Interviewing The Coach Of Olympiad Sensation Gukesh
All smiles after the gold medal! GM Gukesh with his coach, GM Vishnu Prasanna. Photo: Gukesh via Twitter.

Interviewing The Coach Of Olympiad Sensation Gukesh

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GM Vishnu Prasanna is India's 33rd grandmaster. He has worked as a second to GM Baskaran Adhiban and has also coached many chess players since 2016 including GM Surya Shekhar Ganguly. India's second-highest-rated player, GM Gukesh D, is also his student and they have been working together for the last five years. 

In this interview, India talked with Vishnu about his coaching career as well as Gukesh's chess journey. The interview was conducted via a video call, and text has been edited for clarity or length. India: When did you start playing chess?  

Vishnu Prasanna: (Laughs.) That was ages ago, maybe two decades ago. When I was about twelve years old, I joined the Solar Chess Club in Mylapore. My father taught me the initial moves.

Vishnu Prasanna as a child with his family. Photo: Vishnu Prasanna.
Vishnu occupied with chess. Photo: Vishnu Prasanna.

When you were growing up as a player, did you have a role model or favorite players?

I was very much into cricket. So, my mother made me play chess because of GM Vishy Anand! He had won the FIDE World Cup in 2000 in Delhi at that time. I started chess because of Vishy and that's how it is for a lot of players in India. He is somebody I looked up to. Coming to favorite players, it keeps changing. My favorite player at that time was GM Garry Kasparov because of the literature I could read. Kasparov's books were the only accessible literature for me. I would say that Kasparov and Anand were huge influences. Currently, I feel that the favorite player keeps changing.

When and how did you enter the coaching field?

I started coaching somewhere between 2015 and 2016. In the beginning, it was just a way to support myself financially. It turned out that I have a knack for it—a talent for it, I guess! In a way, I was always studying chess a lot. Teaching also helped me to put those things into thoughts, thoughts into words, and words that I could share with others. 

GM Vishnu Prasanna. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

One of my early students was IM Sidhant Mohopatra from Orissa. He was the first student who became a titled player. After that, a lot of people started asking me for training, and I continued coaching players. 

IM Mohapatra with his coach GM Vishnu Prasanna after securing the IM Title. Photo: Courtesy of Sidhant M.

Did you have a role model as a trainer?

No, not really. You can say that I was using my own mistakes to train. This is something that I learned through my mentor—Srikanth Govind. It is a little bit about Bruce Lee's philosophy. Not teaching anything very specific but working with the individual. 

Did you pursue coaching full-time, or did you combine it with your own tournaments?

It was never a plan to do only coaching. I always enjoy playing, and I'm still continuing to play. Most of my training is also very practical. Playing also helps me to stay in touch. I don't think I will ever stop playing.

GM Vishnu Prasanna: "My way is to combine training with playing." Photo: Niranjan Navalgund/

Coming to the news of the hour: Gukesh! When did you first realize that Gukesh was special? 

He had a very fine positional sense from early on. Our first group camp was in June 2017, and we had individual sessions in the next month. Two months later, Gukesh scored his first IM norm and also became an IM very soon after. We had early successes, and I felt that he was not an average kid for sure. You can never say how fast anyone is going to grow—there are stumbles and things that could go wrong at any moment. I knew that he was very strong. For an 11-year-old, some of the moves he suggested were very difficult, and that was something. 

Gukesh at the age of 11. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Could you give an example or an instance from those early years that made an impression on you? 

He was very positionally sound. He played in the center much more than most people I know. I come from a street chess/aggressive kind of school, but the boy was very sound. For instance, we looked at this classic game between Krogius and Smyslov. You expect Black to display some kind of aggression in the position and win the game through an attack, but Smyslov remains super patient with his play and slowly outplays his opponent. Special mention to the move: 20...Rfc8.

This move was quite natural to Gukesh at that point in time. Even as a player, it was not natural to me. So yeah, a lot of things like that. He obviously had weaknesses also, but these were anomalies. 20...Rfc8 is not what most 11-year-olds would spot in that position. They are more likely to spot ideas connected with tactics or tricks. 

