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ChessCult - How a Strong Indian GM Plans to Make Chess a Spectator Sport!

by Tanmay Srinath - 02/10/2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth a lot of change in the world. The advent of modern technology has ensured that people are more productive than ever before, and streaming has become more and more mainstream. With numerous chess players entering a new phase of their life, a young chess star decided it was time for a change of pace. GM Karthik Venkataraman, former National Junior Champion, has launched his own company Chess Cult in collaboration with his friend Hariharan S Pillai, to make a difference to chess players across the globe. Karthik has come with some very innovative content on ChessCult's YouTube channel, right from reintroducing the masters of the past, to the Secret to Success series, where he features stalwarts of Indian chess like GM Sasikiran and GM Murali Karthikeyan. Tanmay Srinath takes you through his experience navigating the ChessCult!

As a chess enthusiast one is always looking out for interesting content to learn from. In my case, I have always been following India's brightest on their YouTube channels explaining their experiences to us, be it Surya's Chess Talk or Vishnu's thought provoking videos. When Karthik started his own YouTube channel, I was intrigued, to say the least. First of all, Karthik is still an improving player. While it is true he is a strong GM, I felt he will be more focused on improving his own game than imparting his knowledge to other players. 


For those of you who don't know Karthik, I will list out his 3 most impressive achievements here:


1. Commonwealth Under 20 Champion.


2.National Junior Champion


3. KIIT Open Champion.


Here is a video by Sagar Shah, giving you more insight about the beautiful brain of India's 55th GM:

As a chess player Karthik is one of the most fearless fighters I have seen! His style is one where complexity is second nature to him. Sacrificing for fun, he creates innumerable complications which his opponents are unable to solve. A modern day Tal one must say!


Take a look at the following beauty, played by Karthik in 2017. While it might not be a 'correct' game, Karthik's enterprising play took down a very strong player, that too in style!

There are some other wins as well, against strong opposition. I offer three more games. What surprised me here was the fact that a super tactical player like Karthik is most willing to enter an endgame! This should clear up some misconceptions, but most importantly it underlines the fact that strong calculators are excellent endgame players:

So why is such a player, who is balancing his academics and chess life, entering an entirely new and challenging field? I asked Karthik the same question, and he happily agreed to spare his time and explain his mission. The following is a message by Karthik, with some corrections and edits by me:


This is India's 55th grandmaster Karthik VAP here. Me and my enthusiastic team have launched ChessCULT on 1st August 2020. We primarily create fresh and inspiring content on ouu YouTube Channel ChessCult, and also conduct online tournaments from time to time. Our goal is to make chess an audience sport. Currently many people think that chess is a boring game and all the Grandmasters are very serious people, which is seriously not the case! We want to change this misconception by letting our viewers interact with many elite grandmaster and soliciting their advice!

Our YouTube Channel Chess Cult focuses on three main shows:


1. We will introduce to you each World Champion starting from Steinitz the 1st. The focus will be on each one's style and how they contributed to the evolution of chess. It is called the "World Champions Series" This is the link.

2. Perhaps the biggest contribution to chess videos is our "Secret to Sucess" series. We will be inviting many esteemed guests to talk about their journey to the top of their fields. This will feature not only chess aspects but many incidents that took place behind the scenes. This is the link.


3. We will also show how fun chess is, by inviting players to be a part of the show Chess and Fun Series, to play different chess variants, and most importantly to have fun! This is the link.


We also plan to commentate on top level events, with emphasis on simple explanations, to make improvement easy and accessible to all!

Karthik definitely lives up to his words of advice! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

This is a wonderful cause! I have had the pleasure of meeting Karthik in person during Goa 2019, and I found him to be a very motivated individual with a purpose. It is fantastic to see that at such a young age (Karthik is just a year old than your author!) he wants to contribute for the betterment of chess as a whole. Considering Karthik's background as a player, we are sure to learn a lot from his thought processes!


The series I love the most is the Secret of Success. Karthik's probing questions and the guest's honest answers combine brilliantly for improving players to fasten their rise to the top. The following video, the first of many, elucidates my point beautifully:

Murali Karthikeyan, arguably the best problem solver in the country, provides honest and thought-provoking solutions to different improvement problems. For example, he mentions that the quickest way to improve is to work hard on what you are weak in, not bloat your ego by working on your strengths, a mistake most players seem to make repeatedly. These kinds of gold nuggets make a world of difference!

One of the best calculators in the game at present? Murali's games and his work ethic inspires all of us! | Photo: John Saunders 

As if the first one wasn't already really good, Karthik came up with another brilliant show, this time with one of India's all time greats Krishnan Sasikiran:

It was inspiring to see Sasi speak fondly of his rise to top, recounting his steps to enter the world elite. Getting such a top player, then making him comfortable enough to speak candidly, is an achievement in itself! There is a follow up episode planned where Sasi will be addressing chess improvement questions, scheduled for 4th October. Truly a must watch!

The second indian to cross 2700, Krishnan Sasikiran inspires all of us with his games and words of advice! | Photo: John Saunders

In conclusion, I would like to relate a personal story. When I spoke with Karthik last year, I was still a budding analyst, with little or no experience about deep analytical work. When I asked Karthik for his opinion about a particular line I was working on, he could have as well refused because he had a game to prepare for. However, he not only took a look at it, but also praised me for the work I did, and suggested some changes that I could incorporate, which resulted in my Berlin survey for CBM 193. He also told me that age is never a barrier for chess improvement, as he himself is striving to be the very best in the world despite starting relatively late in chess. These words inspired me then, and they continue to motivate me to produce my best, and I would like to thank Karthik for his contribution to chess, both through his wonderful games, and through his videos. His works are a must-follow for all chess players of different levels out there, and I hope that this article does justice to all the good work he is doing currently!


You can subscribe to Karthik VAP's channel here.


You can read more about Karthik Venkataraman here.