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

by Shahid Ahmed - 21/03/2018

Saptarshi Roy turns 32 today, it took him over 13 years to become a Grandmaster after he became an International Master. Sheer passion and determination made sure he realized his dreams. People wrote him off as someone who had a lot of potential to become a Grandmaster but never will. 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 had a lot of naysayers and detractors in his life. 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. This is the story of Saptarshi Roy who defied all odds to become something which was his childhood dream.

"I want to be such a player whose game never dies"

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


Complete candid interview with Saptarshi Roy

Shahid Ahmed (SA): When did you realize that chess is your true calling?

Saptarshi's wall of achievements at his home in Kolkata

Saptarshi Roy (SR): To be honest, from childhood, because after reading all these books when I saw that I am making 9/9, 11/11 in State and National championships. Then I realized that I have some qualities which are different from others. I believe quality and talent never die. Suppose you are working with very complicated situation and it doesn't work. That doesn't mean that you will not get a second chance in future in your life. You have to wait for second chance. When it will come, you have to play like Yuvraj Singh. Like he hit six sixes, I was also waiting for that time. Many Grandmasters said about me, in the childhood, he was a superstar. You will be Harikrishna, this and that. Now he became a Grandmaster. So I did not say anything. That was not my time to answer. I hope now they got the answer. I gave my answer with my performance.

One more thing as a bold, sharp chess player, if you ask me what my motto was, I want to be such a player whose game never dies. I believe in that. Like there are many world champions. If someone asks who is better, you will say someone whose games' style you like. So from childhood, I believe in that I should be such a creative player that people should know me from what I played through my games' style. If I can give enjoyment to the other people who see my games, they will feel like, some moves are there. Some moves are different than others. After the age of 60, when I die also, people will know that this guy played some chess that is different than others. That is the reason for me to play some games that is different than others. I always try to do that.


SA: How much influenced are you from your favorite players?

Fearless Saptarshi in Germany 2017 | Photo: Saptarshi's facebook page

SR: I always follow their style and play fearless chess. I am playing fearless chess and I realize one thing about Grandmasters, if you are scared that your opponent is a Grandmaster then what will I do? They will 100% take advantage of you. If you show them that I don't care, I am not bothered about who I am playing, just move and prove yourself on the board. Then they will get startled. They will be like why is he confusing me? Then he has a change of expression in his face and thinks what do I do now. That's the way. You have to find out. I always appreciate the players who is more creative on the board not theoretical. I don't like theoretical guys.


SA: Who congratulated you first when you got to know that you have become a Grandmaster?

Saptarshi's parents

SR: My parents and my wife congratulated me. Others in the facebook I have to check because I don't know about that. It doesn't make a difference to me. I appreciate whoever appreciates me and I am more than happy.

SA: Do you think that you have proved yourself to the world by becoming a Grandmaster?

Saptarshi's GM Title Certificate

SR: Not exactly. It's not that I have proved myself to the world. First of all, it was my big desire. I would like to tell you two stories before many people had become a Grandmaster than me. I have inspired few people to play these kind of tournaments. They come and tell me, "Okay sir, we want to play in this. How do we go about it." I suggest them that a certain country to go to based on their style. You won't believe that they went, they won and they got the title before me. I am more than happy that they achieved that. Even they amaze me that I can hear such a people, those who don't even have a GM norm, I am telling them to go and play these tournaments. When they win and I felt that I also deserve it.


SA: What was the last tournament you played in India before becoming a GM?

