Chess captain Vidit Gujrathi: Historic move up

Team India's chess captain, Vidit Gujrathi, is on cloud nine after leading a 12-member team to its maiden gold medal, jointly shared with Russia in the 2020 Online Chess Olympiad on Sunday. Both nations were declared winners by the game's world governing body, FIDE, after a disconnection with the server led to the Indians losing momentum in the final.

"This win is a historic move up for Indian chess," said Grand Master Gujrathi, 25, a Nashik resident and the youngest Indian to enter the 2700 Elo club (rating system) two years ago. India's best finish at the Olympiad till date was a bronze medal won in 2014.

"This was a total team effort. In nearly every match, both the junior and senior players rose to the occasion to put their best foot forward," added Gujrathi, who has a current world ranking of 24 and is No. 3 in the country.

Tough draw

India were seeded seventh at the event with an average rating of 2419 and placed in Pool A alongside formidable teams like China and Georgia apart from Vietnam, Germany, Iran, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Zimbabwe. As per the event's rules, each team had to include one male and one female player aged 20 years or less besides its senior male and female members. The top three teams from each of the three pools advanced to the knockouts.

Gujrathi relished the challenge of mentoring the junior members. "Senior players like [Viswanathan] Anand [a five-time World Champion] need not be told anything but you need to constantly interact with juniors. You have to mentor them. Decision-making and problem solving are some of the core areas you need to focus on as captain," explained Gujrathi, who has been practising at home for seven hours a day during this Coronavirus-caused lockdown.

Meditation, key to success

Meditation is the key to success in such high pressure events, said Gujrathi. "Meditation has always been my way of relaxing. I have been doing it a lot more across the last couple of years. Both, the semi-final [against Poland] and the final, were very high pressure matches in this Olympiad, but my meditative techniques helped me prepare and compete better," said Gujrathi, who began his international career over a decade back by winning the U-12 Commonwealth title followed by a gold medal in the U-14 World Championships.

Born to doctor parents, mum Nikita and dad Santosh, Gujrathi has struggled to get a permanent sponsor despite having enjoyed some support from ONGC and Lakshya foundation over the years. Only recently did he manage to bag permanent sponsorship - a five-year endorsement deal with Black Lotus - a leading meditation app. This has resulted in better performances for the youngster, who is now aiming to make it to the world's Top 10.

So, what does he prefer, traditional chess or this online version? "Professionally, I prefer the traditional format of the game but given the home comfort it offers, the online version is tempting too," he said.

Last year, on his father's 60th birthday, Gujrathi had gifted him a car. This year, the Olympiad final was on his father's 61st birthday and Dr Santosh could not have asked for a better gift than this gold medal.

Team India:
Vidit Gujrathi (captain), Viswanathan Anand, Pendyala Harikrishna, Koneru Humpy, Dronavalli Harika, R. Vaishali, Bhakti Kulkarni, Nihal Sarin, R. Praggnanandhaa, Aravindh Chithambaram, R Vaishali, Bhakti Kulkarni, Divya Deshmukh and Vantika Agrawal.

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