'It was a really nice feeling to play against a player to whom you look up to.'
India chess captain Vidit Gujrathi is on cloud nine after leading the team, that consists of greats such as Viswanathan Anand and Koneru Humpy, to the historic gold at the recently concluded FIDE Online Chess Olympiad after India were declared joint winners alongside Russia.
From getting an autograph of Anand to playing alongside him, Gujrathi has been impressive. During a freewheeling chat with India paddler Mudit Dani on his show In the Sportlight, the 25-year-old Gujrathi shared a memory of beating Anand for the first time, in the 14th round of the Tata Steel India Blitz Grand Chess Tour in Kolkata in 2019 and termed it as a special moment of his career.
"It was a really nice feeling to play against a player to whom you look up to. I was in the Indian Top-5 but never got a chance to play against him so I was thinking that I'm missing out on that experience. It was 2018 when the first time I played against Anand. It is a different feeling when you play because then you realise their strengths and weaknesses very closely. It was a really good memory when I finally won against him in 2019," Gujarathi said.
When most of the sports in the world are still struggling to figure out a way forward while facing the COVID-19 pandemic aftereffects, the idea of online streaming of chess has become a huge hit with more chess enthusiasts embracing the concept. The biggest example of this was the FIDE Online Chess Olympiad.
Gujrathi believes this will be the beginning of a new era for chess in the country.
"Previously chess streaming used to be looked down upon. In India nobody used to stream. Gradually people realised it’s good and it is growing every day. The Olympiad has shown that chess can really be a spectator sport," he said.
If going online is the answer and innovation the solution, chess has the ability to mould both into one with 'chess Esports' which would bring the players more financial gains as well as a wider avenue. With GM Hikaru Nakamura becoming the first professional chess player to be signed up by a professional esports streaming organisation, it is an advantage for chess players who can explore this avenue.
"Yes, Hikaru got signed up for TSM and (Magnus) Carlsen is also hinting at that. So, maybe chess could be one of those sports which can be a sport as well as one where you can combine it with esport," said Gujrathi hinting at the possibility of Indian players also exploring it in the future.
The Michael Jordan admirer also spoke about how his stint as the captain was not only turned out to be memorable but a learning one personally too. The victorious Indian team made him learn a lot about responsibility and quick decision-making which he can draw upon in high-pressure matches.
The Grandmaster predicted Nihal Sarin, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, Divya Deshmukh, Vantika Agrawal as the ones to watch out for from a bunch of highly-talented Indian chess players who can take the sport forward in the country.