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How did Swapnil Dhopade achieve a performance of 2768 at the Isle of Man?

by Sagar Shah - 08/10/2017

Swapnil Dhopade became a grandmaster in the year 2015 and since the last two years has been oscillating between 2500-2550 Elo range. There has never been any doubt about his chess talent. However, he hadn't been able to make the breakthrough to reach the 2600 Elo mark. However, things have begun to change and Swapnil made a huge mark on the world chess scene by a fantastic performance at the Isle of Man International 2017. He scored 6.5/9 and performed at an astronomical Elo rating of 2768 with strong wins over Short, Tari and others. In this interview with ChessBase India, he tells us all the reasons that have helped him to play at such an amazing level. 

Swapnil Dhopade lost the last round of the National Challengers 2017 to Deepan Chakkravarthy and with it missed out on the championship title. It was a depressing moment for the Amravati lad, especially because he was completely dominating the tournament with a 8.5/9. After the event, I felt that Swapnil would be devastated, but in an interview with Ankit Dalal, he seemed extremely calm. He objectively pin pointed his error that had led to the last round defeat and looked determined to make a strong comeback. It was then that I knew that a powerful performance from Mr. Dhopade was on the cards. Which tournament it would be had to be seen.


Swapnil chose the Isle of Man International 2017 to show to the world what he was capable off. And he couldn't have chosen a better event. In a star studded tournament, where he faced seven grandmasters, six of them being above 2650, Swapnil scored 6.5/9, with four wins and five draws. An astonishing performance of 2768(!!) gaining 28 Elo points! This was by far the best performance of his career. We caught up with the man of the moment and did a small interview with him to decode his performance. What is it that is turning the tide in Swapnil Dhopade's chess career? He tells us all about it. 

Unwavering concentration - Swapnil Dhopade at the Isle of Man International 2017 | Maria Emelianova

Swapnil's scorecard at the Isle of Man International includes wins ver Shvayger, l'Ami, Tari and Short. All his draws were against 2650+ opponents

Sagar Shah (SS): 2768!! Swapnil, how were you able to perform so well at the event?

Swapnil Dhopade (SD): I cannot really point out one specific reason. As always is the case with such good performances it was a mixture of many reasons. I have been training hard for past several months with the goal of 2600 in mind. I think all my work was useful in this tournament. Also I performed well in National Challengers. I feel one of the main reasons might be my work with Jacob Aagaard. I attended his camp in August in Glasgow and I feel I have learned a lot of things with him.

Swapnil with his latest trainer Jacob Aagaard

SS: How did working with Jacob Aagaard help?

SD: Working with Jacob has really helped me a lot. First of all I have worked a lot with his books. I especially liked his books on calculation and positional play. In August I attended a camp of his. I learned a lot of things in the camp. He pushed us out of our comfort zones by giving really tough positions. The quality of his material is amazing. Also I learned the importance of physical fitness after working him. During the camp we used to go to the gym daily for two hours and play badminton. I feel working on fitness and energy helps one to perform better in the tournaments for sure. Jacob is one of the fittest chess players I have seen.

The training camp in Glasgow in the first week of August at Jacob Aagaard's residence was attended by two Indians Swapnil Dhopade and Tania Sachdev 

SS: Tell us something about your king walk against Aryan Tari! Were you inspired by Short-Timman?!

Swapnil offered his queen for exchange on g3 and then marched his king all the way up to g5 to weave a mating net around the black king 

I have obviously seen such king walks many times, especially in the end games. It just came very naturally to me, as we both already had less time. I just followed my intuition and took the king to g5. When you see many such ideas it gets stored in your mind subconsciously and pops up during the game automatically. Therefore studying classical games of great players is important. You get to learn many such interesting ideas.

Aryan Tari has been improving at a rapid pace and has reached an Elo of 2600 in the past. Swapnil was able to masterfully outplay him in the endgame! | Maria Emelianova

SS: Tell us some key analysis of the move e4 against Rapport. He is known as an aggressive player, but you were playing like him! :)

Swapnil (Black) played the pawn sacrifice with the move e5-e4. Follow his instructive thought process on how he came to this move

SD: Well Rapport always plays such aggressive chess! Before the game I thought I will play solid from the opening because he takes a lot of risk and I will get my chances anyway. When he played 15.Bf3 his idea was to take on g6 with the knight and play Qh4. But I felt something was wrong with the placement of Qg4-Bf3. So 15...e5-e4 came to my mind with ideas like Ne5. But obviously after 16.dxe4 I cannot play Ne5 because he can simply play Bxe5. So I considered 16... Be5 when he has to play 17.c3 but then the d3 square becomes weak and I have 17...Nc5 exploiting the weak d3 square.

Once I imagined this position in my mind it became clear to me that Black is going to have a strong initiative. I checked some other lines after e4 and then went for it.

SS: Which was your favourite game from the tournament? 

SD: My favorite game in this tournament was my win against Nigel Short.

Nigel Short in good spirits before the start of his game against Swapnil  | Maria Emelianova

SS: Nigel Short is a legend. How were you able to beat him in such smooth style?

SD: Nigel is of course a world class player. Before our game he had a series of draws so I felt he will try hard to win against me. That is why he went for a rare move in the Catalan. He just wanted to play a position over the board which is new for both of us.

The normal move is Bb4+, but instead Nigel went for Bc8-d7

But unfortunately the opening experiment backfired. I got a typical Catalan edge. I had control over the two most important breaks in the position which could free his pieces. The c5 and e5 squares. Without these breaks blacks position is always a bit cramped and uncomfortable.

White has complete control on the position and Black has no way to break free

I just put of my pieces on the right squares and I was better. I think the critical moment of the game was after he played Qb5.

I was hesitating to play a4 and I took a long time there. I had to assess the arising Rook knight vs rook knight Endgame which comes by force. In that Endgame which came in the game the weakness of the b7 pawn and the badly placed d8 knight gives white a clear advantage.

The weakness of the b7 pawn and the passive knight on d8 gives White a clear edge

Another important moment was to gain space on the Kingside with h4-h5 and fix blacks Kingside pawns. Once his f5 square was weak, I just had to find a way to manoeuvre the knight to f5, after which it was just winning.

The final nail in the coffin - pushing the pawn to h5!

SS: How was it to have Vishy Anand playing in the same tournament?

SD: I was very excited to know that Vishy Anand was going to play. It would be the first time I was going to play in the same tournament as him. I didn't miss my chance to take a selfie with him! [Smiles]. He is a very humble and down to earth human being which I really admire about him. He is always calm during the game, something that every player should learn. He is a true inspiration for us all.

How can one pass the chance of taking a selfie with the five-time World Champion!

SS: Magnus won the tournament when he came with his girlfriend to the event. Are you thinking on these lines for future events?!

Magnus Carlsen's secret ingredient for the Isle of Man success - Synne Kristin Larsen! | Emelianova

SD: Magnus won the tournament because he is a very strong player. First I have to focus on improving my game then start thinking along these lines [Laughs]. I still make a lot mistakes!


SS: Do you think this is the revival of your chess career and that you can now dream of 2600 and beyond?

SD: Yes this performance has really charged me up. I don't want to go too far but 2600 has been at the back of my mind for a long time. I hope to reach there soon.

Swapnil's next tournament will be the National Premier Championship beginning from the 27th of October 2017. It would be interesting to see if he can repeat his performance and give B. Adhiban, the top seed of the event, a run for his money! \Photo: Emelianova

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