B.S. Shivananda - The Indian Fischer Part 2
Who is the Indian Fischer you might ask? Well, in Part 1 of this interview, we introduced you to one of Indian Chess' gems B S Shivananda. In Part 2 of this interview, we cover Shivananda's life after the year 2005, which marked a dark age in Indian chess because of people who used engine assistance. Having lost confidence and interest in chess, Shivananda faded away from the chess circuit for a long time, but returned triumphantly, making all his IM norms and his GM Norm after 2009, and along with playing chess he transitioned into chess coaching, bringing up talents like Raghunandan, Stany, Yashas, Gahan and many others. Tanmay Srinath brings all this to light in a fascinating and detailed part II of the interview.
In Part 1, We have covered the Life of BS Shivananda up to the year 2005. Part 2 will focus on his life after 2005.
Tanmay Srinath (TSS) : In 2005, with a rating of 2450+, you must have expected to become a GM soon. What happened? Why did the rating decline?
B.S Shivananda (BSS) : You can’t call it a decline as far as chess strength is concerned...only the performance got declined, due to some outside factors. Basic factor - in 2005 a bunch of computer chess engine cheaters emerged and they started winning top prizes in every single event. One of them was caught red handed and was banned for 10 years. He was from Jharkhand, a state of India adjacent to West Bengal. His name is Umakant (Sharma).
TS : How did Umakant and his friends manage to cheat for so long? How was he finally caught?
BSS : See, until 2005-06, I was participating in almost all tournaments that happened in India : be it a normal All India Open or a big prize money All India Open, and I used to finish in the top 3 in almost all of them. Suddenly, what started happening was that I used to meet these players who were using engine assistance in every tournament, and I used to invariably lose to them, mostly in the last round. So I used to defeat others and come to the last round maybe half a point ahead or joint equal with others, and I would be paired with one of these people and lose that game, thus getting only 8th or 10th place. This happened continuously for around 1.5 years and it made me lose my confidence and interest in chess, and I started focusing on things other than chess. Thus, I almost gave up practising, and mechanically went to every tournament and came back.
From there on many of us had a suspicion, and we decided to find out the truth. One of their close friends openly stated this fact that they were using chess engines to cheat during tournaments.
Then many things happened - I can’t deliberate each and every thing here - we had even approached the CBI Sports Fraud Division to catch these people.
I will also mention how we got some additional evidence against them. We deliberately played a lot of practice games with Umakant during an event which he won, organised in Annavaram, Andhra Pradesh. He played really poorly, losing in 20-22 moves against us (me, Himanshu and some others). There we got the impression that he is a very weak chess player. In the same event, I faced Umakant in the final round, and I made a draw! This was possible only because I knew he was cheating, and I aimed to play as perfectly as possible, so soon his machine decided to repeat moves. That is the only draw I have made against him. After the tournament, I found someone else by Umakant’s side, a person who resembled him, but someone I had never seen before! Later I learnt it is Ravikant, his brother. In fact, I encountered Ravikant in a similar fashion after a tournament in Karwar, when I lost to Umakant in the last round.
So what happened - once we got enough evidence against him - circumstantial evidence, it was time to check. I am a computer science student, so it was not hard to decipher what Umakant and his friends were upto. It was basically the same way people cheated in IIT exams earlier. They were, as mentioned previously, wearing a Bluetooth device on their head, and they also had a small camera that was inserted into the button of their shirt. Their relatives (his brother Ravikant and another person) was staying near the tournament hall - in the hotel next to the venue. He was just checking all the variations with the computer and was dictating the moves to them. It was a simple case of computer cheating - that’s why they won tournament after tournament. Umakant also got a job in the Indian Railways on sports quota in 2006.
Once we went through all these things, we knew they were cheats, and it was a matter of catching them. They were using Bluetooth devices basically, and they used to hide it on their body, sometimes on their head and cover it with a hat, which they wore invariably. No matter the season - be it hot, cold, rainy - they wore a hat! Never ever they used to open their hat.
Things came to a halt in 2006-07. At this point, I had lost my confidence and interest in chess, and had stopped working on it and playing tournaments.
I was not a participant of this tournament, the Subroto Mukherjee Memorial FIDE Rating Chess Tournament, because of the said reasons - I had lost a ton of rating points and basically I had lost interest in playing chess - I was just staying in my village and concentrating a bit on farming!
During this event, I got the news that Umakant had got caught. Gopakumar, who is a famous arbiter - very nice person as well - was the arbiter in that tournament. He caught Umakant red-handed using this Bluetooth device in that tournament. Umakant’s opponent was Sriram Sarja, my close friend from the same district in Karnataka. Sriram Sarja is a good player with a rating of 2250.
