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Legends uncovered: R.B. Ramesh (3/3)

by Niklesh Jain - 19/06/2017

The third and final part of Ramesh's interview with ChessBase India by Niklesh Jain. In this section coach R.B. Ramesh talks about how ChessBase India has made a positive impace in Indian chess, the most memorable and hilarious moments of his life, how fitness is important for chess players and the correct approach of how the children should be taught chess. Ramesh also talks about his hobbies, family and in the end he signs off by singing a wonderful Hindi song! 23 minutes of video and entire transcript. An interview that you mustn't miss.

Interview with India's super coach R.B. Ramesh Part III

For all those who have missed it, or would like to read it again, here are the first two parts:

Part I  and Part II

Part III

23 minutes of pure wisdom!

 ChessBase India Hindi editor-in-chief Niklesh Jain speaks to R.B. Ramesh at his academy Chess Gurukul in Chennai

Transcript of the interview:

NJ: What is your opinion about ChessBase India? It’s been a year since we are working. Do you think it has made a positive impact in Indian chess?

It's been almost one and a half year since ChessBase India is providing coverage to Indian chess and players

RB: Yeah, of course. It has made a huge impact. In many senses; one, as you have been writing reports in Hindi and we should, in the future, hopefully, if ChessBase India can itself do, or maybe by getting inspired by ChessBase India, more websites can come up where news is given in local languages for people to easily understand, because not everyone is going to be extremely good in English. So we need more local language coverage.


And another thing is that on the ChessBase India website, we give importance to tournaments within India. You have reporters covering all the important tournaments. That is a good thing because when kids see their names on websites, in news reports, it motivates them a lot. You’ve made a very good start. And, the software and other things are available on your website at a cheaper price for Indians if you buy it in India, which is also a positive development because it is not very cheap to buy ChessBase products from the international market; it’s terribly expensive. You’re giving it at a much discounted price for Indians, so that helps to boost chess in the country.

Ramesh on the ChessBase India show with IM Sagar Shah. You download the show for free from the ChessBase India shop

Many more things can be done. I’m sure you are thinking about this. India has a huge need in many areas. So, I think ChessBase India is in the right direction. Slowly you should try to get into other areas as well – like you can give live coverage of Indian tournaments with commentary, publish more Indian author materials. Currently we’re not seeing Indian author materials. Maybe if someone can speak in Tamil or Hindi, instructive videos and interviews can be done in local languages. There’s a lot of scope. With such diversity in languages and ethnicities that we have, there’s a lot of scope for doing more.


NJ: So in future, are we going to see a book by GM RB Ramesh?

RB: Yeah, hopefully. Actually, I have written a book. I want to work on it more. And hopefully, I will be able to publish a book in the future.

[Ed: Ramesh's latest book Fundamental Chess - Logical decision making was released just a few days ago. ChessBase India is in talks with the publisher Metropolitan Chess to make it available to the Indians at a discounted price.]


NJ: If you were to review your life, which moment would come first to your mind?

RB: My childhood was very nice because I was living in a colony where there were around 25 houses and in each house there were at least two kids and every day we would go to the street and play. There wasn’t as much traffic as there is today and security was not a concern. So, I used to play a lot with other kids. I have many pleasant memories from that period. And coming to chess, it was by an accident. One day, in the morning, I saw in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper that the National U-12 is being held in Chennai. I asked my father if I can play. One of the reasons was that I didn’t want to go to school (laughs)!

Ramesh with his parents and family 

My father said, “Let’s go and see”. So we went to the tournament and they said I can pay the donor entry and play because I had not played the State Championship. That was my first tournament and it happened by an accident. And then, I enjoyed the atmosphere. I also was clever enough to understand that I can skip school using this opportunity (laughs). So coming to chess was very important. And the next thing is that as a player I became an IM. That was very important for me. It was a good breakthrough.


And, working with Aarthie, because it brought me into the coaching field. She winning the World U-18 Championship gave me a lot of confidence. And later, marrying her; winning the British Championship in 2002. And I finished 3rd at the Biel Open in 2001. There were around 40+ Grandmasters and I finished third. I was not even a Grandmaster at the time. So that was also very special.