You were with Gukesh when he was rated 2200. You are now with Gukesh as he is 2700+. Can you review the critical moments of this journey from your perspective? 

It is hard to pinpoint everything, but I'll share whatever I remember off the top of my head. The first big thing was his GM norm that he got at the Bangkok Open in Thailand which he got with a little bit of luck. He got lucky in his game against GM Nigel Short. It was not a clean win, but you need luck like that. It sometimes means that fate is helping you even when you are not ready. This was a big moment for him. Gukesh thought: "Maybe, I can become a GM very quickly." 

Throughout that year, he kept working and made his remaining GM norms. He made his final GM norm in Delhi. Chasing the records plays on your mind, and Gukesh was fairly upset that he could not finish the final norm in Spain. He had an opportunity to do it there, but he eventually did it 17 days later in Delhi.

There were failures and disappointments, but his understanding improved from those experiences. He was struggling a little bit in a certain sense while he was between 2570-2580, but he was anyway strong, and so he continued to climb. I think that he was still making some practical decisions that could have been easily avoided. He managed to reduce unforced errors. 

One of the recent critical moments for me was his performance in Armenia. He was playing really well and had climbed to 2640. Then he played two bad tournaments and came down to 2614. We decided that we had to regroup and do something serious in order to cross 2700. Actually, I thought he was ready and felt that if he maintained consistency, he would break the 2700 barrier. After Armenia, he knew he had to be consistent. He understood that losing a game at this level is a fairly expensive endeavor. So, he tried to focus on that aspect, and he has been doing brilliantly over the last few months. No complaints! 

Gukesh secured a gold medal for his performance on the first board at the 44th Chess Olympiad. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Do you set the goals, or does Gukesh set them on his own?

Gukesh decides for himself. I just say that it's a long journey anyway and ask him not to overestimate anything and keep his head in the zone. He is reacting to goals better. I think he responded much better to the 2700 goal, and he definitely didn't slow down there, which is always good. 

What do you have to say about the strategy of playing in many open events in a row? 

I think the strategy depends on the player. Everybody eats according to their appetite. So, that's something we also discussed. When he was very young, his appetite was higher. It still remains much higher than an average player, I guess. He still likes to play a lot. So, there's no need to argue with that or fight against that. I think if he can maintain that level, he can play a lot. There's nothing wrong with that. 

What tournaments will Gukesh play after the Turkish League? (Gukesh is currently playing in the Turkish league.)

He will play in the Spanish League and the European Club Cup. If he is invited to play in the Tata Steel Chess India Rapid and Blitz (in Kolkata), he will play there, or he will play in the World Rapid and Blitz event. 

So, that's a busy schedule ahead?

Yeah, definitely. Nowadays, it is very different compared to five years ago. The value of preparation and stuff like that... you can only do so much by sitting at home. Everything changes too fast. So, if you have the energy and appetite, you play. 

You mentioned that you were expecting Gukesh to make the climb to 2700. So, you were not surprised by his progress in the last three months?

No, not at all. I was not surprised until the Olympiad. (Smiles.) Everything was fairly normal to me, and I thought that we were headed in the right direction. 

How many hours does Gukesh practice chess?

We have never discussed such things. When the interest is there, you don't have to really worry about such things. I think most of the day is spent on chess. It is not just the physical hours he is sitting on the board. He is always thinking about how he can improve, and that's very powerful.

Gukesh didn't use an engine to help him prepare until he reached 2550. Was this a mutual decision or your approach?

I told him that it is an idea he can pursue, and he is the only one who pursued my recommendation. I gave the recommendation as an idea. At the FM level, I thought it doesn't matter so much—even at the GM level. There will always be many mistakes in the game. So I asked him to play for that and asked him to work on other things.

So, you are saying that he would analyze all the games and the mistakes on his own without help in checking the evaluations?

Yes! Just like the old times. Nothing new. Just like chess 15 years ago! I thought it would help him develop his own thinking process and would sharpen him faster. 

Did you also use this idea in your own experience?

Yeah. I have tried not to use engines for most of the time in my life. 

Gukesh had a few second-place finishes. How did you motivate him to win events after that?

