Chennai: How grandmasters keep a check on fitness | Chennai News


S P Sethuraman performing yoga

CHENNAI: Chess, say Chennai’s homegrown grandmasters, is as much about making the right moves on the board as off it. Swimming, strength training, badminton, yoga, football, dancing, cycling… it’s a fitness blitzkrieg as the city’s players gear up to take on opponents from around the globe in the World Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram at the end of the month.
“A game can last hours and you need a great deal of stamina, both physical and mental, to sustain energy levels through to a win,” says grandmaster Adhiban Baskaran, aka the Beast, who trains vigorously at the gym, to keep his trademark endgame aggression from flagging.
Adhiban says the day Magnus Carlsen won his maiden World Chess Championship title in 2013, he signed up for a swimming and gym membership, which he believes has improved his game tremendously. “The internet was full of reports of how Magnus’s intense fitness regime of swimming, football and yoga keeps him mentally alert during a tournament. It changed the way I looked at physical fitness. It changed the way a lot of Indian chess players looked at physical fitness,” says Abhiban, who is part of the Indian contingent at the Olympiad.
S P Sethuraman says his rigorous schedule of long-distance cycling, strength training, yoga and football, help him square up at the board. “Though chess players appear to just be sitting for hours at a stretch, our body and mind need to be in sync to stay focused till the end,” says the grandmaster, whose Instagram page has several pictures of him in yoga poses, the most popular being of him in a headstand with a chessboard in front of him.
‘There is significant drop in HRV of players during a chess game’
A study published this year in the Baltic Journal of Sport and Health Sciences found calorie expenditure during a chess competition to be roughly 200 calories per hour.
The study also mentions that although there is no physical activity required during a chess game, there is a significant decrease in the Heart Rate Variability (HRV) of players due to psychological factors such as “cognitive load, stress, anxiety, and excitement”. Acute decreases in HRV are usually reported following intense endurance or resistance training. It is reported that in 2004, layer Rustam Kasimdzhanov lost 17 pounds during the six-game world championship.
Srinath Narayanan, grandmaster and non-playing captain of one of the Indian teams, says since he started working out at the gym, he can see a difference in his cognitive functioning during a game. “Every time I have had a training session before a game, I play better,” he says. Krishnan Sasikiran seconds that. For this grandmaster, it’s a toss-up between table tennis and badminton, his two loves besides chess. “Both give me mental agility on the board,” says Sasikiran, who even got himself a robot server during the pandemic to play table tennis. “I train seven to eight hours a day at chess, so I try and grab a game of badminton to round it out,” he says.
For some players, mental conditioning too is equally important. Sethuraman for instance works with sports psychologist Gayatri Vartak to coach him on how to keep his mind in control during a game as he tends to rush his moves. “I’m training to stop and ask myself questions before I touch the chess piece,” he says.
“With chess players, we focus on how to focus, defocus, and refocus during a game because it is not possible to keep levels of concentration the same throughout a five-hour game,” says Gayatri, who has worked with more than 150 chess players from across the country. “The other area we work on is countering the pressures of the endgame.”

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