that I don't have such a problem that I work with only above 2000 or 2200 rated players, it's not like that. If parents are decent and the student is sincere, I will definitely work. The result will come. But I don't like things when some parents say, "No, my son is not working with him. He is not so good". They are taking advantage from me. I don't like all these, I want to avoid all these things.

In 2012, I got my first GM norm. In 2013, I got my second GM norm. Then I realized, if you go to abroad once-in-a-year, if you play norm tournaments, it's not enough. From childhood only, I never took any help from my family and I was not much interested in my job either. Through coaching if I could get more money than I can utilize it in abroad, so I can play twice-in-a-year. Honestly speaking, if you go abroad once-in-a-year for 4-5 tournaments, you can only be an International Master, but Grandmaster is difficult. Because rest of the time if you play in India means everything will be same. 75% of children make the same mistake which I initially did from 2006 to 2012-13. Once you go to abroad and you think that, okay I have become a very big player. Then you will come back to India, play some stupid tournaments, there you will decrease all rating. Then you will think that I am very bad player. It doesn't make sense. You have to be focused, you have to make plan for whatever you want.


SA: What happened after getting second GM norm?

Saptarshi Roy receives his GM norm certificate in Bangkok in April 2013 | Photo: Saptarshi Roy's facebook

SR: After getting my second GM norm in 2013, I realized that now I should play more in abroad and for that money cannot come from Calcutta. I didn't get any sponsorship from here (Calcutta). Then I got very good proposal from Mumbai with a contract. Then I moved to Mumbai and I started staying there and saved a bit of money. I worked with them 2014-16. In 2014, I went to Europe often, for once-in-a-year. Then I thought, no it's not working, because I am giving more time in coaching, making money and playing for Grandmaster title is little bit difficult. So there has to be a balance.

Saptarshi got married to Yandrila on 20th January 2016 | Photo: Saptarshi Roy

For a few years, I worked a lot for coaching. Then I made few students state champion, rated 2000 and above pupil won medals in Asian, then I got married, then I felt that I should stay in Mumbai because here (Kolkata) I have only problem with the parents psychology. They are not stable. I like the kids in Kolkata, they are much talented than all.


SA: What is your current status?

SR: Now I have made coaching a bit flexible, when I am available I can give coaching, whether they want it or not, that's upto them. I am not under contract with anyone for the last two years after my marriage.


SA: How did you react to your detractors?

SR: Many people challenged me that I cannot be a Grandmaster. Because I got married and other things. Many people told me from childhood that if you cannot become an International Master by the age of 18 or Grandmaster before the age of 25, then it's not possible to become afterwards. At the age of 32, I believe it's just a bullshit they said. Because chess is not related with age. Suppose you are used to more with the game of chess, you know how to improve and you are not involved with family or your mind is in your game, if you can handle your family and profession properly then to become a Grandmaster more maturity is required.

Honestly I didn't feel that I can handle Grandmaster title at the age of 18 in such a way without getting coaching from Grandmaster, without playing against them.


SA: What needs to be done to become a Grandmaster?

SR: Whether you have to play around 800-1000 games against international players abroad or you have to take huge coaching from Grandmaster to become a Grandmaster, honestly speaking. For International Master, you have to play 600 games abroad, if you are not interested in coaching. If you can't do them all then it's difficult.


SA: What were you doing for the past two-three years?

SR: Last two years I was working a lot on me. I was working with many serious players. I reached to a better form. Now I have reached a career high rating of 2500. Now I am more than happy. Last three years, I was struggling for one GM norm. I had two GM norms, now I have one extra GM norm. So I have four GM norms. So I am more than happy.


SA: Whom were you working with for the past two years?

SR: Specifically I was working with myself only. I also worked with a few Grandmasters as a second. They are from abroad, but I don't want to reveal their names now, because it's very important for me to work with them again. They share their ideas and they said I helped them with my ideas, they said, at least you deserve a Grandmaster. All of them are from Europe. They suggested that I can play a certain kind of tournaments and you can do whatever you want. In this level, it's not so easy. You should follow all these things.


SA: What made you an attacking chess player?

Saptarshi's secret behind his triumph: Study Chess with Tal, Attack with Mikhail Tal and My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer

SR: Very nice question. I will tell you the truth. I will show you one book. (He shows the book) Study Chess with Tal. Now I will show you, this book I finished alone, without taking anyone's help. When I started this book at the ground floor of my house, when I show you the book, then you will understand. Can you see the old notations? Each and every game, I did not just finish once, but several times. Every year, I usually work through this book. On the first day of 1998 also I was studying from this book. If you want to play that's what you have to do. These old notations were originally written by Mikhail Tal. I was very amazed to see this kind of magic. I finished Study Chess with Tal, Attack with Mikhail Tal and Bobby Fischer - My 60 Memorable Games around 20-30 times.