[Ed- I contacted Sriram Sarja about this incident, and he kindly agreed to furnish the details]
Sriram Sarja: “I think it was in December 2006 at the Subroto Mukherjee FIDE Rated Open. I was jointly leading the event, and I faced Umakant in Round 6 with the Black pieces. It was a regular Nimzo Indian where he allowed me a small advantage in the opening.
The game was progressing normally till he suddenly started behaving suspiciously. He started frequenting the bathroom just as we entered the time trouble phase, and began to cough rather strangely with increased frequency. I also began to notice that he made moves with his rooks that any normal chess player will not understand, but were first choices of chess engines like Hiarcs, which were common at the time. He finally beat me by making a series of brilliant sacrifices in time trouble, taking very little time for extremely difficult moves.
Since there were some rumours circulating about engine usage, I decided to check the game once I got back to the hotel. I was helped in this task by players like Arghyadip Das. To my surprise, every single move beginning with the suspicious rook maneuvers matched the 1st choice of Hiarcs!
I decided to file a written complaint to the organisers of the tournament, after gathering support from a lot of the senior players there. The committee handled it very diligently from there. Umakant was checked just before his 7th round game against IM Rahul Shetty. Later the committee told me that they found a host of electronic devices on Umakant, which included microphone, cameras and a mobile phone for transmitting the moves. Umakant had no explanation for possessing these devices, and was forced to forfeit his game against Shetty, and expelled from the tournament. He was also banned for 10 years by AICF thereafter”
[Ed - Here is the report on ChessBase.com when the incident happened. Remember - ChessBase India didn't exist back then!]
BSS: Actually, the main problem is much bigger. What if many other players are also using these devices? We only have suspicions and circumstantial evidence against some of them, so we can’t give out the names for now. But let’s say that 2-3 players cheat and 200 players play honest chess. The hard work put in by these 200 will go waste right?
Unlike doping or drugs in athletics, if a person cheats in chess his opponent has zero chances of winning, because a standard chess computer engine can beat any human player, including the World Champion. So, I think AICF and FIDE should take stronger measures to prevent people from cheating like this. My suggestion to them is to buy 4-5 Signal Jammers, and have the organisers rent them during their events.
Note: Here are the views of Sandipan Chanda, one of India’s finest Grandmasters, and Anand's trusted second:
“I think it is very relevant to mention here that it was very unfortunate for him (Shivananda) that the time when he was around his peak, achieving a lot of success in tournaments in India, was also the time when some unfortunate incident happened in Indian chess. It took about 2 years for people to find out that these guys got computer assistance in every tournament, every game and on every move. One of them eventually got caught red-handed.
This incident left a lot of damage in Indian chess. Is it just a coincidence that the fall in Shivanada’s performance happened at the same time with the rise of the cheaters? How disappointing is it for a hard-working and self-made player to suddenly find that he is losing to some players in every tournament, losing rating and losing out on money? Perhaps in a normal time, at the age of 26-27 with a live rating of 2486, Shivananda could have reached the GM title. Losing the momentum around those times may have proved decisive for him in not making it until now.”
International Master Atanu Lahiri, Former Commonwealth Champion, and noted chess trainer.
Atanu Lahiri: “A Few players were accused of cheating and the Players Association was very vocal about taking action against them. Unfortunately, these players were only the tip of the iceberg. We were convinced and had information that some players supported by an ex-official were behind the cheating racket. Unfortunately, since these players received support from some influential people, nothing could be done. In contrast, a strong Grandmaster from France was caught cheating during the Olympiad by a French official. A strong action was taken against the player by the French Federation despite the fact that he was cheating for the National Team. This is an example where the spirit of sports prevailed over other things.
I also have to mention a very interesting incident here. In a final round of an important tournament Shivananda was playing against one of the cheaters. The latter played a brilliant combination on the board, which was very deep and hard to spot even for a good player. It took a while for Shivananda to understand he was lost, and he immediately resigned and congratulated his opponent. The funny thing was that when they started analysing, the cheater in question neither spotted the combination nor its follow up. He did not understand it even though we showed it to him!
International Master Ponnuswamy Konguvel, former National Champion and Secretary of the Player's Association at that time:
"Unfortunately for Shivananda (in fact for Indian Chess as a whole), around 2005-06, a few players started cheating in a big way by taking external help from a chess engine during the game. Naturally, Shivananda and other regular winners of Open events were unable to get past these cheaters. I remember Shivanada was one of the most vocal persons in our players' meetings on this issue during tournaments. Unfortunately nothing much came out of our meetings as mostly the measures to curb cheating or catch the culprits required proactive support of Federation. There was not much importance given by AICF to players' views as it was viewed that only losers were complaining against genuine winners. One player was banned for some time after he was caught cheating, but some have got off the hook. Finally now, we are in a situation similar to the Corona pandemic - learn to live with the menace!"