SR: In 2016 I played a few tournaments in India where I decreased my rating. At the end of 2016, I thought if I can increase my rating points in world's toughest tournaments in India where GMs used to lose a lot of rating points in three tournaments, i.e. IIFLW Mumbai Open, Parsvnath Delhi Open and Chennai Open. If you ask that you will pay Rs 20000 then they will be like no I will decrease rating, I'd rather play in abroad. So these are the tournaments I decided to play. All my students said, sir don't play, you will decrease your rating. I told them, no I will play. If I increase some rating points from all three tournaments, I don't mean that I have to increase 50 points. If I can maintain above 2400 rating then I will feel I have the strength of 2500. If I play abroad then I can beat Grandmasters too. Then I played all three tournaments, I think I increased 17 rating points after Chennai Open, then I realized that in these three tournaments if I haven't lost any rating points that means I have the strength of 2500. In abroad, I felt that Indians are 100 rating points lesser than them.


SA: What are the practical challenges you had to face abroad?

Saptarshi in Iceland in May 2017 | Photo: Saptarshi's facebook page

SR: I became more confident. First I went with my students. There were some problems with making food and everything, I couldn't concentrate properly in GM tournaments. I lost two GM norms opportunity by just half point margin in Zalakrados and maybe First Saturday also. This time I planned by myself alone and I won all this.


SA: Who is your dream opponent?

The World Champions: Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen

SR: Of course Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand


SA: Who is your favorite opponent whom you have faced?

Saptarshi's favorite opponent is none other than Nigel Short

SR: I can't say like this. I have played against many good players. I like to play against Nigel Short. I have faced him two times. Short beat me once when I was 22-23 years old and I defeated him few years ago. I love to play against him.


SA: What is your fond memory of childhood related to chess?

A beautiful story about India's 47th Grandmaster Himanshu Sharma | Photo: Niklesh Jain

SR: I have many childhood memories. There were things which are not so good. But I can tell you one memory of mine which happened a few years ago. I will tell you that player's name also. I had an International Master as my roommate inn an open rating tournament in India. In every tournament, I used to carry some chess books with me, laptop and chess sets. I was a positional player. He told me, guruji, please teach me some tactics. I also want to learn something. I said okay I will teach you. Everyday I taught him tactics from the books and he said, oh you are so fast. I can't see such lines so fast. I said okay we should do all these things. Everyday after our games, I taught him for 2-3 hours. I used to explain him, how to do this and how to think. You can't believe that in the last round, we faced each other. Before the last round, the guy was at 6.5/9 and I was 6/9. The tournament was held in Ponda, Goa. I have a very good score against him. The guy asked me, guruji tomorrow we are facing each other, I think you will not show me any chess today. I am 100% going to lose tomorrow and I will lose a lot of money. I know if you beat me, you will get the money. What is your opinion? What would you have done if you were in my place?

[SA]: As a chess player, of course I will not show him my weakness. I will definitely show him the things he is supposed to do against any general player.

[SR]: I spoke to many players about this and everybody said the same thing as you did. As a human being, I accepted the challenge. I said okay. I taught him everyday and on the last day if I don't show him anything, I will lose myself against me. I don't think that am such a player that I should be avoiding him because I wanted to beat him tomorrow. I said, today, I will teach you till whatever time you want to learn from me and prepare you against whom you are playing tomorrow. Because you asked me and I am your opponent. Then he said, I am amazed. He said, prepare me. We studied from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. or something. He said now I understand how to play attacking chess. Then the following day, we stand inside the proverbial ring and there is a huge attacking chess game. Lots of attacking things were there. It was quite a sharp game. Somehow he kept himself safe and finally the game ended up in a draw. He became champion of the tournament, I secured either 2nd or 3rd position. I lost Rs 30000 or 40000. He appreciated me and said, I never saw such a coach like you that when I asked you guruji as a student that how to play against a player and you never thought about yourself. You only thought that my student wants so I will show him. I can tell you the name of the player and you can ask him anyday. His name is GM Himanshu Sharma. This is the most memorable and nice story in my life that I prepared such a strong player against me that with a teardrop in my eye, I drew.


SA: How did you handle real life challenges during the tournament?

