"We will go to the Olympiad with ideas and serious preparation in all areas and a strong fighting spirit," says Indian Women's Chess team coach Jacob Aagaard
GM Jacob Aagaard is one of the most famous chess trainers and book writers in the world. He has won all the four major chess book of the year awards: English Chess Federation (2010), ChessCafe.com (2001), Association of Chess Professionals (2013) and the Boleslavsky Medal from FIDE's trainer committee (2012).
He is also the current third highest Scottish player, winner of the 2007 British Championship, and the co-owner of one of the best chess book publishing houses-Quality Chess.
Recently, this FIDE Senior Trainer(FST) was appointed as the coach of the strongest Indian women chess team in the country's history for the upcoming Olympiad.
So, we went straight into interviewing this brilliant mind.
SK: Firstly, congratulations on becoming the coach of the Indian Women’s Chess team. How do you feel about it?
Aagaard: Most of all, I feel that it is a great responsibility. My specialty is to develop talent over time, but I have also had some successes that were more immediate. I hope for immediate results, especially as a few of the players are not that young anymore, and with a lot of talent knocking on the door, it is not unlikely the team will look different already next year.
However, all we can really do is prepare, both chess-wise and mentally, for the tournament and focus on making good moves. Good moves lead to good results. Nevertheless, chess is a terribly difficult and cruel game, so all the preparation in the World is no guarantee.
SK: You first came to India last year for a book tour of your latest book ‘Thinking inside the box.’ Can you share some of your memories from last year?
Aagaard: There are a few great ones, all of them published by ChessBase India. I had Pani Puri in Mumbai and was checkmated by a 1300-rated player (then, probably not now), who just crushed me.
No excuses, except that he really really crushed me. In Ahmedabad, I met (now IM) Fenil Shah and really enjoyed the hospitality of Ankit Dalal, which was second to none. In Delhi, Vishal Sareen had organised a great event, where kids and GMs alike attended. It also had the best accommodation(A fantastic hotel).
In Kolkata, I got to meet a few old friends, which was wonderful. However, most of all I loved the visit to the Barua Academy, here. I visited the Academy again in December,2017, and Quality Chess made a special donation of our entire library to them.
In Chennai, the class was incredibly strong, at least 11 GMs in a small room. It was so interesting that we ran over on the second day.
The session was supposed to run 10-13, but we finished at 18.30! Most of all, I got to make a new friend in the amazing RB Ramesh, whom I am pleased to be in contact with ,still, to this day.
Having said all of this, I have to say that making the acquaintance with Amruta Mokal beats all. I am sure I will continue this friendship with her and her husband Sagar Shah till the end of my life.
SK: What made you choose the option of training the Indian team? What has been your experience with them so far?
Aagaard: I asked the AICF, not the other way around. I had to fight for it, and I am glad I did. Everyone will know that there is untapped potential in these brilliant women. When I saw them go to the World Team without a team captain, I felt a calling. And, of course, it made it possible for me to go to India all the time.
We had one training camp and a lot of online work already. I do not want to talk about the actual chess too much, but I want to say this one thing, everyone likes everyone else among the players. There are no bad feelings between players almost making it and those who squeezed past. There is genuine affection between those that fight to the death on the board. This alone should make all Indian chess fans proud.
SK: This time the team for the Olympiad looks quite strong on paper with four top ladies from the country(Humpy, Harika, Tania, and Easha). What can you say about the team and its chances?
Aagaard: We cannot influence how well the other teams play. We will go to the Olympiad with ideas and serious preparation in all areas and a strong fighting spirit. It is a fact in sports psychology that you will have to be prepared mentally to lose in order to perform your best. You cannot be risk-averse.
I hope to support the players enough for them to feel safe and adventurous. If we achieve this, we can come first or tenth.
In both cases, it will be a success. Just because you do the right things, does not mean you get the right result. But we shall do our best and be pleased with that as a start.
SK: What are your goals for Indian chess? How can it improve according to you?
Aagaard: To become as dominant as the Soviet Union was once upon a time. And I think we are headed in that direction.