TS: Do you still plan to catch the other cheaters?
BSS: I have not forgiven them, but I have forgotten them. It has been a long time. I have no interest in pursuing the matter since they do not play these days.
TS: How did you even make your norms after all this happened?
BSS: Once Umakant got caught and the other cheaters started disappearing from the chess scene, I slowly came back into tournaments. Of course I had stopped practicing, but the game was still there. It was my favourite game. Rather than making money or fame through chess I simply wanted to play and enjoy myself. After I came back, I made my 1st GM norm, which was also an IM norm, in 2009. It was in the Gurgaon International Tournament, in the month of January. One month before I scored the norm, I had practised quite hard.
The following is a game from Shivananda's GM norm performance in Gurgaon. His opponent is the strong Indian GM Magesh Chandran, who recently won Hastings with an astonishing 7.5/9!
TS : What about the other 2 norms?
BSS : The next two years I got the other two norms easily. Basically in my career until that point I had never played for norms. I always played for tournament victory. Even in international tournaments I never cared for my rating performance or number of points - All I cared about was winning or placing in the top 3. In the process I missed many norm opportunities.
But in 2010-11, things came to such a situation that people who were weaker than me were gaining norms and becoming IMs and GMs, while I remained untitled. Long back I had crossed 2400, but the titles of IM and GM were not coming so easily. So I think in 2010 I thought I’ll play for norms in 5-6 tournaments. I earned those things without much of an effort. In January 2011 I became an International Master.
Note: This is the game that got Shivananda his final IM norm. It was played against the Beast and currently India's No.4 Baskaran Adhiban, in Shivananda’s favourite Grunfeld Defense. Shivananda actually offered a draw at the start of the game because the draw would have guaranteed his IM title, but Adhiban had refused and played for a win. In the course of the game Adhiban tried to attack Shivananda's king, but Shivananda not only repulsed the attack but also started counter-attacking Adhiban's king. He also had a big advantage on the clock – he had 37 minutes to Adhiban’s 8 minutes. At that moment Adhiban offered a draw, and Shivananda took the practical decision of accepting the draw because it would guarantee his IM title.
TS : One thing I’ve noticed about your rating graph is that even though you came back into chess successfully, your rating never crossed your previous peak. How would you explain this fact?
BSS : One thing - because of the computer cheater incident, every time I played a game I used to check and recheck my variations. How do we know that others are not cheating? There could be others as well - it looks so too. My game is based on speculative combinational sacrificial play. Basically, more creative than theoretical - that’s the way I like to play.
[Ed - This is Shivananda's game against Deepan Chakkravarthy. This game features an interesting pawn sacrifice as early as move 2, and an incredibly complicated middlegame where Shivananda managed to outplay Deepan and win brilliantly. ]
However, against a real computer, such a style will not always work, as the computer will ruthlessly defend and refute the sacrifice. Against a computer, semi sound or unsound sacrifices will never work. So I had to change my style a little bit. While in 2004-2005 I was winning a lot of games, playing my brand of chess, my ratings were also up where they had to be. However, when I came back in the years 2010-12, I started playing more carefully. Instead of my favourite 1.e4, I was playing 1.Nf3 and closed openings, so that even if my opponent is cheating, I will somehow have some chances, as computers are not so great in closed positions.
[Ed- This is Shivananda's game against Grandmaster Akshayraj Kore. This perfectly sums up how Shivananda plays chess - a creative opening resulting in a complicated middlegame where he simply outplays his opponent! It is also a highly accurate game, inspired by Fischer. This game is one of his best creative attempts]:
BSS: Because I had to change my openings due to this issue, and I couldn’t play as freely as earlier, rating remained between 2350 and 2400.
[Ed- The below game was Shivananda's most recent duel against Sandipan Chanda. White is winning in the final position, but during the game it was not so clear so Shivananda decided to repeat three times. Notice how 1.f4 works against strong players like Sandipan?]
It’s okay, strength was always there, but in a real tournament I can’t play my original style - what if my opponent is using an engine? Few times I took risks based on psychological terms - I used to sacrifice pawns just to complicate the position and seize the initiative.
[Ed - This is another fine attempt by Shivananda - this time against Indian Blitz King Grandmaster RR Laxman. After the piece sacrifice Black is lost by force - White will simply double on the 3rd rank and then on the g-file.]