Winning the British Open with a last round win against Luke McShane was a big achievement in Ramesh's chess playing career

Leaving chess as a player and also quitting my job at the same time was a very tough decision. When I told my friends that I will not be playing chess anymore, they did not believe me. They said, “Okay, I’ll meet you in the next tournament,” (laughs). But I kept my word. I’m playing very occasionally and just for fun. Quitting chess as a player and quitting my job was an important decision. Now, I feel, it was a good decision.

The FIDE Trainer's certificate awarded to Ramesh

As a coach, I have a lot of pleasant memories. I don’t even know if I can remember them all. But let me try! When Monisha won the National Championship, and then Michelle, Mahalaxmi…  all these girls won many tournaments; they won medals at the World Youth Championships. It was very nice. And a big moment was when, two years back, all the players who won gold for India at the World Youth Championship were from our academy, Chess Gurukul. So we got five gold medals. And Divya and Leon won bronze medals as well. So we got seven medals out of eleven. That was a very happy moment.

Five gold medals at World Youth 2015 and all five players from Chess Gurukul

When Aravindh Chithambaram became a GM… I feel like a father to him; he’s like my own son. So, it was very sentimental also for me to see him become a GM and seeing that he’s now, I think 2588 or so. I have seen him go through some painful moments in chess; I was there with him. Praggnanandhaa becoming and IM as well at such a young age is tremendous. There are many other kids and they are all very sincere and hardworking like Bharat Subramaniyam, Trish Kartik, Raahul VS. I am just feeling happy and blessed to have got an opportunity to work with such sincere and talented kids. So I hope I can do justice to their trust.

Ramesh is just happy to be in midst of the talented and fun loving youngsters!


NJ: How do you teach the importance of physical fitness to your students?

RB: I think physical fitness is extremely important and it is not easy to explain this to chess players. So it’s almost impossible to convince others that chess players need fitness! (laughs). But even as a coach, I feel, physical fitness is important because, for example, if I ask a player to carry 25 cans of water from here to there, he will find it difficult if he isn’t exercising; if he has done a lot of physical work, he can do it easily. What we are talking about is the physical weight, the physical pressure. But mental pressure is also huge for a chess player. And if your body is not fit, you are more likely to collapse under pressure. I feel body and mind are interconnected; they are almost the same thing. So we need to be physically fit to ensure that we are able to handle pressure during games well.


Hide and seek at Ramesh's academy!

I have seen that many players collapse during the end of the tournament. They may play well in the first seven rounds, but in the eighth or ninth round, when they have to win, they are not able to because they cannot handle the pressure. And it’s not just the pressure; they are also physically and mentally tired because of having played so many games already. Also sometimes, the last round is in the morning after all rounds being held in the evening. In such situations, if you are not physically fit, it’s not easy to adapt quickly to such changes. To do well, even towards the last rounds, you have to be physically fit.


I think, after the age of fifteen, all players who are serious should consider to start doing Yoga (that’s the best, I would suggest). Yoga and meditation are both I think very important. Meditation gives you a calm mind, improves your concentration, and you also feel good about yourself. So, in our academy, we’ve had some trainers come from Art of Living and they have been teaching the meditation process to all the major players like Aravindh Chithambaram, Praggnanandhaa and others. They all meditate regularly on a daily basis… and most of the other kids also. I’m, in fact, doing it as an experiment to see what effect meditation has.

Surya Namaskar or the sun salutations is an excellent set of postures to keep yourself fit. Did you know Abhijit Kunte prepared himself for a grueling simultaneous exhibition with this exercise! 

Yoga, I suggest, because when players reach a higher level, they start playing in Europe. There, the weather can be very cold during the winter months. And if you are going to do any sport activity outside, you may not be able to handle the cold. Yoga is something you can do irrespective of what the weather is outside. You could just be in your room and do this exercise. And you don’t need any equipment to do it. For that reason, I suggest Yoga. And if you can combine it with meditation, that would be good. Otherwise you can go to a gym and do workouts. But not weight lifting or something of that sort, but maybe cardio, jogging or something that builds our stamina. If you have a good, strong heart, you can handle pressure better.