Hungry for success, Saptarshi in Hungary in May 2017 | Photo: Saptarshi's facebook page

SR: Firstly, I always sacrifice myself.  I don't mind and I don't remember all these things. Many times many things happened. It happened once against the guy I beat of 2500 ELO. It happened long back in 2012 when I was playing against Drazic. Of course Drazic is a gentleman and a very good human being. We didn't know each other back then. He didn't know my game and all. Of course, Drazic got a better position when we faced each other and I was in time pressure. At one stage, I offered him a draw because I saw that after three moves I will be better. Drazic said to me, tomorrow. I didn't notice what he was saying. I said, I offer you a draw, he said, tomorrow. I said, what? I asked the same question, he said, tomorrow emphatically. Then I started playing and my position became better. My opponent stood up and he called arbiter and said, I think my opponent is using computer. I don't believe how he saved this game. My phone was with me but battery was open. I kept the phone next to the board. Back then the rule was there that you can keep it like that. I called the arbiter and he said okay he is not cheating. The game ended up in a draw.

In the next tournament, I was playing against Drazic again. I kept the phone in front of me only. Phone incidents happened many times it with me. I kept the phone in front of me only. I took my revenge against Drazic and beat him badly and I won. After the game Drazic said, no I accept it that you didn't do what I said about you. It was my mistake. You didn't do all that.

It happened with me once in Bulgaria also. I was playing against a very strong Grandmaster. His rating was 2666. He is an old Grandmaster. He became a pawn down and he caught the DGT board's wires and was pressing them in my move. I got very irritated with what he was doing. He told the organizers that I was using computer, organizer said that in the last tournament he has beaten a lot of Grandmasters. I don't believe you. He was furious. It irritated me. In the time pressure, I blundered in a better position and I lost the game. Then I started analyzing and showed him many lines in which I was better. After that he realized and told the arbiters that I was wrong, my opponent was not doing anything which I felt. He was making strong moves on his own.


SA: How did you balance chess and studies?

SR: This question is more natural for everybody. To be honest, it irritated me a lot. Because I believe study is not a good combination with chess if you play at a very high, top level. You can balance these things. But if you want to balance, you can't balance actually. If you are better in chess, then do the chess much more, say 80% and do the study how much is required only. If you are very good in studies then do study, if you play chess then it will help you with your memory and all other things. But don't try to balance it. Then you will lose creativity in both. I believe that.


SA: Whom will you give the credit for your success?

SR: First of all, my mother helped me since childhood and nowadays my wife also helps me a lot. They both deserve the credit.


SA: Who introduced psychological aspect of the game?

SR: I can tell you one of my teacher's name. His name is Ashok Sinha. He helped me a lot psychologically. He taught me meditation and all. How to do meditation. How to make your mind from natural to conscious mind, subconscious mind and superconscious mind. He taught me everything.

IM Atanu Lahiri introduced Saptarshi to Brahma Kumari's Rajyoga Center | Photo: Atanu Lahiri's facebook

From childhood I was very interested in meditation. Before I met him, I asked Atanu Lahiri, I want to do meditation. First you tell me the basic fundamental place where I can go and learn. Then Atanuda helped me a lot. He sent me to Brahma Kumari's Rajyoga Center beside Alekhine Chess Club. I went there and learnt for three months. I became calm, very calm. After that I realized that I can take many risks in many crucial situation and it won't pressure myself. Like the way normal people think. In the childhood it happened many times with me. The people will be scared to listen. Now I can say because I have become a Grandmaster. Now I am not in that stage.


SA: Tell us a memorable story from your childhood.

SR: I have won many open tournaments in India. I went to play such a tournament where it was a memorable story for me. I had to go to Spain to take my final International Master norm. I didn't have such money at that time. I needed Rs 65000 to go there. So I didn't ask my parents, because I don't like that thing. I always believe that, whatever I earn, I will make do with that only. I will not take help from my father. My mother said, first you try yourself, if you fail then you come to me, I will help you. I said, no I will not be a failure, I will make do myself.