During National age group championships, when my opponents used to work with their coaches, I used to work with these books. Each game I have studied 5-6 times. After watching these games, if I played 10-15% of this level then I usually won. I saw many World Champion's games. Till now, I have finished about 200 books, not much. Among those, I prefer the three books I have mentioned before and My Great Predecessors by Garry Kasparov, of course that's more higher level compared to the other three. These three books changed my style at the young age.

In the year 1992, I used to see Anand's games from Chessmate (Magazine). There I saw every game Anand went for f3, g4, h4 and he was beating his opponent. I saw those games and I was thinking when I will be able to understand these and how to play them. I always asked myself how to play. When I finished those three books, I learnt 0.01% of Anand's games and how to play tactical chess. These three books changed my life. Then I became bold. When I went to Alekhine Chess Club, many coaches used to tell me, "What are you doing Saptarshi, attacking in every position. You can't win your game without doing an attack?" I said, "No sir, I don't know how to win without doing an attack." They were surprised. I only know, I have to mate my opponent's king, I don't care about my pieces. I don't care about my pawns. There are two ways to sacrifice, one is you can do calculation and another one is, like Mikhail Tal, you have to put all your minor and major pieces in the center and throw them in any direction and you will win. That's the way to play. I enjoyed these things a lot. I feel if I can scare my opponents, like this way, it's more than enough.


SA: What are your favorite games?

SR: If you ask in such a way then I have to say that the game against Nigel Short was a very good game.

Saptarshi Roy vs Nigel Short photograph recreated in a painting which was gifted by Saptarshi's friend | Photo (top) : Saptarshi Roy's facebook

I will not say that I only played one-sided game. I can tell you about such games, like few years ago, I won against Levan Aroshidze in Barberà del Vallès.

I remember a beautiful game which I won against GM Lopez Martinez Josep Manuel of Spain. I have many games like these in Caro-Kann and Sicilian.

I love to play such a position which is not theoretical, more creative where both can do anything. You can prove your strength over the board. I don't like theoretical positions where you have to play 30-35 moves and from there you have to show your creativity. I avoid those lines. I don't enjoy myself, honestly speaking.


SA: Talking about creativity, do you think Levon Aronian is the most creative player since Akiba Rubinstein?

Levon Aronian and Akiba Rubinstein | Photo: Amruta Mokal and chessgames site

SR: Of course I believe that Levon Aronian is a very creative player. To be honest, Aronian's level is much higher. If you want to understand Aronian's games, your strength has to be, I believe around 2500 or something. Before that if you see, you have to sit with computers. Often I use computers but I don't like computers moves and all. I don't follow such things. Aronian is very strong and very creative player that I agree, but to be honest, I don't have much level to understand all of his games. I admit it.


SA: Who is your all-time favorite player?

SR: One is Mikhail Tal and another one is Bobby Fischer, because I understand their games. I love Kasparov also, but his strength is difficult for me to understand.


SA: Who is your inspiration for chess?

SR: I will tell you one thing, when I was small. my brother used to play with his friends in this room only. I told them that I want to play. They used to push me away saying that I don't know how to play. Then I came crying to my mother and told her, I want to learn chess, you have to teach me. She taught me and I started playing with my brother and I lost. There is a gym club opposite of my house, people used to come. Only ground floor was there. It was well established since I was born. The club was there 32 years ago and it is a very famous club. People used to come from far away. My house was also built more than 30 years ago. So I used to sit on the stairs from where you came and waited for the gym members to come at 4'o clock or something. At the age of 5 when other kids used to go and play with bat and ball, I used to sit with my chessboard, setup the pieces and wait. When I saw some boy or somebody coming to the gym, I used to go and grab their hand or leg, asking for a game of chess to play, otherwise I will not let you go to the gym. They considered me, they used to sit for a match and after that they used to go to the gym. Like that, I played against several players in this way and I learned desi chess from them which is very important.


SA: What is desi chess?

SR: Nowadays, I have seen many kids who do not know how to play desi chess. I will tell you what it means. It means that you have to beat some office champion, you have to beat who is sitting under the light post or playing in a tea shop, four players at the same time. One day, my father returned home from his work and I was doing math at that time. He came to me and said, "You know, my boy, some people are playing, near the light post and they are saying that, they are office champion. Can you beat them?" I told my father, of course I can beat them. I can go and beat them now. Do you want to see? I went and played till 11pm and I beat them all. If you can beat such people, your understanding of the game will improve. The way the russian people used to play. I don't know if Indian people are doing all these things. I don't know why. It helped me a lot.


SA: At what age did you start playing chess?

SR: Since the age of four, I was doing all these stairs thing and all. At the age of six, my mother took me to Alekhine Chess Club and I started playing there. At the age of seven, I played my first tournament, Telegraph Schools' Chess Championship where I became 2nd in under 8 age group category. Then I played State Championship, I secured 4th position in under 8. After a year, I started winning tournaments.