Theoretically they were not always correct - for example 1.e4 e6 2.b3!? d5 3.Bb2 dxe4. Sacrificing my e4 pawn might not be objectively correct, and it won’t work too well against a computer, but against a human upto 2600 it is practically very dangerous, and fetched me good results. Nowadays I stopped playing the line frequently. If I am suspicious about my opponent, I will just play a positional game, where I was weaker than in tactical or unequal positions. So the rating remained around 2400 only.
Ed - Here is Shivananda's game against China's former top player Ni Hua. He completely outplayed his opponent after 1.e4 e6 2.b3 but later had to acquiesce to a draw:
TS : During this phase did you get a job through sports quota to help you financially? How was the money situation at the time? Did you get any sponsorship offers?
BSS : Basically, once I finished my college, I got a job in the high school in our village, where my father was the headmaster, on the basis of compassion, since he had passed away at the young age of 48. I could have taken up that job immediately, but I didn’t, since I wanted to be a chess player. For a living I had our farms, which was enough for a decent living.
In 2004 when I won the NTR memorial in Hyderabad, Railways offered me a job straightaway, even though I was not a titled player. But I decided not to take up that job. I am basically an independent minded person, who doesn’t want to work under anyone else. Again in 2010 Railways approached me with another job offer. I thought about taking it up at that time, but decided that I would rather set up a coaching academy. Of course you need a lot of money to play in big tournaments, and those tournament earnings were becoming less and less as stronger players started emerging. I received many sponsorships offers, but rejected all of them. I am a person who prefers to live on my own earnings, and I don’t like to depend on someone else for this.
The income from tournament winnings were sufficient to live a standard life I think, but I have always had big goals in life. If one or two tournaments don’t go well I had to return to my village. So I had to play every tournament at my best, and it was becoming stressful. So rather than taking up a job, I started coaching people. But these were not group classes - I took individual students from my own place and tried to make them stronger. Me and my friends Raghavendra V and Arvind Shastry, started our academy together, with one center in Bangalore (Karnataka School of Chess) and one center in Mangalore (Mangalore Chess Academy), the latter in association with Mr. Gururaj, President of United Karnataka Chess Association at the time, and organiser of famous All India Opens in Mangalore.
TS : I would like to focus on 3 of your initial students : FM Yashas Devappa (Former Commonwealth 16 Champion) and Stany GA who is now a GM, both Ekalavya Awardees, and FM Gahan MG. What was your role in their training?
BSS: I think the 1st time I got an offer for coaching job...was from Vidit Gujarathi’s parents. Vidit is now India no.2, a very nice player - I go through his games, as I have seen his progress from childhood - he used to participate as a small boy along with us in tournaments. When I went to his hometown of Nashik for a Prestigious All India Open - I won that tournament. Vidit’s parents were impressed I think. They asked me whether I can coach Vidit along with some 2-3 other students from Nashik. At that time I was not a coach so I politely declined, but I suggested Roktim’s name – Roktim Bandopadhyay, a famous International Master from Kolkata, and he became Vidit’s coach from there on. At the time I also got an offer to coach the Sri Lankan Olympiad Team, but I declined.
At that time I used to get a lot of coaching offers, but since I never thought I would go into coaching and wanted to be solely a player I declined them all. But as I already told you, in 2009-10 I needed alternate earnings, rather than solely tournament winnings . I decided to consider a few offers that came from my own district - I am from Shivmogga district of Karnataka. There were 2-3 good upcoming players from there. One is - you told me - Yashas Devappa, and another one is Stany. Both were rated around 1900 at that time. Their ratings were stagnant for a while. They had a coach previously - they went to an academy in Shivmogga town. My place is around 80 km from the aforementioned Shivmogga town. When their parents approached me, at first I thought I’m a player, but then I thought why not give it a try? I rarely got a chance to play with good players - of course they were upcoming players with a rating of 1900 at that time, while I was 2400, so I thought rather than playing I can explore a few openings with them - as my students they will have their own angle.
I started coaching Yashas Devappa - who went on to cross 2300 Elo, won the Commonwealth Under-16 Years Gold, and Stany G, who is now a GM. I used to go to Shivmogga town to coach these people. So if I leave in the morning, I would go to Yashas’ house and take a class there for 3-4 hours, then in the evening do the same at Stany’s place - coach for 3-4 hours, before returning home. I also coached Srishty Shetty at the same time - she represented India in some age group events. So these 3 were my first few students, and I think from 1900 they (Yashas and Stany) went to 2300 in 2-2.5 years. I coached them for around 2.5 years - I had a lot of sessions with them. Once in a while Yashas and Srishty also came to my village, stayed with me and had sessions there.