I will tell you the story. This is a very nice story about my life in which I won also. Back in those days, Umakant Sharma was playing very horrible chess with the computer. I went to play with Somak Palit and Tanmoy Pattanayak. Three of us stayed together and played Thakur village open rating tournament in Mumbai. First prize was Rs 62000. I think I was around 10-12th seeded. Many Grandmaster played that event including Neelotpal Das, Sriram Jha, Pravin Thipsay and around 30 International Masters in the year 2006. It happened before Spain. I knew if I won that tournament then only I can go to Spain with the money, otherwise, I can't go to Spain and I can't get my final norm title. You won't believe what happened. I went to play the tournament. I have been seeing games and in the final round I was playing against Umakant Sharma whose points were around 7.5/8 or 8/8. I was at 7/8 and few more guys were too. Throughout the tournament, Umakant Sharma beat other players like anything using computer in the tournament. Around 40°C, he was wearing full shirt with high neck t shirt, cap and everything. He defeated Neelotpal Das, Sriram Jha and many of them. Everybody knew at that time that he was using computer but no one knew how to catch him. I was playing with Black colors against him. Everybody told me that you should make a draw with Umakant, then I get Rs 15000, if you lose you get Rs 3000 and if you win you get Rs 62000, choice is yours whether you will do it or not. If you play, he will beat you. Because he beat all other players, Laxman and others. Then I thought okay, for me Rs 3000 and Rs 15000 are same. Because I already went abroad, I can only see that International Master title is waiting for me and for that I need the first prize. So I said, no I have to play, I don't have a choice. I started playing my natural chess. I played Semi-Slav, I started attacking my opponents. He has been doing fake cough after every move. I realized that this guy is cheating. I don't know which computer he was using back then. I can say this now as he was already caught.

Computer was capturing my a7 pawn when I was targeting like Mikhail Tal, the King at h2. I also did short castle and I kept my King at g8. I put h5. After that Ng4, Bd6, Qh4 and sacrificed at h2 or something, my opponent was capturing the a7 pawn. I thought okay, you can take whatever you like, I won't see, I am not bothered. I will mate your king. He offered me a draw when he had five minutes left on his clock. I was shocked. The computer just asked me for a draw. Then I said, no I will play. I won the game and the title. You won't believe, I will tell you now the friend's name, after a decade in 2016 I got to know that everyday during the tournament Umakant was using the computer. Finally on the last day, his computer had handicapped mode turned on during the game. His brother couldn't help him as he didn't know how to change back from handicap mode and his brother got beat like anything. I said, thank god. God is there, he helped me that day. I mated him. Till this day, Umakant still wonders how Saptarshi Roy beat me. He still cannot come to the terms with the fact that computer betrayed him.

When I went and got my final International Master norm. In my first tournament of the trip only I became an International Master.


SA: What is the importance of physical and mental fitness?

Saptarshi Roy works out at a gym | Photo: Saptarshi's facebook page

SR: I love gym. I have gym at my home. I used to do gym and meditation everyday. Not gym much but meditation I loved to. I love it always.

I am a kind of a person, who can't remember anything when I am talking with you. After I finish talking with you, if you tell me certain things, then only I will reach that stage in my mind. I will remember that thing and after that I will forget it. My mind control is like that, no one can get inside and disturb me anytime. Nowadays no thoughts come to my mind. So I won't take any tension. I won't have any feelings regarding the fact that who is thinking what about me. What are the natural things, the things which I feel is the truth, I say it to the people. Whether people take it as an advice or as a truth or as a false, it's upto them. I can't get inside their mind.


SA: How was the path to becoming a Grandmaster?