That's not how we work. I believe that everything should come from the self—discipline or motivation. We always discussed that only number one matters. It has to be intrinsic, and that's how it has been for Gukesh. I think he is always keen on finishing first wherever he plays. 

Shifting now to the 44th Chess Olympiad, did you speak to Gukesh after his soul-crushing loss to GM Abdusattarov Nodirbek?

I was not present at the venue, so I left him a message: such things happen in chess too. I think he has been there before, and this is not his first soul-crushing loss. So, I just left a message and I don't know if he even saw it.

Gukesh's only loss of the 44th Chess Olympiad. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

He likes to be in his own zone during the event. So, I don't interfere with that. Vishy Anand had a long talk with him, trying to console him, and Gukesh even played the last round. I wasn't sure about that. When I saw the pairings, I thought, OK, he should be fine.

Where do you see Gukesh one year from now? 

I don't really know yet, but I think he will still keep going forward. I don't know how far, but he will keep going in the next year. If he gets the opportunity to play with elite players, he will be up to it. 

If you had to attribute the number-one skill to Gukesh’s success, what would that be?

His tremendous appetite for chess—for both studying and playing chess. I think that kind of appetite is absolutely necessary for what he has done. 

Congrats on becoming a father recently. How has that changed you as a person and a coach?

As a coach, I don't know. As a person, you become more patient and become more aware of the little things. You pay more attention; it's a treat. There's nothing to complain about, and it's been a wonderful experience. 

GM Vishnu Prasanna is married to WIM Dr.Raghavi. Photo:

Regarding coaching, I have been mostly not doing much. I've only been in touch with Gukesh. I am heading an academy in Sivakasi and my own academy in Chennai. The academy at Sivakasi is set by the Hatsun company. I am the head coach there and have been managing the coaching for them. Personal training, well it is just Gukesh right now. I have been training with other players on and off, but not as much as I used to. 

How do you upgrade your skills as a coach these days?

Through experience and interaction with others. When you meet a lot of people, you can see that they are also different. What worked for one person may not work for another. You try to see how else can you make the other player think or how else can you question them or how else can you prompt them to research. I think about the tools that don't exist but could exist and try to bridge that gap through the selection of positions, games etc. I think about what's missing between players of two levels. I'm usually on the lookout for such things. You can see that sometimes there's a pattern there, but most people don't see the same thing or most people could miss the same idea or most people of the same level could miss the same idea. 

What are some recommendations you have for aspiring coaches? 

That's a hard question! (laughs). Okay, they could start with Jonathan Rowson's books: Seven Deadly Chess Sins and Chess for Zebras. One of the books that had a huge influence on my chess understanding and chess coaching is Lasker's Manual Of Chess. It is a very deep book and one of the best chess books I've ever read, especially the part on positional play. Lasker explains how Steinitz came up with his theories and he also shares his arguments for and against those theories. I would also add GM Boris Gelfand's books. 

As a coach, you have to look outside of chess also. Try to come up with your own training philosophy and work with that. The best way to train somebody is according to their belief system rather than yours. You help the student find their own compass and own parameters and assist them with that. Also, my belief is that the student is always a little bit smarter. So, I start from there. It is not always the case, but we have to start from there in my opinion. 

Thank you for your time. We wish you the best in all your endeavors!

Thank you for having me. Nice to have this chat!

Special thanks to IM Rakesh Kulkarni for helping with the interview. 

FM Niranjan Navalgund

Currently work as a community manager for India. 

I have a GM norm and an IM norm. Became a FIDE Trainer recently. Coached two Indian Teams for the Olympiad for PWD. Apart from playing and teaching chess, I dabble in writing and reading. Can speak in English, Kannada, Hindi, Tamil and Marathi.  I recently wrote a short story titled 'Over a Cup of Chai' that's available on amazon. My last novel 'The Lively Library & An Unlikely Romance' is a story of a library where books come to life at night.  

My username was Geborgenheit previously. 
Geborgenheit is a german word which is hard to explain. It can only be experienced; It could also be inner peace of your soul. Google says 'security' but it is more than that!

I do stream sometimes!

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