Vidit Gujrathi and Tania Sachdev: Tickling the funny bone in the world of chess

Vidit Gujrathi and Tania Sachdev are part of the Indian Olympiad team’s preparatory camp with Grandmaster Boris Gelfand in Chennai. Sportstar sat for a freewheeling chat on various topics, including their growing stature on the social media.

Popular beyond chess: Tania and Vidit are active on social media and interact with their fans frequently.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

They are the finest present-day global ambassadors of Indian chess.

Vidit Gujrathi is ready to take over the baton, long held by Viswanathan Anand, and do his bit to bring in a new audience to the sport.

A regular among the elite players in the cash-rich online Champions Chess Tour, Vidit actively interacts with his fans on YouTube, where this avid streamer connects seamlessly with his fans. He is pleasant, finds himself “very funny” when streaming, and knows the responsibilities towards his growing number of fans.

Tania Sachdev has remained the face of Indian chess for the masses across the nation. Charming, articulate and extremely expressive on screen, this former Asian women’s champion is now among the most recognisable faces for the global chess audience following the Champions Tour’s live broadcast onchess24.com and YouTube.

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Blessed with an uncanny ability to break down tricky chess positions for an average follower, Tania also manages to consistently bring out the best from studio expert Grandmaster Peter Leko. Whether it was the last World Championship title-match from Dubai or the ongoing Champions Tour, Tania has been simply superb.

Recently in Chennai’s Leela Palace, the duo was part of the Indian Olympiad team’s preparatory camp with Grandmaster Boris Gelfand. Sportstar met them for a freewheeling chat on various topics, including their growing stature on the social media.

Vidit goes first... “I think, training by oneself in chess is tough. You can only do some amount of work, but there is some opening work or you have to bounce off ideas, you need people around you. You need the right environment. When you’re at home, there will be some distractions and disturbances that take your focus away. Here, the environment is nice and very conducive for chess preparation. You have people who are constantly talking about chess. Be it over breakfast, lunch, we just speak about it. I think that helps you to get in the right mindset. Of course, we have Boris here and (Viswanathan) Anand came on one of the days. So, their collective experiences add up. It helps, for sure.”

Tania carries it forward... “Definitely the hotel, the atmosphere, having the whole team together really builds up a very good feeling and relationship amongst everyone. I think what really sets this apart has been having Boris and Vishy as mentors. We got to spend a day with Anand and that was extremely special. Having Boris to help us, give his insights is amazing. It’s the first time that we’re all working with him. He’s so invested. You learn not just chesswise, but also how he’s talking about thought-processes and psychology. I think it builds a very good bond within the team.”

It was natural to ask Tania and Vidit about how the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 led to the introduction of top-flight online events and how their presence in the commentary box or YouTube played a part in helping those casual followers of the game understand the nuances of chess and kept them hooked.

Vidit started on a light note... “I agree with you, we are very charming and as you know, we are very funny,” before elaborating on what he really thought happened. “There was a stereotype in the minds of people not from the chess world, who always thought of chess as a very serious game. And people playing that game carry a stereotypical image. What is the modern word for it? Nerd?That’s what they used to say. But then they saw the other side, on stream, where you’re just very light hearted. So I think there was this emotional-connect, apart from the game. The visibility increased, and I could feel it. For instance, when I landed here in Chennai, one person came and said, ‘Are you here for the training camp?’ He even knew there was a training camp. Once in Mumbai airport, somebody said, ‘Oh, you’re in the team, right? All the best… we are rooting for you and India.’ So that’s encouragement. This change came after 2020.”

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Tania connects her love for playing chess with the new-found role. “I’ve always loved playing. But I also love what I do, which is commentating. I wouldn’t say that I am just doing that because tournaments stopped, I do hope that I’m able to do more of it. In fact, for me, it gave me this platform to do so many things, which I just never imagined I would do in my life. Whether being in Dubai for the World Championship, or being a part of the Champions Chess Tour on a regular basis, and just doing so many cool things with them. I don’t see that happened while this was absent. And now I’m going back to it. I really enjoyed doing that (commentary) with this (playing chess) being a constant in my life. Of course, there are the nerves of it, you know, because I haven’t been able to play that much. I played in Reykjavik (recently) after two years and before that the World Team Championship, which was a rapid event. So it’s been a long gap. But to me, it feels like home, like just something that I’ve always enjoyed doing. Tournaments like World Team, or Olympiad, or these Team Championships have always been a very big motivation for me. So I’m really looking forward to it. I think it is just about covering as much ground as I can for now and that’s my personal goal. This makes me feel alive, whether it’s commentary or chess, both give me that feeling.

How does one strike a balance between playing serious chess and commentating on the game or being on social media platforms with the fans?

Tania says, “I think I’ve been very clear that I can’t do both things at the same time. It’s very hard for me. I’m so invested. whether I’m playing or I’m doing commentary. It’s important to do one and chess24 has been amazing. They’re aware that if I made it to the National team, it would be my priority until the Olympiad. I think they’re very happy because they know how much it means to me. I have that flexibility, so that’s not an issue.”

Gearing up: Tania Sachdev and Vidit Gujrathi are in full preparation for the 44th Chess Olympiad to be held in Chennai, from July 28.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

 

Vidit says, “it’s the most challenging thing that I face right now. In 2020, I was extremely active, streaming or being in the social domain. Since there were not many tournaments, it was easier to do so. Post the pandemic, after the world has opened up, it’s becoming very tough to manage both. Both are very demanding jobs. And I realised now that I have to sacrifice something, and have to choose what to sacrifice. So I tried balancing both the things, trying to do best at both. But I realised, it’s like spreading myself too thin. I will have absolutely no energy left and also not do a good job at either of this and be mediocre. So right now, I will be mainly focusing on my training and improving the game. And I’m finding ways to stay connected with the audience and fans, because that’s important.

What does one think of the other as a streamer?

Vidit is quick to respond. “Actually many of my friends have said that Tania is very good at what she does (as a commentator). So I like to pass on this compliment now because during the entire training session, I’ve been really troubling her.”

Tania jumps at this opportunity and urges me, “Please take this on camera, get this on the interview, clip it and ship it.”

A smiling Vidit continues, “Seriously... Tania’s very good and that’s why in every event, she’s there. There’s a reason for that. She keeps it entertaining. She’s also good at finding the moves.”

Tania returns the compliment. “I know so many people in the chess world, but I don’t think anyone does the things that he (Vidit) does better than him. Whether it is streaming or keeping a connect with his fans, I’ve seen how he does it. And I think it’s incredible. I feel this motivates a new generation of players to take up the sport. He also knows his priorities and what he needs to do at a certain time. I’ve seen him cut-off from streaming when there’s an event coming up. I think there’s this very approachable part of him. So I think besides the fact that he lives in Nasik, everything else he does pretty well.

That concluding line triggers off more laughter between these two wonderful communicators. Remember, they also play chess.

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