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At 32, RB Ramesh quit cushy job, retired from playing to be full-time chess trainer. Today, he’s a Dronacharya Awardee

On a day it was announced that he would be feted with the prestigious Dronacharya Award, RB Ramesh’s mind raced back to 2008, when the man known for his calculated moves on the 64 squares made a series of risky decisions that had the potential to alter the course of his life.

Back then, the 32-year-old Ramesh was one of the top chess players in the country, having become a Grandmaster just four years back. But his love for coaching had made him take an unusual decision: quit his job at the Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL) and retire from playing the sport in order to be a full-time chess trainer.

“Quitting my job was a very risky decision. I also quit my playing career at a time when I was the Commonwealth Champion. In hindsight now, I feel very happy and proud to have taken those two decisions,” Ramesh told The Indian Express on Wednesday. “At that time, my heart was more into coaching. I felt I could contribute more by being a trainer than being a player. Already I was working with some players who were showing good improvement in a short span of time. That gave me the confidence to go all in.”

Going all in, though, meant huge financial repercussions. Not only was Ramesh giving up on a stable income, he also had a housing loan that he had to repay from his pocket before he could be relieved from the organisation.

“Our family back then was relying on my salary. There was no guarantee that I would get sufficient students and that it would be a sustainable way of making money in the long term. Maybe for a few years it might work, but it might not work out in the long run. So many of my friends in the chess field advised me against it. They did not feel it was a good decision. They were asking me not to do this,” he said.

Festive offer

But it was his wife Aarthie Ramaswamy (who he had coached at one point in her career to the Girls U-18 title at the World Youth Championship in 1999) who backed him to chase his dream. And thus, the Chess Gurukul academy was born. Many talented chess players have emerged from the Chennai academy, with R Praggnanandhaa, Vaishali Rameshbabu and Aravindh Chithambaram being some of the more illustrious names.

“My wife Aarthie took all the (financial) responsibility so that I could focus on my career as a chess trainer peacefully. So a huge thanks to her. To run the family back then, I did not have a stable income. We had to take loans from relatives and so on. It was not very easy. But she believed in my abilities,” said Ramesh.

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Moulding the careers of Pragg and Vaishali is among the top three career achievements for Ramesh as a coach.“Winning bronze medal for the Indian chess time at the Chess Olympiad — the first time ever that India had won at the prestigious team event — is definitely among the top 3. We were not even in the top 10 seeds back then. We were not the favourites at all.

ALSO READ | Pragg’s secret drill: RB Ramesh, the man behind ‘Be like Pragg’, explains what it takes to be like Praggnanandhaa

“Then in 2015, in the World Youth Chess Championships, Indians won five golds medals, and all five players came from our academy. So that also made me proud,” he added.

Dutch grandmaster Anish Giri once called him ‘Master Shifu of the Indian chess team’ on Twitter, nicknamed after the popular character from the Hollywood animated blockbuster flick Kung Fu Panda.

ALSO READ | R Praggnanandhaa: ‘My mother can tell just by looking at my face & body language if I have a good position on board’

The nickname stuck, even making its way to his Instagram handle. Just like the fictional Master Shifu, Ramesh sees his role as being beyond a chess trainer and a life coach.

“Ramesh sir is more than a coach for both my kids. He’s a guide! He’s a philosopher (for the players),” Pragg and Vaishali’s father Rameshbabu had recently told The Indian Express.

“I usually educate children at my academy to not get addicted to social media or basically having a life with too much entertainment. Basically I teach them to have a purpose and take it as a long journey. That’s the kind of philosophy I try to inculcate in my students,” said Ramesh.

© The Indian Express Pvt Ltd

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