Seasoned ‘seconds’ make their presence felt at Candidates

Left: Sandipan Chanda (Source:, Right: Surya Sekhar Ganguly (Source: X)

To have a strong team, it’s important to have a strong bench. Giving this idea a slight twist, it can be said that to have a pool of strong chess players, it’s essential to have a bunch of good coaches. The better the support staff, the better the performance of the players.

Behind the rise of a new crop of Indians threatening to disrupt the world order, it’s difficult to overlook some seasoned players playing their part in this movement as members of the support team. Commentating on the second round of the Candidates meet in Toronto, Viswanathan Anand repeatedly underlined the importance of ‘seconds’.

Coincidentally, two of Anand’s former assistants are playing that same role again. Surya Sekhar Ganguly is working with Vidit Gujrathi, who registered a stunning win against World No. 3 Hikaru Nakamura in the second round. Sandipan Chanda is assisting R Vaishali, the third Indian woman GM, who has made a sedate start in the women’s section.

Ganguly and Chanda were promising players at the turn of the century and became GMs when they were teenagers. Both represented India and were active players when their expertise was utilised differently. Ganguly was in Anand’s team of ‘seconds’ during three victorious World Championship campaigns. Chanda was hired by the five-time world champion when he lost the crown in 2013.

“There are a number of good players working as coaches these days,” GM Dronavalli Harika told RevSportz. “Needless to say it’s a big help. I have worked with some of them for a period and seen what difference a GM of 2500-2600 level can make to your game. Professional players need this kind of support and the ratio of players and such coaches has got better since the time I started playing.”

Ganguly and Chanda specialise in working with top players. They played is prestigious events around the world and locked horns with big names. That experience, capability, knowledge of the game and the system make them sought-after figures. Both being 41 means they know the current crop. Otherwise, they would not have been called up by Anand and those 30 years younger.

“They have had the opportunity to see things from close quarters at the top level,” GM Dibyendu Barua told RevSportz. “Both of them are well experienced. Plus, they have worked with Anand during World Championship fights. This is a distinction no other Indian has (except for Krishnan Sasikiran). This makes them decorated seconds. Those who can afford will seek their services.”

The likes of Ganguly and Chanda, strong players themselves who have started assisting established professionals, are one side of the story. On the other are those who work in the grassroots. RB Ramesh is the foremost in that regard. The GM started coaching children long ago and among his students are R Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali.

“Particularly after Covid, a number of active players of a fairly high level have taken to coaching. This job is obviously different from working with professional players,” noted Harika. Impact of the involvement of those who didn’t make it massive as players helping juniors reach the next level is reflected on the board.

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