Saptarshi at Novi Sad, the place where he crossed 2500 to fulfill his GM title requirements

SR: I can say history was very important for me when I won Grandmaster norms and title because this time I was so determined that I planned and saved money before this. Then I went for this tournament and I thought I will play seven tournaments and out of those i will get one GM norm. When I got it in the first tournament, then I was getting confused about the fact that in every tournament I have to pay 300 Euros like this is all closed GM tournaments and why do I pay after becoming a Grandmaster? Later I realized, I played two tournaments and then I skipped the next two as I was preparing. In the last three, I decided that no I should try from here, because in open tournaments, I have seen that for a decade many players are struggling and they are unable to reach 2490 rating and it is going down. Then I realized that I should play three tournaments. If I can't win, again I have to come for open tournaments and I will play in them. So out of those three tournaments, in the first one, I tried a lot but unfortunately I lost to Sedlak Nikola, he is a very strong Grandmaster from Serbia.

A loss against Sedlak did not set Saptarshi back, he only became more focused to achieve what he needed

In the second tournament I lost against Drazic from Sweden in an unknown line. In the third tournament, I thought that 14 points is required. I had all whites in the first five games. I had to win with all whites and four blacks I have to draw. Then I will the required 14 ELO points. With white i thought that I will beat everyone, with Black pieces, what do I do? How to do? So I set a few lines. I thought if my opponent tries, it's much better for me. Then I can get advantage and try. If opponent sits for a draw, I have no choice, I can't take a risk. I have faced this type of tension before. Before getting my first International Master norm, the tension which I had in my mind, similar tension was troubling me again when my live rating was 2490 or something. But meditation helped me a lot. I overcame that stage, I managed to make a comeback.

I want to tell a story which I forgot to tell. I don't know about the current generation, they have parents, they have sponsors, every support. Very few people are like me who played an entire life from childhood. Maybe after twelfth standard, I stopped taking money from my parents and I used to give them money after I won them in tournaments as prize money. I am some kind of a player that I will help people if the people will give me ten, I will give them hundred. Many times happened in my entire life, after returning from abroad tournaments, I had Rs 1000 left in my bank account. I took 1-2 lacs and went to play abroad, whatever happened happened. I should take risk. In India, within Calcutta, I don't think so that people are in a sort of mind that they can keep this Rs 1000 in bank and they will go with Rs 2-3 lacs to abroad to play tournaments, to achieve their dreams in this way. Between the age of 18-23, many times I did like this. Nowadays the situation won't be like that.


SA: What are the pros and cons of playing closed IM/GM norm tournaments?

Saptarshi is a globe trotter, he has played plenty of closed tournaments

SR: See for closed tournaments, I can suggest such a player, whose strength is 2400, they should play for IM norms and the players whose strength is 2500, they should play for GM norms. If you want to play closed tournaments, it is fine, you can play anytime to increase rating. But if you are playing for IM or GM norms, because for GM norms, entry fees are much higher than IM norm tournaments. Everywhere it's 300 Euros, means around Rs 22000-24000. When you are spending Rs 24000 for one tournament's entry fee which is not a small amount for everyone, if you do not have the strength of 2500, to be honest, you cannot make 7 points out of 9 rounds. If you can't make 7 points, then you cannot make a norm. It doesn't make sense to play those tournaments. They should play open tournaments instead.

I will be appreciative if India can host such tournaments. Like 1 or 2 closed tournaments each year. It will help players those who have real strength. Those who cannot afford to play abroad always, those who are struggling for the lack of a sponsor, they can play them in India and they can try and see what they can achieve. Players who doesn't have such a strength, with just opening preparation, you cannot make 7 points in a closed tournament. It's really tough. Or if you have good coach with you, then you can also you can go for it.


SA: What are your thoughts on rating tournaments having more prize money than Nationals?

SR: There must be some motto for National Championship, in every tournament there has to be some motto. What is the reason behind organizing a tournament? If there are some reason behind it then people will be very happy. If there is no reason then the people will not be so much happy. So National Championship is a government recognized tournament, they can't give more prize money on that, everybody knows. In open tournaments, players from abroad comes to play and all kids get chances to show their level to the 2600-2700 players. Of course they are making more prize money, that is good. I don't mind it.

I think, now it's better that there is one National than National 'A' and all, what previously used to happen. You come and show, prove how good you are.