Other than these, my favourite student was FIDE Master Gahan MG. Gahan is one of the sharpest chess players I have met - problem with him is that sometimes he lacks patience and hurries with his moves. Other than that if you ask me he is a genuinely talented boy. I used to go to Mangalore, which is around 5 hours journey from my place, where Gahan stayed, and I was taking classes for him - once I went there I used to take 2-3 days of sessions. So you can call all these 4 as my initial students. Fortunately they all did well. Gahan - currently rated 2280, current Karnataka Rapid Champion, current Karnataka U-25 champion - he has won almost all age group tournaments in Karnataka, and is known outside Karnataka as well.
Another favourite student of mine was Ivana Maria Furtado from Goa. My place is very close to Goa - around 70 km aerial distance. So when I got that offer, I thought why go so far - around 3-4 hour journey, and coach such a young player - she was only 8-9 at that time. Raghunandan Gokhale, a person who I respect a lot, was her 1st coach, and I think he made her a good player. She was already U-8 World Champion at that time, and from there on I took over. I remained her coach until she won Asian U-12 Gold, and even accompanied her for 2-3 tournaments. She later won the Asian Junior Gold also. She was a very calm and intelligent girl - good person, highly dedicated to chess. Aditi Prabhugaonkar was also one of my favourite students for 3-4 years, and she won the Goa Senior Woman’s Championship once. But, later on I was unable to travel to Goa, so I had to stop coaching students there.
Just before her Asian Zonals, I had a 5-day session with Kruttika Nadig, a very talented girl, who I had coached briefly once before. She went on to win the event and qualify for the Women’s World Cup.
[Ed - I contacted Gahan, who kindly agreed to share his experience of learning with Shivananda]
MG Gahan: Shivananda Sir was more than a coach to me. He was also a guide to me about various things in life. I owe much of my improvement post 2000 rating to him. His attacking skills are a treat to watch and learn from. I especially admire his use of off- beat openings with which he beats even strong GMs! I was lucky that I got to train under him!
TS : Could you explain the process you follow as a coach, and what changes you made to these kids that helped them gain so much Elo and win numerous accolades for state and country?
BSS : Basically I am from a background where chess is not the norm. So I never learnt chess theoretically. But when I taught these young kids, I aimed to teach them what I had missed out on. So I decided to go through some book where I myself might learn some theoretical things, and I taught it to them, along with a few ideas I had invented on my own - since I always want to do things in an original fashion (smiles). So I always had a few ideas on how to play and how not to play - being from a mathematical background.
TS : Could you mention a few other successful students of yours? I could take one for example –Raghunandan Srihari, who is an IM with 1 GM norm. How was he when he first came to you, and what were the improvements you made to his game?
BSS : Raghunandan is from Bangalore, which is around 400km away from my remote village. They themselves approached me. This has been the case with all the students I’ve got so far. At first I thought I can’t take so many students at a time, but Raghu’s father told me that there were not many quality coaches in Bangalore, and it would be helpful if I could handle him. So I started taking classes for him. At first his rating was 1375, which he had got just one month before I started coaching him. He had previously gone to some academy, learnt some basics and got that rating. From there on he was my student for a long time.
He sometimes came to my place, stayed in Sagar (the town nearest to me) and took classes. Most of the times I came to Bangalore, once in 15 days, and took classes from morning to evening for 2 days straight. Raghunandan is a likeable student, a highly dedicated one. Although he was from a rich background, it didn’t deter him from working hard. He was a passionate student of the game, a little bit mechanical in nature, and was not very creative - of course you can’t always expect a 11-year-old boy to be creative! He was in general a bit theoretical minded. He had a problem - physically he was a little bit weak, although he was already a good player at 11 years. So I told him strictly that physical fitness is very crucial - otherwise you can’t go forward. So he started focusing on physical fitness, and in only 6 months he increased 200-250 points straight away! The physical fitness thing gave him confidence and energy to play longer games. This is one thing that I still remember helped him.
TS : I have also heard that you have helped GM Himanshu Sharma when he was going through a rough patch. Could you describe your relationship with him?
BSS : Himanshu’s and my friendship goes very long back - 18 years at least. We were roommates in so many tournaments! In another 5-6 tournaments, it was not only the two of us, but also Yuzvendra Chahal, now an international cricketer. At that time Yuzvendra was a little childish boy - even though he has matured now, his behaviour is still a little bit naughty (smiles)! He was the National U-11 Champion back then. Those two always wanted to do some mischief with me in a comical way! I was an innocent village boy, so I was falling into their friendly pranks outside the tournament hall!
Himanshu and me are close friends. He had his own game but basically his forte was endgames. He was always focusing on endgames, and thus he is a superstar in the ending - he can defeat anyone upto 2600. However, he had certain flaws here and there. There was a time in 2011-12 where he had lost his form and his rating was going down. He then told me to help him there a little bit. It was a friendly help - no monetary thing involved.
