Chennai’s Chess Guru
By Juliana Sridhar

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Grandmaster R.B. Ramesh, the founder of Chess Gurukul took to chess as he was greatly inspired by the success of  Viswanathan Anand. When Anand became a Grandmaster in the year 1988, Ramesh was a 12 year old boy. Before that he was more interested in cricket like other boys of his age.  He did not have any coach and is self taught. He learnt from the chess books that his father bought him and by practice.

Ramesh was born and brought up in Chennai. He has two brothers and the elder brother Prakash also plays chess. He studied in Shrine Vailankanni School till Class 10 and then took a break for a year to focus on chess. He completed his higher secondary education at The Ramakrishna Mission at T. Nagar and later acquired a bachelor’s degree in History through a correspondence course from the University of Madras.

He joined the rolls of Indian Bank in 1994 and worked there for 1 ½ years. He quit when he got a better offer from Indian Oil Corporation in 1996.

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 He was approached by Aarthie’s parents to train her. He coached Aarthie from 1998 and under his dynamic tutelage, she went on to win the World under 18 Championship in 1999. Her success made him realize that he could make a difference to a player. He married his first student Aarthie who had by then become a WGM in 2003 and they have the distinction of being India’s first grandmaster couple.

Ramesh went on to win the British Chess Championship in 2002 and the Commonwealth Chess Championship in 2008.  He resigned from IOC that year and started Chess Gurukul on a full time basis. Ramesh was one of the official commentators for the Fide World Chess Championship which took place in Chennai in November 2013.

The Chess couple has two kids- a son and a daughter. While the daughter has taken after her parents and plays chess, whereas their son plays Table Tennis. Aarthie is an employee of Air India and also manages Chess Gurukul which has about 100 students. Eight of their students have acquired the Grandmaster title so far.

Ramesh has a very busy schedule. He is an early bird and his day begins at 5 a.m. when he gives online coaching to students from the United States. Regular classes in his academy start from 9.30 am in small batches. He has coaches to teach kids who attend classes in the evenings after school. Now due to the pandemic, everything takes place online.

Ramesh recently resigned from his post as selector of the All India Chess Federation just ahead of the Online Chess Olympiad to be held from July 22.  India will be joining the Olympiad in August. He disclosed that no top player was willing to captain the Indian team because the pay is way too low, far below international standards.

According to Ramesh, no chess player has got the Arjuna Award for chess from the year 2013 even though India ranks 4th in the world in Chess out of the 190 chess playing countries and about 1 lakh people play chess in our country with the numbers increasing by the day. Neither have chess coaches received the Dronacharya Award in spite of their students winning numerous medals, titles and bringing laurels to the country.  On the other hand, a lesser known sport like boating is given more prominence.

When I asked him if he has any advice for budding chess players, he said that “Chess is a time intensive field and requires a lot of dedication, hard work and sacrifice. One has to miss out on school and college life, travel often, stay away from family and is mainly for professionals.”

As quoted by Benjamin Franklin, “Life is a kind of Chess, with struggle, competition, good and ill events.” With International Chess Day around the corner, we hope that the government takes stock of the situation and gives chess players and coaches their due recognition.

Juliana Sridhar is a lawyer and columnist

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