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The story of Chess Gurukul: A nursery for India’s brightest prodigies
How Grandmaster RB Ramesh nurtures India’s most promising young chess talents.
Vaidyaraman street in T. Nagar, Chennai is a small, quiet 500-meter bylane in an otherwise busy area of the city, which has heavy security protection at the entrance and exit, thanks to the head offices of BJP and CPI(M). Bang in the middle of that small street, is an apartment that would escape your attention if you’re not looking close enough.
As I wait for the elevator to take me to the first floor, a 12-year-old kid walks past, with a backpack, lunch bag in one hand and a blue mobile phone on the other, taking the stairs to the first floor. The unassuming 12-year-old is the youngest International Master in Chess history, R Praggnanandha. And located in this heavily guarded street, but blissfully hidden, is the nursery of chess prodigies – Chess Gurukul.
Founded by RB Ramesh and his wife Aartie Ramaswamy – both of them Grandmasters – in 2008, Chess Gurukul is considered in the chess community to be at the forefront of training kids to play the game of kings. For context, India had three top 10 finishers at the recent World Youth Championships in Traviso Italy and Chess Gurukul is where all three of them learn their trade. And in the 9 years since it’s been operational, these are the numbers the academy has racked up:
It’s fair to say Ramesh and Co know how to produce winners.
The Origin Story
Ramesh started playing chess as a 12-year-old in 1988, inspired by Viswanathan Anand. Ten years later he was made coach of the Indian junior team – a 22-year-old, coaching the under-20 kids. The team did well winning both the boys and girls titles. That year, he would also take on a certain Aartie Ramaswamy under his wings. Within a year, she won the U-18 World Championship. It was big news. It was the first title any Indian had won since Viswanathan Anand.
It was a turning point in his life, in more than one way, as he would go on to marry Aartie and eventually start Chess Gurukul together in 2008. And that was also the point Ramesh realised, in addition to playing the game of kings, he could be a good coach as well. He started teaching kids privately, and his belief was reinforced.
“The early success gave me a lot of confidence that I can choose training as an alternate career. But whether it’d be financially viable or not, I wasn’t sure,” Ramesh tells The Field, during an interaction at his academy. “I was at a well-paid job in ONGC (Deputy Manager) and there was no prior example for me to fall back on. In 2008, I decided to take the plunge. The day I left my job, I officially retired as the player and started Chess Gurukul. I was reasonably good as a player, but coaching was closer to the heart. I felt like I could make a real difference.”