I told him to send 200 games of his which he had lost. He was playing a lot of games each year, not taking rest at all, so I told him whatever games you have lost in the last 3-4 years send them to me. In my free time, sitting in my own village, I went through those games for friendship’s sake, and I found a few flaws. He also came to my place and stayed with me. I suggested a few improvements. I’m happy that from there on he has picked up and has never ever gone back, and now he’s already a GM!
TS : Could you mention the few flaws and what you told him to work on?
BSS: I think he was playing the same openings here and there. He was playing in his own sphere - he was not trying to venture out. To become a stronger player you should take calculated risks - can’t always play the Slav Defense and all those 1.e4 e5 Ruy Lopez Exchange Variations and hope to defeat stronger players. So he had to learn new openings. Remember, I am not his coach – this was just some friendly advice!
I also found one more flaw in his game - since he was strong in endgames, whenever the situation demands he would go into an endgame. Although he could outplay his opponent in the middlegame, he was deliberately going into the endgame, so middlegame wise he was getting less experience. He was a strong middlegame player no doubt, but a strong opponent would refuse to exchange queens and he (Himanshu) would have some problems. I think that thing also got cured, and now he’s an all rounder, and an outstanding chess player.
TS : You’ve been known in chess circles for your aggressive sacrificial style, yet two of your major success stories as students, Yashas and Raghunandan have a distinct positional style! How is it so?
BSS : See, my approach is like this - once I start teaching someone I’m not going to change everything. Whatever they already know they shouldn’t drastically change because the hard work they have put in previously will go waste. That is why whenever I coach someone I let them continue with whatever they know. I refine their openings and middlegame play - all I will do is add my own bits to them. So I will not change the full style or structure.
Raghunandan by himself is a little bit passive boy (laughs)! Good boy of course, but a little bit passive, no physical exercise, so normally his playing style was little bit passive. Since he already played 1.d4, I thought he is better off continuing with it, and let him play good lines in it. Yashas was a strong boy - strong physically, but passive in nature again! Problem with him is that while he can understand positional things very well, he sometimes fails tactically. Even Ivana is basically positional in nature, so I focused more on refining their middlegame play.
TS - Now that we have come into coaching, let us talk about your pet project - Karnataka School of Chess (KSC). How did this come up?
BSS: KSC started in 2010 itself. Now we are called Karnataka Chess Academy. Once I started coaching these people I thought about having group classes and starting an academy of my own. For this I had help from one of one of my closest friends - Raghavendra V from Bangalore. He helped me many a times when I went outside to tournaments - coming from a small village I had no one outside. People used to exploit me sometimes, and it was Raghavendra who stood by me those times. He also gave me psychological support, so I am forever grateful to him. We together started Karnataka School of Chess along with Aravind Shastry. We have many branches across Bangalore and we have registered with the Karnataka State Chess Association. We started it slow in 2009-10 and now it has gone big! We have 400 in house students, out of the 1200 registered with us, and we currently are doing fine in online sessions as well – we have 200 online students. We have currently employed around 15 coaches and another three non-chess faculty.
TS : How did you manage to develop this school into one of the best chess centres?
BSS: We are already having 400-500 students in our branches : I’m talking about the regular ones, there are another 300-400 students who come occasionally. It grew in popularity because we did it in a structured way - separate classes for beginners, intermediates and advanced students are conducted. We also invested money to create our own space rather than starting our academy in some other person’s place. These places are dedicated to chess only - we don’t conduct any other activity there. In fact, our Mahalaxmi center is big enough for us to conduct a tournament for around 120 players, while housing about 60 people accompanying the players!
We have classes on all 7 days of the week. So any student can come on any day and have a class that suits his/her strength. We also spend considerable money in hiring teachers also. In our Malleswaram Center - Malleswaram is a well known area in Bangalore, we already have around 7 teachers, and in our Mahalakshmi Layout branch, near the famous ISKCON temple, another 7 teachers are there. This is to ensure that if any teacher goes to a tournament or is unavailable on that particular day, we will ensure that someone else takes that class so that the students don’t miss out. This way, we conduct classes around 350 days out of 365 days in a calendar year! Even if I am outside I will depute someone and they will have the class. Since we have continuity and try to give quality, bringing out good results in students, we are reasonably successful. I can’t tell you we have reached our goal - we are not bad, we are ok.
TS : Along with coaching, did KSC organise any tournaments?
