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Coach Of The Month: GM Swapnil Dhopade

Coach Of The Month: GM Swapnil Dhopade

NathanielGreen
| 17 | Other

Chess.com's December coach of the month is GM Swapnil Dhopade! He is the first grandmaster from the Indian region of Vidarbha in the state of Maharashtra.

He has coached the Indian women's team at several events including the Women's World Team Championship and Asian Continental Chess Championship in 2019. Swapnil also founded the online Chess Pathshala and among his one-on-one students has been none other than GM Raunak Sadhwani, one of the youngest grandmasters ever.

You can also benefit from Swapnil's amazing coaching and experiences. We hope you enjoy his insights here as December's Chess.com Coach of the Month! 

Readers seeking private instruction can contact Swapnil via his Chess.com profile and can find other skilled coaches at Chess.com/coaches.


At what age were you introduced to chess, and who introduced you?

I learned chess when I was 10 years old. I always went to my grandmother's house during the summer holidays and one fine afternoon, I noticed some of my friends I made there playing chess. I was immediately curious to know the rules of the game. My friend Abhijeet gave me a crash course on the rules and I clearly remember him mentioning that the king cannot move unless it was in check! This was a common chess rule in rural India at the time and I played with it for a few months—no wonder I got checkmated in almost every other game!

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
GM Swapnil waiting for a tournament game to start. Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

What is your first vivid memory from chess?

I won my first tournament! I know very few players can boast this, but if this happens, then it easily becomes the most vivid memory.

It was a tournament organized by my school. My family had moved to a new apartment a couple of years before. Luckily, I found a new neighbor who was super-passionate about chess. His name was Harbans. We played together from morning until night without a break. No study of openings, no chess books, no chess tactics. Just play games and learn from your mistakes. It was fun!

Going into that first tournament, I was already a decent player and won against all the kids in my age group. This is also a vivid memory for me because my parents decided they were going to help me become a chess champion—parents are so optimistic about their kids!

Which coaches were helpful to you in your chess career, and what was the most useful knowledge they imparted to you?

My first chess coach was Mr. Praveen Pawar, who taught me the move 1.d4 which I have stayed true to my entire chess career.

My second coach, Mr. Omprakash Kakra, opened my mind to chess as a career. We trained every day from 8 PM to 1 AM! He also taught me to be humble in all my interactions, so he not only improved my chess but taught me valuable lessons in everyday life. When he felt I needed higher training, he himself introduced me to titled players and arranged for coaching sessions, all without charging me a single penny! Getting acquainted with him was a huge blessing for me and he is like a dad to me now.

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
GM Swapnil is ready for his young opponent! Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

My third chess coach was the famous international master Anup Deshmukh, from the same town and same school as me. I remember when he gifted me my first chess book, a Chess Informant! That was a huge gift for an aspiring chess player those days. Anup taught me a lot of things about chess and also shared with me his spiritual experiences and knowledge. He is not just my chess coach but also my spiritual guru.

After this, I had brief chess camps with ex-national champion Nasir Ali, IM Sekhar Sahu, and GM Abhijit Kunte (who is also the head coach of the Indian chess team and a role model for all the players in Maharashtra!)

My fourth coach was the world-famous chess coach GM R. B. Ramesh, who taught me how to prepare and play professionally. Training with him also helped me break down some mental barriers. I quickly achieved my international master title and a grandmaster norm working with him. Today, Ramesh also guides me whenever I have doubts as a coach. It is no wonder he has helped so many chess players achieve amazing feats!

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
GM Swapnil waits on another opponent. Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

My fifth chess coach was another world-famous coach and author, GM Jacob Aagaard. For almost three years of my career, I was stuck in the rating range of 2450-2490 even though I already had five GM norms. Poor calculation was a huge hindrance for me and after being frustrated for a long time, I finally found GM Aagaard’s book Calculation from his Grandmaster Preparation series. After working through the exercises night and day, I quickly achieved my grandmaster title. I later attended a camp at his house in Glasgow, Scotland, where I learned a lot and soon after delivered the best performance of my life when I tied for third in the 2017 Isle of Man Masters.

I thank all my coaches, including my training partners and others whom I learned a great deal. I am sorry if I could not include the names of some of my coaches because of the limitations of the article.

