Kolkata: Mumbai youngsters have done India proud on several occasions in foreign shores in the last few years. Many of them were from chess and from South Mumbai Chess Academy (SMCA). Thanks to innovative techniques introduced by chief coach of the academy FIDE master Balaji Guttula, his wards did make some heads turn of late. SportsCrunch catches up with the coach to throw some light on what’s the road to success.
What according to you is the perception of the sport in India?
Chess like any other game needs a lot of hours to be invested in. No matter how smart you are, only 10 percent talent is what matters. Rest 90 percent is all hard work. We make sure that the training methods are very systematic. Initially when we take in a four year old, we make sure that he develops an interest for the game and later on, we push to an extent where they would want to pursue the game very sincerely, like sacrificing all the other games for chess.
Whenever we refer to chess, we refer to South India. Why this is so?
This is a common perception in India that the people coming from south are into education and are brainy people. Along with this, the fact that Vishwanathan Anand, who has been India’s number 1 and a world champion for over four decades now. When he started, they were very few people who took up this sport but with Anand’s presence, and the charisma he has many has taken up the game.
Going by talent, how rich is Mumbai?
Speaking of Mumbai, many school going children take up the game but by the time they reach the seventh eighth standards, due to the pressure of studies, they give up the game. Those who have made a mark for themselves in the sport are those who have been successful when they were 12 or 13. There is this boy named Shiven Khosla, who is 20 years old now. He had won the national u-11 championship and the Asian championship. By the time he was 14, he won the IM ( International Grandmaster) title. He has broken a lot of records but when he was 14, he shifted his focus to studies and then he had to quit the game. Children who come from metro cities have always pursued this game wholeheartedly until they started to become serious about their studies. After that they have either slowed down on the game or have completely taken a break.
For our academy, 80 percent of the coaches are from South India. There are very well-trained coaches from Andhra Pradesh, who come and coach here.
How different is SMCA from other coaching institutes?
We always focus on the individual rather than the group. In South India and the other places, the kids are taught in a group. There are game rooms where 8-10 children learn together. But when it comes to us, we have deployed enough coaches to focus on each child specifically to find out their deficiencies and remove them.
As a coach, how do you motivate the children when they are not playing well or aren’t able to concentrate?
The best way to motivate children is to create a love for the game. Sometimes, we share stories of the travails that former grandmasters or champions have gone through to reach to a certain level. We also make sure that they are involved with the game because to be successful, they not only need proper training but also an involvement with the game. We also provide them with tournament exposure so that they remain involved with the game.
SMCA is one of the premier chess coaching institutes in the country and has already won a lot of medals and titles for India. How do you manage it?
Even though we handle a big number, there are around 35 coaches who currently work with us at the SMCA. When we started, there were only one or two coaches but in the last two years itself, we have taken in 10 coaches because of the increasing demand for the game. We have students from Singapore, US, Jamshedpur, Chennai and Surat. They come to chess centres in Mumbai, do a crash course here for 10 days and then go back and do well. We also have an online coaching system. The reason why many people train with us is because we have a customized syllabus for each child. It’s not like that we have a single syllabus for all but we look into each child’s attributes, thinking, their nature and prepare a syllabus for them which would go on for 2 years.
What are your future plans for this institution? As a chief coach of one of the world’s leading chess academies, what are your goals for the country?
We are opening full-fledged academies in Singapore and Hong Kong and we are also planning to open centres in Kolkata, Surat, Hyderabad and Chennai which will be in place in the next three months. We have also identified some local coaches who have shown interest to work with us and we also have experienced coaches who would go and lead first, describing them the coaching culture at the SMCA.
Anybody wants to bring laurels to the country through the children. Chess isn’t an Olympic sport but is competed at a very high level. Over 100 countries participate in kids tournaments and India has been getting a lot of medals in the u-8, u-10 and u-12 competitions. But if we take a look at the higher categories i.e the open categories, then there haven’t been many who has led the charge other than Anand. The young generation needs to be moulded and turned into champions.
The challenge is to pursue the game to a point where someone can replace Anand because Anand is at a point where he is not in a position to lead, like how he used to do before. He has been there at the top for many years now but my objective is to earn as many medals as possible as India to put the country on the international map at the number one position.