The inaugural edition of the Global Chess League (GCL) is underway, with Viswanathan Anand’s Ganges Grandmaster (GG) leading the six-team pack with nine points through three wins from as many matches after the third day.
On day four, the unbeaten Ganges’ fortunes changed when upGrad Mumba Masters (UMM), which had struggled to find its form early on, defeated the table-topper in match 11 with an 11-6 score to move into second place.
Mumba began the season with a close 8-7 win over Triveni Continental Kings but then suffered a crushing 5-14 defeat against Balan Alaskan Knights before drawing 6-6 with Chingari Gulf Titans in the third game.
Mumba enjoys the services of Frenchman Maxime Vachier-Lagrave on the top board as icon and Alexander Grischuk with three Indians - Vidit Gujrathi, Koneru Humpy and Harika Dronavalli - in the middle and Javokhir Sindarov, the 2022 Olympiad gold medallist as prodigy player.
Managing the star-studded team is N Srinath. Coming with a wealth of experience in coaching teams in elite tournaments, the 46th GM of India took charge to assemble one of the most balanced teams in the league.
The captain of the Indian team, which won the gold medal in the 2020 Chess Olympiad, Srinath, is well aware of the nuances of coaching in team events.
The former U-12 world champion spoke about his team’s performance, coaching experience and GCL in an exclusive interaction with Sportstar.
Q. Are you happy with the performance of Mumba and where the team stands after the first few rounds?
I’m pleased with where we (UMM) stand after the first few rounds. Pretty much all the teams who have come together in the league have a team unit for the first time with this set of individuals. So, usually, bonding takes some time, but I think it’s going well. I believe we are one of the most united teams in the league, the team bonding and player rapport are outstanding.
Even though it is early in the season, the team spirit is high. The crucial games will come later in the second half, so I think we’re off to a good start.
Q. The team looks solid on all the boards. What’s your thought about the team balance?
One of the things we are proud of is our team balance, which I believe is fairly balanced across all six boards. When you look at it, we don’t have any particular weak boards or weaknesses, which is true for almost every team in the league. However, we are generally pleased with the unit we have on each of the boards.
Q. You are very close with Vidit on and off the field. Does having this good camaraderie with your teammate help in preparation?
It makes a lot of difference because, in my experience, I think it’s important to feel good as a unit. In that sense, being with someone with whom I already have a good connection does a lot of the job by itself. It helps a lot in pre-game as well, and it also has an influence on the overall team results.
Q. Your views on the GCL?
I think it’s an exciting concept. You can see how these leagues affect other sports, such as the Indian Premier League in cricket and the Pro Kabaddi League, so having something like the GCL is a game-changer on many levels.
The financial aspect of expanding the reach of various players. Also, the exposure gained by each of the players, such as the Indian youngsters like (D) Gukesh and Arjun (Erigaisi) rubbing shoulders with someone like Magnus (Carlsen). It provides numerous advantages in a variety of ways. Of course, you can improve a lot of things, but the fact that something happened for the first time is important, and I believe it is a good first step.
Q. Could you elaborate your role in the team?
My role began with assembling this team, beginning with the auction and draft picks and progressing to doing what I would do at the Olympiad and captaining the team. It’s all about putting the team strategies together, assisting each player with their preparation if they need it, and doing all of the typical things that a team coach would do.
Q. How challenging is it to captain the team and do what you do behind the scene?
I’m enjoying the process so far. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of teams. When assembling a group for a team-based competition, one of the most important things is to have good team spirit.
I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have been a part of teams where there was always a good spirit, and I didn’t have to do much to foster that. The people have been wonderful. They prioritise the needs of the teams over anything else. Conflicts or disagreements have been minimal, with nothing that cannot be resolved in a five-minute conversation.
Q. Grischuk and Harika are in supreme form, scoring nine points each in four games, while Vidit and Humpy are struggling to register a win. Are you worried about individual team players’ performance?
I’m not overly concerned. Some of the players are taking their time getting into the swing of things. Vidit had a good game against (Teimour) Radjabov, but couldn’t convert the chances he created. He also had a pretty good position against Wei Yi before losing it in the final moments, but it’s not because he’s been out of shape or playing poorly.
It took Humpy and Javokhir a few games to get into the groove. But their display was much better in the latter half. Humpy was dominating her game against Alexandra Kosteniuk but she couldn’t close it out, but she was creating opportunities, which is the first step towards victory. Javokhir had to defend a difficult position against Nihal while also playing a very good game in order to save his game. He got caught up in his opponent’s preparation and fought exceedingly well to save it. Sometimes it takes a while to get ready, but I believe today’s game was a positive step in that direction, and given enough time, particularly in the second half of the tournament, I am confident that our players will hit the peak at the right moment.
Q. You have coached and played with Indian youngsters like Arjun, Nihal and Gukesh. Does that give you an advantage, considering you know their playing style?
I think it does help. In particular with just the people I’ve worked with, being in the thick of things, being aware of all the different players at this level, it makes a difference, but albeit it’s a minor one because if you see most of the matches they get decided in one or two critical games in critical moments. So you can make one of the best strategies out of the world, the best prep, but it really comes down to who plays better, who plays stronger and takes those critical moments under pressure.
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