NJ: Were there any funny moments in your life which you can still remember and make you smile?

RB: There are many, but most of them involve personalities. Once, I remember, in Calcutta, there were some foreign players playing. And in those days, foreign players in India were like Gods (laughs). So these guys were playing and one foreign player had some issue. So he raised his hand and asked for the arbiter.  One guy came to him and asked, “What do you want?” The foreign player asked, “Where’s the arbiter? Who is the arbiter?” and then this guy answered, “I is the arbiter” (laughs). Then he said, “You are the arbiter?” and the guy replied, “Yes, I are the arbiter” (laughs heartily). This incident I still remember and it always brings a smile. But there are many incidents as such.

The interviewer with the interviewee at the TATA Open in 2003!

NJ: These days, children don’t want to sit at the board. They just want to play very fast. Even though they have learnt a lot, they are not able to use their skill during the game. What would you suggest to such kids?

RB: Yes, the first thing is that the most important thing in a coach’s job, I think, is not teaching chess. I think teaching chess is easy if we prepare the child to learn chess. So in the first few sessions, for the first one month or so, when a coach starts working with a child, he should prepare the child for the chess learning which is going to come later. It is something like, if you plant a seed on rock, it is not going to grow. First, you have to prepare the soil: you have to till the soil; take out the stones; put some manure; pour some water; see that there is shade; see that the animals don’t come and eat it. So you have to prepare the place first. And once the place is ready, you plant the seed and pour water regularly; the tree will grow faster and safe.


In the same way, what we need to teach the child is, one, that the love for the game should never be lost. And it will be lost if the child starts playing for the result alone. Sadly, that’s what happens with many kids. They lose interest or motivation after a few years of hard-work because it is too much for the child to take. And they feel they don’t want to do this. They get to that stage very fast. We have to see that we keep telling the child that you are doing it because you like to do this; you want to do this. We should ask the child if he/she really wants to do this stuff. And if the child likes the game, he/she will soon realize that he/she must love the game no matter what.

An example of how Ramesh still loves chess is the picture above. When Jacob Aagaard camp was held in Chess Gurukul, Ramesh too became a student!

Even when they go through some difficult moment; even when they get some bad results, they should still love this game. That will give the child the strength to go through these bad moments; it will give them the strength to work hard at home. I remember, once, a Grandmaster rated around 2580 said that seeing chess at home is boring. He was the World Junior Champion at the time. If at that level, they feel that seeing chess at home is boring and not easy, we can easily imagine how difficult it is for a small child who has not had much success.


It is not easy for a child to sit alone and see chess. It is the love for the game that will give the strength to see it and feel, ‘I like this; so I’m going to do it”. We have to teach the child that. That no matter what happens with the result; your love for the game should not change. It should grow even stronger. It is something like the mother’s love for her child or the family. No matter if the child doesn’t have a leg or hand; the mother will still love the child. That gives the mother the strength to take care of the child. So in a similar way, we need to love the game. If the coach loves the game, it is easier to show the child that the coach is doing it because he likes to do it. If I show this to my students, they will get inspired. They would also want to do it. So, we have to be an example for the child. The coaches also should not coach only for money. If they do it only for money, the child will also realize that the connection is not there. It has to be from your heart;  it cannot be faked.


The other thing is that you have to teach the child that he must have high ambitions – to become a World Champion or a Grandmaster or whatever. But we know from our experience that not everyone is going to become a World Champion. Only one person in the whole world is going to be the World Champion. So why do all other players play chess? Because everyone wants to become a World Champion. We have to realize that everyone wants to be the best but it is not a requirement or a compulsion that you have to be the best. So why do you play chess? Why should you work so hard? One, when anything, not just chess – even the job of a security guard or a sweeper, or a driver – is done with full sincerity and devotion and passion, it will give you tremendous satisfaction; when we do something from the heart. So if we can teach the child to learn chess from the heart, to play chess from the heart and not just for results, ultimately the results will come.

The young mind is fresh. A good coach can groom it in a proper way. 

