Interview with a legend: Dhruv Sawhney, owner of the Triveni Continental Kings
These days, we often see the word legend used lightly. People who have not achieved much are quoted as legends, and this leads to a reduction in the value of the word per se. However, when the right people are attributed with the term, it enhances the value of the word. And one such person who does justice to the word legend is Mr. Dhruv Sawhney. Dhruv is the Chairman and Managing Director of the Triveni Group, and the group owns a team in the Global Chess League called the Triveni Continental Kings. And this is the team that won the first edition of the GCL. IM Sagar Shah interviews Dhruv Sawhney and gets his thoughts on the event, the growth of chess, his thoughts on the sport, and lessons that he can share with the youngsters. It is fantastic that Mr. Sawhney, who was once the President of AICF for 12 years, is now back to chess!
A very famous saying goes like this: the wrinkles on the face of an old man are not indicative of how many years he has lived but of how much experience and wisdom he has. Such is the case with this young-hearted legend, Dhruv Sawhney. Many people got to know him recently as the owner of the Triveni Continental Kings in the Global Chess League, but not many know that he has a history with chess that dates back to the 1980s and a list of achievements that can humble anyone. Recently, Sagar had the opportunity to interview the famous personality himself. Read more about him, his achievements, his thoughts on the Global Chess League, and more in this article.
Just to put a perspective on the kind of person we are talking about, here are some of the things that he has done to date in life. His achievements are so many that it would take an entire book to fill them up. But here are a few:
1.Graduated with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Sciences from Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, U.K.
2.M.B.A. with distinction from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
3.Received the “Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur” from President Chirac of the French Republic.
4.Made an ‘Honorary Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order’ (LVO) by HM Queen Elizabeth II
5.Chaired the Commonwealth Leadership Development Conferences
6.Co-Chair of the Indo-French CEO’s Forum set up by the Prime Minister of India and President of France
7.Past Chairman of the Indian Institute of Management, Kashipur, and the Doon School, Dehradun
8.President of the All-India Chess Federation for 12 years
9.Chevalier of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin in Burgundy, France
10.President of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)
Dhruv Sawhney’s long association with chess
Dhruv being the owner of Triveni Continental Kings is not a matter of luck; his association with chess dates back to long before that. Not many might be aware, but Dhruv was the AICF president for 12 years. A person from South India approached him, saying they wanted someone from New Delhi to take over, so he did.
Chess scene in the 1980s through the eyes of Dhruv
With age comes experience, and with experience comes wisdom. Sit with a person who has spent many years on this planet, and they will tell you stories so captivating that you could not even find the finest of world-class novels. As Dhruv started telling us all about the chess scenario in India when he got elected as AICF president, we could see the journey the sport has taken over the years. From 1 grandmaster to 83, with time and the combined efforts of many, India became one of the leaders of chess in the world. What started out as a dream could now be finally seen and shaped into reality.
At the time when Dhruv was elected president, the combined vote of all regional associations was taken into consideration. Because of this, the power of the president of a sports federation was huge, as so were his responsibilities. Conceding the best for sports, Dhruv advised the government that after three terms, the person in power should be changed. However, that did not pan out the way he wanted.
There were two main objectives that Dhruv focused on while he was the AICF president. His main job was to ensure that the government and the federation funded everything well.
Dhruv was on good terms with the FIDE president of that time, who happened to be a Buddhist, and he and his team told him that “If you want to do well as AICF president, you should follow the Soviet model, the Russian model.” And that included conducting as many tournaments as possible. “Unless you have the maximum number of tournaments in India, chess will never take off. It has nothing to do with the caliber of people there are..." Following this, they conducted a number of tournaments all over India.
The second piece of advice he got was, “You have to have chess in school; they have to start young”, and that is still one of the areas that Dhruv feels needs focus.
The very first tournament they conducted was around the time Vishy had just become a grandmaster, in 1990, that was one of the highest-rated chess tournaments to be ever conducted in India, with players like Vishy, the three Polgar sisters, Eugene Torre, Alexander Chernin, and many more.
The tournament was held on Barakhamba Road, and even Rajiv Gandhi came for the prize distribution ceremony. With the vision that India could be the leader in the field of chess, he did his best with the power he had. Check out Anand's fantastic win over Gata Kamsky from the event:
What brought him back to the game? His association with Triveni Continental Kings and the reason behind their win
One of the things that attracted Dhruv the most about GCL was the team format. He recalls a story when he went to the chess Olympics team with his wife, and one such event was conducted in a pure meat-eating town in Yugoslavia. While finding a vegetarian restaurant for the players, he understood the importance of team spirit. When he found out that GCL was to be conducted in a team format, he was immediately up for that. “To me, GCL, Anand Mahindra’s idea of having it as a team sport, I thought was a very innovative thing for chess, and that is what attracted me.”
Dhruv believes that the reason their team won was because they had “a fantastic bunch of people”.
When asked about how Dhruv decided to take Loek Van Wely, the current national coach of Italy, when all the other coaches were Indian, he said, "You see, we entered this thing because Anand and the team there wanted to make it an international affair and that they wanted to gather a franchise that is not all from India."
Triveni Engineering & Industries is a company that is into renewable space, exporting to 85 countries, and Dhruv wanted the same with his team. He wanted to make it an international event, and knowing that there would be a lot of competition for the Indian players, he thought outside the box and changed his approach.
The second person that Dhruv gave credit to was Levon, for his calmness and for inspiring confidence in players. He recalls that Levon's words were, "It doesn’t matter what you do; you have to win,", and that was instrumental in the win of the team, as a win equalled three draws, which otherwise could be a loss for the whole team. Motivating words like “you can win” played a significant role in their winning the last game, which led to the victory of the whole team.
Confidence and motivation like this are not seen in chess in general, as it is an individual sport and not a team sport. However, the Global Chess League gave everyone a different perspective as to how the game could be approached in a more fun and exciting way.
The second biggest thing that Dhruv liked about this format was that they had men and women play together on a single team. Recalling the time when Judith was adamant about playing in only the open section, Dhruv says, “That gave me a lot of confidence that the chess federation could bring about a lot of change in India”, and with the support of the government, they took many active steps for the same. Seeing GCL following the same, he was immediately on board.
The last and one of the most important attractions for Dhruv about the event was Anand Mahindra. Having been acquainted with him for a long time, he knew that if Anand was associated with something, he would personally see to it that it was carried out in the best possible way. For someone who has seen chess grow from scratch and witnessed the entire spectrum, Dhruv says that another reason he got back into sports was the way it changed and evolved over the years.
Future plans for Triveni Continental Kings
Dhruv feels that with this format, they need to have the same players for at least two years. The excitement that the last match held was just like a penalty shootout, which is something that one does not get in the usual chess events. There could be a lot of scope for improvement in the fields of presentation, commentary, association, and more. The format has a lot of potential to grab the attention of people from the ages of 8 to 80, and thus he aims to have a little discussion with the people in charge on how they can make it a more global event. Therefore, there is no set plan as to what they would do going into the 2nd edition of GCL.
Every step that a leader takes, they must tread carefully because there is a lot at stake. “I think if we do this on an innovative basis, on a global basis, it will help both things. It will help the Triveni brand in innovation, and it will help the spreading of sport, not as a CSR event but as a serious sports event.” As someone who has a list of achievements under his banner that is not so common to see, Dhruv owes all of it to the dedicated team of people he met and worked with over the years.
To see the whole video, and hear the thoughts of the man himself, click the link below: