They are the best global ambassadors of Indian chess today.
Vidit Gujrathi is ready to take over the baton long held by Viswanathan Anand and do his part in attracting new audiences to the sport.
Vidit is a regular among the elite players on the moneyed online Champions Chess Tour and actively engages with its fans youtube, where this avid streamer connects seamlessly with their fans. He is likeable, finds himself “very funny” when streaming and knows the responsibility towards his growing fan base.
Tania Sachdev has remained the face of Indian chess for the masses across the country. Charming, articulate and extremely expressive on screen, this former Asian Women’s Champion is now one of the most recognizable faces for the global chess audience watching the live broadcast of the Champions Tourchess24.com and youtube.
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Blessed with an uncanny ability to break down tricky chess positions for the average follower, Tania also manages to consistently bring out the best in studio expert Grandmaster Peter Leko. Whether it was the last World Championship match in Dubai or the ongoing Champions Tour, Tania was just great.
Recently, the duo were part of the Indian Olympic team’s pre-camp with Grandmaster Boris Gelfand at Leela Palace in Chennai. sports star caught up with her for a casual chat about a variety of topics, including her growing prominence on social media.
Vidit goes ahead… “I think training alone in chess is hard. You can work just a little but there’s a little bit of opening work or you have to bounce ideas, you need people around you. You need the right environment. When you are at home there are some distractions and disturbances that affect your concentration. The environment here is beautiful and very conducive to chess preparation. You have people talking about chess all the time. Be it breakfast, lunch, we just talk about it. I think that helps you get into 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 definitely helps.”
Tania continues… “Definitely the hotel, the atmosphere, having the whole team together really builds a very good feeling and relationship between everyone. I think what really made that stand out was having Boris and Vishy as mentors. We were allowed to spend a day with Anand and that was something very special. Having Boris helping us and giving his insight is amazing. It’s the first time we’re all working with him. He’s so invested. Not only do you learn chess, you also learn how he talks about thought processes and psychology. I think it builds a very good bond within the team.”
It made sense to ask Tania and Vidit how the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 led to the launch of high-profile online events and how their presence in the comment box and in youtube played a role in helping these casual followers of the game understand the nuances of chess and kept them hooked.
Vidit began on a light note… “I agree with you, we’re very charming and as you know, we’re very funny,” before elaborated on what he thought really happened. “There was a cliché in the minds of people who didn’t come from the chess world, that chess was always a very serious game. And people who play this game carry a stereotypical image. What’s the modern word for it? Nerd? That’s what was said before. But then they saw the other side, in the current, where you’re just very carefree. So I think there was that emotional connection, apart from the game. Visibility increased and I could feel it. For example, when I landed here in Chennai, a person came and said, ‘Are you here for the training camp?’ He even knew there was a training camp. Once at Mumbai airport, someone said, “Oh, you’re on the team, right? All the best… cheering for you and India.” So that’s encouragement. This change came after 2020.”
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Tania combines her love of chess with the newfound role. “I’ve always loved to play. But I also love what I do, which is commenting. I wouldn’t say I’m just doing this because tournaments stopped, I hope to do more of it. In fact, this platform gave me to do so many things I never imagined I would do in my life. It doesn’t matter if they are in Dubai for the World Championship or they are regulars at the Champions Chess Tour and just doing so many cool things with them. I don’t see that happening during this absence. And now I’m resorting to it. I really enjoyed doing this (comment) as this (playing chess) is a constant in my life. Of course the nerves are there, you know, because I couldn’t play that much. I played (recently) in Reykjavik after two years and before that the World Team Championship which was a fast event. So it was a long gap. But for me it feels like home, like something I’ve always loved to do. Tournaments like World Team or Olympiad or these team championships have always been a great motivation for me. So I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s just about covering as much ground as possible at the moment and that’s my personal goal. It makes me feel alive, commentary or chess both give me that feeling.
How do you balance playing serious chess with commenting on the game or with fans on social media platforms?
Tania says: “I think I made it very clear that I can’t do both at the same time. It is very difficult for me. I’m so invested. whether I play or whether I comment. It is important to do a and Chess24 was amazing. They know that if I make the national team it would be my priority until the Olympics. I think they are very happy because they know how much it means to me. I have that flexibility so it’s not a problem.”
Preparation: Tania Sachdev and Vidit Gujrathi are preparing intensively for the 44th Chess Olympiad, which will take place in Chennai on July 28th. – B. Jothi Ramalingam
Vidit says: “It’s the biggest challenge I’m facing at the moment. In 2020 I’ve been extremely active, whether streaming or social. Since there weren’t many tournaments, it was easier to do this. After the pandemic, after the world opens up, it will be very difficult to manage both. Both are very demanding jobs. And I now realized that I have to sacrifice something and I have to choose what I sacrifice. So I tried to balance both and try to do my best on both. But I realized it’s like spreading myself too thin. I will have absolutely no energy left and will not do well at both and be mediocre. So now I’m mainly concentrating on my training and improving the game. And I find ways to connect with the audience and the fans because that’s important.
As a streamer, what do you think of the other?
Vidit responds quickly. “In fact, a lot of my friends have said that Tania is very good at what she does (as a commentator). So now I’m happy to pass on that compliment because I really tormented her throughout the training session.”
Tania seizes the opportunity and urges me, “Please capture this, take it to the interview, crop it and mail it.”
A smiling Vidit continues: “Seriously… Tania is very good and that’s why she’s in every event. There’s a reason for that. She thinks it’s entertaining. She’s also good at finding trains.”
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) can do better than him. Whether it’s streaming or staying in touch with his fans, I’ve seen him do it. And I find it incredible. I think that motivates a new generation of players to take up the sport. He also knows his priorities and what he needs to do at any given time. I’ve seen him cut off from streaming when an event is coming up. I think there’s this very accessible part of him. So I think apart from living in Nasik, he does everything else pretty well.
That final line sparks even more laughter between these two wonderful communicators. Remember, they also play chess.