In my opinion, result is like a shadow and our effort is our body. When we walk, the shadow follows us. We don’t follow the shadow. We never think that since the shadow is going to the right, we should take a right. The shadow should follow us. In the same way, our effort should lead and the result should follow like a shadow. We should always teach the child to focus on his efforts. We can see many kids, when they are playing in the tournament, they are looking at other boards. They are not giving their best – they are walking around. I’m not saying you should not walk around or look at other boards, but there should be some self-control as well. When you need to go to your game, you should be able to go to your game and start concentrating. But if one is very young and is concentrating on other boards, he may not get that concentration back immediately when he comes and sits on his board. So we have to teach the child the importance of good concentration.


Ramesh and Venkatesh analyzing with complete focus 

For example, when I teach my children, if there’s a noise or some guests have come and there is noise in the next flat or something, I just continue as though nothing has happened. And through that I want to teach the students that if it doesn’t disturb me, it shouldn’t disturb you as well. This way we have to teach the students that no matter what is happening around you, you should concentrate on the job. Nothing should disturb your concentration.


Once, I was working with some American students in the US, some ten years ago. When I was taking the class, suddenly, all the kids were doing like this (makes hand gestures). And I asked what is happening. And they told me there is a fly (laughs)! I had not even noticed that there was a fly because I was fully concentrated in the class. But all these kids noticed the fly and were trying to chase it away. This shows how fragile concentration can be, And if your concentration is not good, you are not going to learn much. So we have to teach children the importance of good concentration, the importance of liking what you do, the importance of giving your best and even if after you give your best, you don’t get good results, you still have to keep giving your best.


It is something like if the mother cooks food and the child doesn’t like it, she will still try to cook food the next day. She will not say that the child didn’t like the food so she will not cook. The same way, if I lose today, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to give my best tomorrow. So in each round, irrespective of the result, the child has to give his best.These are the qualities, I think, which a coach and a parent should get in the mind of the child. And it’s very easy to teach these things to the child because they are not yet corrupt; their mind is pure when they are young. It is very easy to teach these things to a child than a parent. So if we can teach them these things and then teach them chess, they will learn faster. That’s what I believe.


NJ: Apart from chess, what do you like to do?

RB: I like to listen to music a lot – all types of music. Not western though. In western, I have very few preferences. But I like all kinds of Indian music in all languages. Whenever I get free time, I try to listen to music. And I try to do it with my kids because they also love music. I also like swimming and reading books. These are my three passions.


NJ: You’re also a father now. How do you manage family and chess training?

RB: I have recently moved my house to right above my academy. I don’t have to travel much. So I get to spend more time with my kids and my family. That is one of the best moments in my life – spending time with family. These days I am not taking classes in the evenings as often as I used to, so I could spend more time with the kids.

First priority for Ramesh is his family (photo: Amruta Mokal)


NJ: Do you watch movies?

RB: No we don’t watch movies that much. In our home, we don’t watch TV that much. We try to avoid TV as much as possible. We have a place to play, we have 3-4 car parks since ours is empty. So we play some hide and seek, running and catching, or we pour water to the plants. We have a small garden. So we pour water, make some manure for the plants, and those type of things.


And in the academy, there are always young kids around. So we play with the academy kids also. There are many pillars and all to hide around. I think, I like to spend time like that.


NJ: Any song that inspires you or you love to listen to?

RB: (laughs) When I was a player, I used to listen to songs almost every day. But after becoming a coach, I am not finding much time. In the last 8 – 10 years, I haven’t listened to as much music as I would have liked to. In the last one year, I have been listening to some songs. And yeah, there are many songs that I like.


NJ: Any one that you can sing for us…

RB: You really want to go through this? (laughs)… okay one line maybe (sings Mere Naina Sawan Bhadon).

Don't miss out on Ramesh singing from 22 minutes onwards

A huge thanks to videographer Ashok Kumar (left) and Puneet Jaiswal (right) for their help in interviewing one of the greatest trainers of our era.

A special thanks to Aditya Pai who transcribed the entire interview.


Video of Part I:

Video of Part II:

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