Addition of killer instinct changed Vidit: Roktim Bandyopadhyay, childhood coach

Roktim Bandyopadhyay (L) and Vidit Gujrathi (R).

This was around 15-16 years ago, at the annual open chess meet in Kolkata, when the presence of a boy caused curiosity. From Nashik, in half pants, with mother and younger sister for company, this child was billed promising at the gathering of GMs and to-be GMs in the event, which acted as a window for youngsters to collect norms and rating points against higher-rated overseas players.

Vidit Gujrathi’s appearance, childlike expressions, along with his unmistakable spark on the board drew attention. Roktim Bandyopadhyay knows him since then. The Kolkata-based International Master was his coach for three-plus years from that period. He used to be in Nashik from time to time and accompany Vidit to tournaments in India and abroad.

Roktim is relieved, like others, to see Vidit bounce back from defeats in the fourth and fifth rounds of the Candidates chess competition, and end the first half of seven rounds with 3.5 points. He has been impressed with Vidit’s sharpness and willingness to press. At one point behind the leader, the 30-year-old stands a chance to register a good finish.

“I won’t be unhappy if Vidit plays draws in the next two rounds,” Roktim told RevSportz. “Wins or defeats very frequently may affect stability. He has come back and we can expect something good if he doesn’t lose the eighth, ninth and maybe the 10th rounds. He can then go back to his aggressive ways. He doesn’t have to be over-sharp in every game. He can afford to slow down a bit.”

Roktim remembers a boy mostly with a smile and fond of video games, who was like other kids in the neighbourhood and played cricket with them. Taken deeply into chess, he would spend his spare time immersed into the laptop working on pieces and positions.

“Vidit’s positional understanding was exceptional. Keeping Viswanathan Anand out, P Harikrishna is the strongest Indian I’ve seen in this regard. Vidit is after him. He was rated around 2350 when I started working with him. I soon felt that he has the potential to reach 2700 and suggested to his parents (both doctors) that pursuing chess was not a bad idea,” recalled Roktim.

What did Vidit have to add to his positional sense to become an elite GM and a candidate to challenge the world champion? “Killer instinct,” said his first coach. “Harikrishna, possibly, failed in this aspect. Vidit made extra efforts to improve it. He didn’t have this aggression and sharpness. It has made him a different player and helped him make progress,” opined the 47-year-old.

Roktim was the first to work with Vidit as a coach on a professional basis. Before him, he had coached GN Gopal, who also went on to become a GM. “Vidit was an active boy. There was usually a smile on his face and he was up to pranks. He would do something or the other all the time,” said Roktim, adding that a young Vidit was also an avid reader of chess books.

“That’s why he has knowledge about classical chess. It wasn’t that abundant on the internet back then. He has read books and seen the games of many players. And he was driven by chess. When there was nothing, he would get busy with the laptop working on chess. He has always been highly motivated,” said the coach, who feels controlled exposure to video games helped Vidit’s chess to an extent.

Mischief, video games, books, a smiling face and exceptional positional sense of chess — the journey is at an interesting crossroad. What does Vidit do next? “Just stay put. He has the ability to beat anybody. For now, he should make sure that he doesn’t lose,” Roktim signed out.