BSS : Of course! We have already organised 2-3 National level tournaments where well known GMs came and participated, like Laxman, Thejkumar, Deepan Chakravarthy and many others. Nowadays we are focusing more on local tournaments - last two years we have conducted 16 local level - Bangalore level tournaments in our premises only. Maybe next year we shall have bigger tournaments.
TS : I saw you for the 1st time in the Karnataka State Chess Championship 2015, which you won quite easily. What impressed me most was your body language - firm but not over-tight, stern but not unfriendly, and taking every game seriously, even against the lower rateds. How did you build this impressive work ethic?
BSS : To become a strong player I need to make some adjustments. To win a tournament I need to focus fully on it - otherwise I will fail. Before 2015 I used to play every game seriously. I had to be serious as otherwise I would find it difficult to discern important moments, and a game of chess can be lost in only one move.
TS : You are remarkably fit even though you will soon be a 40 year old. How do you maintain such a physique? How much of a role does fitness play in chess as far as you are concerned?
BSS : Many chess players look lean and thin, but they are actually powerful. Having extra kgs doesn’t mean the person is fit. For example, Novak Djokovic, who is the World No.1 tennis player, is a vegetarian and very thin.
I am by personal choice a vegetarian, I don’t smoke, very few bad habits I have inculcated, and almost all of them I have managed to lose over time. I try to eat good food, and as you know in my youth I was a high jumper, and being raised in a hilly village being fit is not an issue.
Around 7-8 years back I started going to the gym everyday so as to build a bigger body. Nowadays I have my own home gym, and I work out everyday. Unless physical fitness is maintained we can’t live a quality life.
Also, being an international sportsman, one should learn how to play for longer durations of time. I am into this gym-thing - and I do it with love and passion - no one needs to coerce me into doing this. If I don’t work-out for a day I feel as if I have missed out on something. I do all kinds of training - weight-lifting, training, lesser running but I am doing everything else.
TS : What is your staple diet, and how does it change during tournaments?
BSS : I can eat any good vegetarian food. I am not eating non-veg food by choice - I don’t want to harm innocent animals. I am from a vegetarian background - not a single person in my village eat non-veg. Once in a while I consume eggs - anyways they aren’t non-vegetarian.
So any good veg food - South Indian, North Indian, outside food : I relish. I am a foodie - I love to eat. I don’t eat too much of oily, salty or sweet food.
TS : Is there something special about Shivamogga district? You seem to be one of many successful people from there (including the current Chief Minister of Karnataka)!
BSS : Well, it is thanks to the culture there. My village is just 1.5 kilometres away from the famous Keladi Kingdom’s Capital. The most famous king of that kingdom - Shivappanayaka, has the district of Shivamogga named after him. We also had a historically famous queen, Rani Chennamma. In fact, many chess players call me Prince! (Laughs) It also speaks volumes that my district has produced 5 Chief Ministers of Karnataka, and our current Chief minister is also one of them. So perhaps there is something special about Shivamogga!(Smiles)
TS : You have only played 4 tournaments in the last 5 years, and your last tournament was more than 3 years ago. You played the National Teams 2017, and you were the captain of the Karnataka State Team. You won the gold medal for the best performance on top board! Is this your finest moment as a player? Take us through some of the key moments before, during and after the tournament.
BSS Okay, this is the last tournament that I played, around 3 years and 3 months ago , after which I have taken a sabbatical to focus on my academy and other things. Since it was a relatively long time ago I am unable to recall all the finest details, but I will share what I remember from the event.
Of course, I was the captain of the Karnataka team. Ours was a mid-tier team, with only two IMs - me and Ravi Hegde. The other 3 were upcoming players - talented ones of course. The tournament went well for us till the last two rounds - after round 7 we were on 2nd place, but two losses in the last two rounds, with a last round loss to the eventual champions Railways A, meant that we ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.
With regards to my individual performance, I won all my games except one draw, but some of my opponents were weak. I played on the top board, as I had decided to lead by example and strength, and the strongest opponent I faced was IM Satyapragyan, who has 4 GM norms and is well known in chess circles. I played 1.b3 and managed to defeat him. Other than him the players I faced were rather ordinary. However, in team events people usually take draws, while I won most of my games, and that was a deciding factor in me winning the Gold Medal on 1st Board.
Here is Shivananda's best win of the event, against Satyapragyan:
TS - You were never properly covered as a chess player in general. Why is it so?
BSS : Basically I have been a media shy person. I have never approached a person and asked him/her to interview me, and I tend to stay away from the limelight. I think these things will come as I achieve bigger things in life. Maybe because I don’t play so frequently these days people don’t know much about me.
TS : Do you still dream of becoming a GM, and a 2700? Any plans to restart playing?
BSS: (Smiles) Well in a short while I plan to restart playing. I will become a GM soon - there is no self-doubt regarding this, maybe a bit of practice is needed, but that’s that. One thing to understand here is that I still have time on my side (Shivananda was born in 1979, not 1976 as wrongly stated in many sources.) So all the experience I have gained from playing and coaching will be useful in climbing the ranks faster.
Chess Players on Shivananda Part 2:
Again, I had the pleasure of interacting with numerous stalwarts and young talents of Indian chess. I thank all the players who took the time out to share their memories about this champion!
GM Krishnan Sasikiran, 2nd Indian to cross 2700 :
I find Shivananda to be a very unique and underrated chess player. I vividly remember one of our encounters. It was a Bb5+ Grunfeld, where I was clearly worse, but I managed to fight back and win. His style is very dynamic, and I find his play to be principled and very refreshing!
GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly, 6 times National Champion:
I played against Sivanandan (Shivananda) 4 times so far in tournament games. I always got the impression that he is willing to fight till the end and was never afraid of complications. We also analysed few times after the game and I found his thoughts and emotions very straightforward. There was a transparency in it, which is very refreshing to see. My best regards to him.
GM Sandipan Chanda, Anand’s Second:
To my mind the name of Shivananda brings the idea of determination and stubbornness. We played often in the same tournaments in India including a few games between us. I always knew that he can be a dangerous player and that I needed to be very careful playing against him. He is someone who achieved a lot in-spite of starting the game very late and facing other obstacles in life. My warmest regards to him, and I hope he achieves the GM title soon!
GM RB Ramesh, one of India’s finest Chess Trainers and Shivananda’s Compatriot:
I know Shivananda as a player and compatriot rather than a coach. He is a nice person and a strong player. Good to know he is sharing his knowledge with other players. Back then Karnataka was not strong in terms is producing chess talents. So crossing 2450 back then was very credible. In that sense I respect him a lot for making use of whatever little opportunity to excel came his way. Good to see that this interview recognises one of the unsung chess heroes around our country.
GM Rajaram Laxman, Blitz King of India and one of Shivananda’s close friends:
Me and Shivananda travelled a lot together to tournaments in Sangli and AP, with friends Rishi Pal Singh and Vinay Kumar Matta. We had a lot of nice conversations and are very good friends to this day. Those were really wonderful days! One thing to note here is that Shivananada’s rating at the time was easily 4 times more important – he was a sports icon!
IM Atanu Lahiri, Former Commonwealth Champion and BCA Chief Mentor:
Shivananda is perhaps one of the players least understood by his fellow players. He rose to prominence a bit late in his career. He excelled in concentration. At his peak he could stare at the chess board for hours out-concentrating his opponents. He was very strong in tactics and preferred to opt for offbeat openings.
FM Niranjan Navalgund - GM Norm Holder, Youtuber and Author:
It is an amazing experience to analyse with Shivananda sir. I was lucky to spend a few days with him in Belagavi while he was here for a coaching camp which was organized by my parents for players of Belgaum. We got to see how he enjoys chess. I have personally learnt a lot by going through his games. Of all the aspects, I picked the will to be creative from him. If you closely look at his openings, you will see that he is very creative.
He also brought strong will in his game and it showed clearly in his games. I saw him for the first time in 2004 Thane and have been a fan since then. He used to keep a red book next to his board and I had noted the title of that book. It is titled 'Gospel of strength' by Swami Vivekananda, published by Ramakrishna Mission, Belagavi. This book is a very powerful book about personality development.
Off the board, he is a gentleman and on-the-board, he would immediately switch to an aggressive mode. This is also a quality I admire. Apart from that, I know that he loves nature too! I feel lucky to have known a bit about him.
IM Ponnuswamy Konguvel, Former National Champion, Multiple GM norm holder:
First things that come to mind when you talk of Shivananda is his passion for chess and his crazy ideas on and off the board! One is guaranteed an uncompromising fight and good post-game analysis when you play him. I think he peaked around 2004-05, when he was winning many strong Open tournaments in India. It is understandable that Shivananda has stopped playing serious tournaments of late because of other commitments. But his academic approach and genuine passion for the game would definitely make him a wonderful coach / trainer. Best Wishes to Shivananda!
Sagar Chincholimath, former master level player and one of Shivananda’s good friends:
An unstoppable force and the favourite to win prestigious tournaments every year. In those good old years he used to give a certain portion of his winnings to late Shailesh Nerlikar (physically disabled), who also played these tournaments regularly. He lost some motivation at his peak when two cheaters used engines and started defeating every player in the country. He used to say they can’t play such astonishing moves over board and used machine help, but it took time till they were caught red handed. But at the time, the damage was done. Nonetheless he remains a true warrior of Indian chess.