The main thing will be brutal competition on the board between the players and real cooperation between the coaches and everyone else working to develop chess in India- the Academies, ChessBase India, the Federation, the government and so on.
Friendly competition and cooperation. When have we achieved this? When we have won the Olympiad and the World Championship in both sections. And I think this will happen sooner than most people think.
SK: You have also been training the latest American Champion GM Sam Shankland. He has had a remarkable run in 2018 with his wins and his new rating, because of which he has entered the world’s top thirty. Can you tell us something more about him and your relationship?
Aagaard: Sam and I have worked together for five years. We have a fixed contract. He plays very consistent chess at the moment and has been headed in this direction for a long time. But, as always, it took longer than he wanted it to.
It almost always will (read more in Thinking Inside the Box in the chapter on psychology). It will be interesting to see how he fares in top tournaments. We will continue working and see where it leads. We are really focused on playing better chess.
Of course, there is euphoria and nerves when the tournaments are happening, but in-between, which is most of the time, we just focus on playing well.
SK: You have also started the Quality Chess India, expanding your publishing house company Quality Chess. What was the idea behind it and what does the future hold for this partnership?
Aagaard: We wanted to offer the books we sell in the rest of the World at prices that are competitive in India.
We hope that Indians realize that for a little extra they can get much better quality books than the cheap knock-offs they have had to buy until now. It is not just that buying and selling the copied books is theft, the quality of the real books is much better.
But it is unfair to tell someone that they have to buy something they cannot afford, so we found a way to make the books available at competitive prices.
We are not competing with the illegal and inferior copies, but at the same time we are respecting the reality and offering something fair to our brothers and sisters in India.
SK: You are also one of the world’s leading trainers and at the same time you are also the winner of all the major chess book awards. How do you manage to balance it together?
Aagaard: Your question clearly illustrates the way I am getting used to being overrated. It is flattering, but I shall not make the mistake of believing the myth.
Whatever talent I have as a trainer or writer is from my personal lack of talent. I have made all mistakes and have had to overcome every weakness known to man.
For this reason, I can offer possible ways to deal with many obstacles. But most of all, I am a grinder. I do the work and always try harder. At times, when I am speaking, I can play the confidently experienced know-it-all trainer, but it is all for effect.
My mental system is one of constantly second guessing myself, always trying to see where I could be wrong, what I could do better. Always prepare. Always do the homework. Maybe I worry too much, but worrying comes from caring, and I doubt there is such a thing as caring too much.
SK: Can you share some tips to the upcoming and aspiring chess players as a coach?
Aagaard: Slow down in your calculation. Analyse your games deeply with the aim of understanding what happened.
Solve exercises every day. This helps you develop your ability to concentrate and trains you in thinking. Chess is all about concentration and thinking.
Play chess your own way. No two people are the same, so learn from others and go your own way.
SK: The one thing that I have seen about you is that you are very particular about your diet and physical training. As a chess player, most people think that it’s not necessary because, after all, chess is an indoor sitting game. What do you have to say about this?
Aagaard: I agree with this. I think it should be added to chess training and not replace chess training. But I think it is important for happiness and energy. The last half year, I have been quite ill and my fitness totally crashed.
I am okay now, but it will take me a lot of work to get back to reasonable fitness. Only six months ago I would sprint up-hill for 20 minutes, now I lose my breath walking up the stairs. I hope to be able to say the opposite in six months time.
SK: What also strikes my curiosity is the fact that your training camps are unique and one-of-a-kind. You never repeat any positions, so I’ve heard from you in one of the sessions that I had attended. Can you please tell us how you prepare for these sessions, what you think is necessary while training, and what should one do during a tournament?
Aagaard: This is not accurate. I avoid positions that have been in my books. Some positions I use again and again. But once published, I move on. But, in general, I like to use fresh material. One of the things I want to do is to see how people engage with it. Some of it is quickly deleted from my files, and some used again and again.
SK: Finally, what would you like to say to your fans and followers?
Aagaard: Hi mom!
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