Which game do you consider your "Magnus Opus?"

I consider my 2017 game against the legendary GM Nigel Short to be my favorite. Many consider an attacking game and crushing win as their favorite game, but it gave me immense pleasure to win against a player whom I've admired since my childhood. Moreover, the game was a complete positional grind from the start. No fireworks, only a step-by-step accumulation of positional advantages and winning material, then converting the material advantage into a full point.

How would you describe your approach to chess coaching?

My approach towards chess coaching is practical. I don't think that there is one specific way to improve one's play, although there are a set of core principles that I follow while training all my students.

First, I usually start by analyzing the games of my new students to assess their style of play, strengths, and weaknesses. This helps me get a clear idea about the area of play that needs to be addressed immediately. Even if several areas may need to be improved gradually, it is easier to see quick improvements if we start working on the weakest link first. 

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
GM Swapnil preparing in front of a green screen. Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

I also think that one-hour sessions alone are not sufficient for quick improvement. Hence, I also motivate my students to work at home. Everyone has a different character and motivations that, if understood correctly, can push them to work hard on their chess, and I discuss these things directly with the student in addition to our chess studies.

I ensure that I send my students regular files to work on at home. The quality of the files helps the students to enhance what they learn from the class.

What do you consider your responsibility as a coach and which responsibilities fall on your student?

As a coach, my responsibility is to spot the correct weaknesses in my student's play, prepare a constructive plan, and use relevant chess material to work on these weaknesses. I also feel it is important for me to motivate my students to be interactive in the class and work hard at home.

The student's responsibility is to give 100% effort in the class and complete all the homework given to them.

What is a piece of advice that you give your students that you think more chess players could benefit from?

If you have less time to work on your chess on a specific day, spend that time training your calculation by solving positions. Calculation in chess is like a muscle that needs to be trained regularly. If you stop solving, your calculation muscle shrinks.

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
Calculation takes concentration. Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

What is your favorite teaching game that users might not have seen?

I strongly feel that pattern recognition is an important aspect of improvement in chess. Therefore it is necessary to study model games of the past.

In order to explain to students the importance of pattern recognition I first show the position from the 2018 game between GM Tiger Hillarp Persson vs IM Laurusas Tomas at the Batumi Chess Olympiad. I ask them to find the best play for White on move 30.

Most students struggle to find the best continuation, which GM Hillarp Persson played in the game. Instead of telling them the solution, I now show them the famous game between Nigel Short and GM Jan Timman at Tilburg 1991. They easily notice that the main takeaway from that game is Short's famous king walk from g1 to h6!

Then I take them back to the position from the game of GM Hillarp Persson and ask them whether they see any similar pattern in the position. It does not take them much time to realize that White can apply the same pattern of the king walk here too! It becomes easier for them to understand how beneficial it is to have a huge collection of good and typical chess ideas and patterns in our brain.

What is the puzzle you give students that tells you the most about how they think?

I don't really think there exists any such single position that can give me well-rounded insights into a player's thinking. I give them different sets of positions to get an insight into their strengths and weaknesses.

Do you prefer to teach online or offline? What do you think is different about teaching online?

I prefer to teach offline as I believe physical presence makes it easier for me to have an impact on the student. The knowledge and training I give both online and offline may be the same, but students' efforts and my ability to motivate them increase significantly in offline sessions.

If offline is not possible, then of course online is preferable to refraining from any coaching sessions at all!

Swapnil Dhopade Coach of the Month
GM Swapnil prepares for an online lesson. Photo: Courtesy Swapnil Dhopade.

What do you consider the most valuable training tool that the internet provides?

I find the interactive analysis chessboard on Chess.com the most valuable chess tool. The interface is amazing and drawing arrows helps students train their visualization skills.

Apart from the analysis board I also love Puzzle Rush on Chess.com, which is helpful for developing quick vision for simple tactics as well as repetition of typical tactical patterns. I not only recommend puzzle rush to my students, but I also use it myself to stay in shape.

Which under-appreciated chess book should every chess player read?

Secrets of Practical Chess by GM John Nunn, one of my favorite books, is a must-read for every chess player.


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