Vaishali feels more secure in her own identity and performance now: coach RB Ramesh

In an interaction with  Sportstar, Ramesh shared insights about Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali, the talented brother-sister pair that has qualified for the Candidates tournament.

Published : Dec 20, 2023 22:27 IST , CHENNAI - 7 MINS READ

FILE PHOTO: R.B. Ramesh with R. Praggnanandhaa (right) and R. Vaishali.
FILE PHOTO: R.B. Ramesh with R. Praggnanandhaa (right) and R. Vaishali. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

FILE PHOTO: R.B. Ramesh with R. Praggnanandhaa (right) and R. Vaishali. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU

Indian Grandmaster and coach R.B. Ramesh inaugurated the sixth round of the Chennai Grand Masters 2023 at the Leela Palace here on Wednesday. 

Renowned coach of the sibling duo R. Vaishali and R. Praggnanandhaa, Ramesh is set to be conferred with the prestigious Dronacharya Award.

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For the past 15 years, Ramesh has been running Chess Gurukul, a chess training academy that has produced numerous Grandmasters in India.

In an interaction with  Sportstar, during the penultimate round of the GM tournament, Ramesh shared insights about Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali, the talented brother-sister pair that has qualified for the Candidates tournament.


Q. How pleased are you with Vaishali’s progress in the recent past? 

I am very happy to see that Vaishali is doing well. She’s always had potential, and when we first started working together, probably 10 years ago, Pragg wasn’t the better player of the two. Vaishali had a 300-400 point advantage over Pragg. After a few years, Pragg became the youngest International Master at the age of 10, and from there he began to overtake in terms of performance and rating. This had some kind of a negative impact on Vaishali because, earlier, Pragg was known as Vaishali’s brother. 

But now, Vaishali was known as Pragg’s sister. So this change was a bit tough on her. But now she’s outgrown these inhibitions and feels more secure in her own identity and performance, which I think is a big plus. She’s more confident in herself. Her last few months have been incredible. She has won the Grand Swiss, earned the GM title, and qualified for the candidates, so everything is falling into place. 

Q. FIDE recently refused to recognise a tournament organised by Alireza Firouzja and stated that it reserves the right not to rate a specific tournament. What are your thoughts on that?

 There are many angles on this issue. So, on the one hand, there is a valid concern that an official body should not encourage tournaments to be organised to favour one particular player, which I believe is very much agreeable for everyone. For example, the Chennai GM tournament is not done favouring one particular player. It’s an equal field where many strong players are participating. And the best player wins.

Q. What makes this event different from the one in France?

If you look at the rating difference here, you’ll notice that the average rating is above 2700, and the rating difference between the top seed and the lower seed will be no more than 20-30 points. As a result of the level playing field, there is no clear favourite. However, in the other tournament, one player is very highly rated and the other players are a few hundred rating points below, which raises some aspirations from certain quarters.

Q. Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali will both compete in the Candidates 2024 in Canada. Have you set up any camps for both of them? 

We cannot discuss too much in public, but yes, we are putting together a team in place for both the players. We already had one camp for them and it will be ongoing. They will also be playing some tournaments in between. The Candidates is an important tournament, but not the end of the world. So, It will also be part of the long-term preparation.

Q. How would you rate and analyse Praggnanandhaa’s recent meteoric rise?

Pragg was stuck around 2690 for six to eight months, which was a tough period for him. However, he began to perform very well after the Dubai Global Chess League. Earlier, he was making a lot of draws and not getting many wins, but he started winning more. He won a very strong closed invitational tournament in Hungary. After that, he did well in most tournaments, including the World Cup, where he reached the finals after defeating Fabiano (Caruana), Hikaru (Nakamura), Arjun Erigaisi, David Navara, and these guys.

Q. Is there anything specific about Praggnanandhaa’s development over the years, or any notable quality he’s acquired that has made him better?

Chess-wise, he has been evolving from the beginning. Earlier, his endgames were not good, his openings were not very good, and so were his defensive skills. His positional strength also had some issues, but he was good in calculations, attack and his memory was good... so there were many strengths and some areas that need to be worked upon.

At every point, he was improving in certain areas, like when he became an IM and then a GM and then reached 2600...2700. He has been making some progress in the other aspects of the game where he was not very strong earlier. It took him two to three years to build a very comprehensive...very broad opening repertoire because, at a high level, they can play too many openings and you need to have more than three or four solutions against each of the setups. That means you have to process a lot of information, understand, and remember them, which is very difficult. But in his case, he has a fantastic memory, so he’s able to remember the relevant ones.

One of his main problem areas, openings, has become one of his strengths in recent years. And his defensive abilities have vastly improved. He is now a very good defender, possibly one of the best. Perhaps the top three. His endgame strategy has also improved. Now, I believe he is a more or less complete player with a lot of strength, and we just need to amplify those strengths... we are probably in that phase.

Q. It’s not easy to get into invitational tournaments these days. In 2022, Praggnanandhaa competed in the Champions Chess Tour. Do you think it helped him improve because he was constantly up against top players? 

Getting invitations to play against strong players is very important and not very easy. Many players between the levels of 2600 and 2730-2740 complain that they do not receive enough invitations to play against the world’s best players. Pragg was invited to play on the Champions Tour. There was a qualification cycle, and he easily won the tournament, qualifying for the Champions Chess Tour. We had this discussion after he earned a spot in CCT, and we agreed that we would not miss out on most of the FIDE-rated tournaments, and that was the price we had to pay.

But on the other hand, he was competing against these top-rated guys almost on a monthly basis, even though it’s a rapid online format. To prepare to compete at this level, we had to raise our game many notches, so we felt this was a very good opportunity... that caused us to make a lot of changes in our approach to openings, so we had to quickly broaden the number of openings we play, and our general approach to the game itself changed drastically. In such a strong field, he had finished third, behind Magnus (Carlsen) and (Jan-Krzysztof) Duda. So, while he played fewer FIDE-rated tournaments, he gained a lot of experience, which is still helping him a lot.

Q. Regarding Praggnanandhaa’s current rating, you mentioned it doesn’t truly reflect his strength. What do you believe his real strength and rating would be at this moment?

It’s best not to think in those terms... like trying to guess his true strength and rating. It’s better to believe that he hasn’t reached his peak than to admit that this is his rating and that is his strength because that limits the scope for growth. It’s better to keep that part open and see how far he can go. 

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