SA: You were the first person who was supposed to score hat-trick of championships at The Telegraph Schools' Chess Championship...

Saptarshi receiving The Telegraph Schools' Chess Championship from Saurav Ganguly and Bishan Singh Bedi in 1999 and 2000 respectively

SR: I think I drew with you. I still remember, for that game only I couldn't win the title. Because, Somak Palit won the tournament but I defeated him very badly. I am 100% sure the game was exciting which I drew with you. You also played very good chess in that game. I think the game was Center Counter opening. I also drew with Abhishek Das. I came second but it doesn't matter, because I beat the champion and I feel that if I beat the champion then I won the tournament. Buchholz, tie-break scores doesn't matter to me.


SA: What are you views on modern tie-break rules?

SR: I think nowadays the rule is fine. This is the best one. Because, Buchholz and progressive are not true. You can't judge a player's strength from all these things.


SA: What is your opinion on FIDE's rating policy of K-40 for under 18 players?

SR: Well since it's a FIDE rule, so I don't want to say much against them, but I can tell my opinion as a Grandmaster. With K-15, in the first year when I got my rating as 2140. I became 2200+ in 2002, 2300 in 2003 and I broke the 2400 barrier in 2004. In my case, if I had gotten all these things, I would have been 2600. Because during K-15 era, I used to increase 60-70 ELO points in every Grandmaster tournament. Now these kids are getting lots of help regarding this. I will appreciate if K-40 for them and K-20 for the rest. Then it's easier to judge every player in every month's rating list in this way, because if K-10 and K-40 are there, then I don't think it's a big reference. Like they (under 18 players) are getting more advantage. I don't think how under 18 players are given K-40 which is too much I think. If they want to increase attraction they can do K-40 and K-20 or K-20 and K-10. Maybe K-25 and K-10 is okay, but K-40 and K-10 combination is not well balanced. That is my opinion. Whatever FIDE thought is upto them and maybe they think much better than me.


SA: What is your favorite format of the game: Classic, Rapid or Blitz?

SR: First of all I want to admit that as a Blitz player I am very bad player. Like an amateur, my strength might be 2350 and not more than that because in 3'+2" time control, I am not good. Rapid I like much better, I am very good in Rapid, because I can handle the situation, I can play with some creativity. I like standard format with a time control of 90 minutes + 30 seconds but after 40 moves, 30 minutes sudden death, I don't like that. I like to play tournaments which has the time control of 90 minutes + 30 seconds.


SA: How did you handle negativity when people said, "You cannot become a GM" ?

SR: From childhood only I am a very confident guy. If someone tells me something, I never take it as something they said which is right. If you see that I am sitting with an unknown guy, maybe he is a police officer or a criminal, I find out what's good thing about them and I take it personally. I will not take the bad thing from them. I am such a guy. So when someone says bad thing about me, I always focus on why they are saying so, what is the reason behind it. I always notice that. Sometimes they say that you are doing coaching more. Then I tell myself, maybe they are right. Whoever is your good friend, they will never say bad things about you. Whoever is your enemy, will always say bad things. You have to notice why they are saying that and then you can find the error of your ways.

When I started doing a lot of coaching, then people said, you became coach and all. So you can't be a GM. I know I can be. Any player who have a good result with Grandmaster, can become a Grandmaster. I can give in writing. Thousand people might say that you can't be, that doesn't matter. Those thousands of people are not a Grandmaster. They are not even International Master. They are just amateur's parents. So who cares and who bothers? So when they said, I said okay fine, you can't even imagine, before going on this trip (where he achieved 2500 ELO Rating) some people told me, my son is now 2400. I will not reveal the name. When his son was 1600, she came to my house, crying to take her son as a student and from 1600, the guy became 2000, 2100, state champion. She came for an aim for her son to become state champion. The guy became state champion, national champion, Asian champion, FIDE Master, the boy got his first IM norm also. The parents are asking me, "I think my son is now stronger than you. Can you carry my son?" I was amazed. I asked, why do you think so? She said, "Another FM's mother said that Saptarshi Roy is now not enough for your son, you should find someone better. Can you carry my son or shall I find someone better?" I think you should check with some parents because I think I am not so strong now. I didn't say anything, I silently went for five tournaments and I violently got GM norm and all my rating. I hope she and her friend got her answer.


Here are a few videos of Saptarshi:

Saptarshi reacts after seeing his peers and friends congratulating him for becoming India's 51st Grandmaster
Saptarshi showcases his trophies and accolades in his Kolkata residence

Transcript of part two of the interview with Saptarshi Roy will be published soon. Write down your thoughts on India's latest Grandmaster in the comments section below.

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