SA: Saptarshi Roy is India's 51st Grandmaster of India. How does it sound?

SR: Well it sounds good. But I feel, I deserve to be Grandmaster much more before than 51st. Well I had some financial problems and other things. It's a part of life. So you have to accept it. I have to admit it and you should go ahead with it. In the future also, I will work more and I will not stop myself with just 2400. I want to check myself 100%, what is my real strength and where I can reach, because I believe in chess, age doesn't matter. After all we can see the performance of Viswanathan Anand. He became World Rapid Champion at the age of 48. If anyone says age matters in chess, he is the world's dumbest person for me.


SA: What is your message to the kids and parents as the latest Grandmaster in India?

SR: I want to say one thing to all kids, parents, all talented youngsters and chess players as the latest Grandmaster of India, try to listen to your inner voice, don't listen to others, because you only know what you can achieve and you only know yourself. No one will understand your situation. I believe if the parents give more focus on their kids, the child will play well if their parents support them. If they can arrange coaches during the tournament, I think very easily India can cross Russia in a few years.


SA: Who has the highest chances of becoming the next Grandmaster from West Bengal?

According to Saptarshi, his former prodigy Sayantan Das has the highest chances of becoming the next Grandmaster from West Bengal | Photo: Sayantan Das' facebook

SR: Of course, Sayantan Das is the most talented guy. He got three GM norms. He should reach in that level. He has such a quality which is required in a Grandmaster, because I went to many tournaments with Sayantan and I saw that he has that kind of quality. I don't know who he is working with now. He needs some balance in his game, sort of positions and all. I think he is the most eligible guy.

A few days later, I caught up with Saptarshi Roy at his homecoming in Gorky Sadan.

India's latest Grandmaster Saptarshi Roy with your truly at our childhood stomping ground, Gorky Sadan | Photo: Yandrila Roy

SA: You have won The Telegraph Schools' Chess before and today you have come here as a Chief Guest and after a long time. What memories were going through your mind?

SR: Well I am very glad to be here today, because I saw, many people were playing. The champion (Srijit Paul) was struggling and he played a nice move and then win the tournament. He made 8.5/9. I can remember, in 1999 and 2000, I also made similar score 10.5/11 and won the tournament. It's very nice. I want to congratulate the champion and also the players who secured second and third position. I am really happy to see the same thing again and again.


SA: You have a lot of fond memories of this tournament. Is there any particular game or an opponent of which you have a very good memory?

SR: If you ask me then I will say that I beat Somak Palit in 2000 and 2001 in similar tournament and I won the title. It was a very crucial game for me at that time. Similar game today I also saw, in the end Srijit beat Mitrabha in a similar thing. He was doing a lot of attack. So it is important to me that whoever is the champion should play attacking chess especially on the last day, Srijit did the same. I am very glad to see his game and I would like to congratulate him again.


SA: How was it coming back to Gorky Sadan, a place where you used to learn chess as a kid?

SR: I feel very happy when I used to come here. In 1994, I was very worried whether I will get a chance in Goodricke National Chess Academy or not. Finally I got my chance and my journey started. I came here again and again to achieve a lot of things. So this room, this classroom and everything, all this atmosphere is very very important to me. It reminds my childhood and how to be a champion from this club. So I am one of them and I feel very happy to see the kids that one day they will be the Grandmasters from here.


SA: At what age did you start playing chess?

SR: At the age of 4 I started playing chess at my home. At the age of 6, I came to the club and joined it. Then I started playing from here.


SA: Who was your first chess coach?

SR: My mother is my first chess coach. When I came to Alekhine Chess Club, there were many teachers and they taught me in a nice way.


SA: What are you planning to play next?

SR: This year I have many tournaments in my mind. Maybe in Europe, maybe in USA. Maybe I will decide after I receive my Grandmaster title.


SA: Thank you Saptarshi for speaking with ChessBase India, I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

SR: Thank you so much.


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

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

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