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Vishnu Warrier: The champion nobody saw coming

Nobody thought Vishnu Warrier, an adult chess improver, had any chance. But it wouldn't be surprising why he became the champion if they saw his dedication.

Success Story | 12 min read
Vishnu Warrier: The champion nobody saw coming

Winning a tournament when nobody thinks you have a chance is one of the greatest feelings. But pulling off such a massive upset is no easy feat.

Add the limitations of time, work, and family, and you quickly realize how hard it is to improve chess, let alone create a major tournament upset.

For Vishnu Warrier, a tech consultant with a young family, this was what he was up against.

How Vishnu got into chess

After discovering his love for chess at 9, Vishnu quickly improved his game.

“My first rating was 646(USCF). I kept studying and playing with one neighbor kid and soon became 1000-rated around the time I was 10 years old. Then I got a coach and became 1500-1600, by the time I was 13 or 14.” 

After a break in high-school years, Vishnu returned to the game.

“In college, I hit 2000. In 2018, I played a few tournaments and hit 2150 as my peak.”

But then, chess took a backseat.

“I was trying to hit 2200, but I got married that year in 2018, and things got busy. I had just finished my master's degree and started a job.” 

Then Covid happened

“During Covid, I was playing some online events, but I wasn't really studying.”

But something happened, which made Vishnu reconnect with the game he was good at. 

“My son was born.” After having him, I was like – okay, it(chess) has always been there. And I want to improve myself.” 

From a book introduction to ChessMood

During Covid, Vishnu was also working on another project.

“I had finished writing a book and asked Avetik to help me with the book introduction. He helped me a lot. And in August or September of 2021, I found ChessMood.” 

What was the book Vishnu was writing?

Vishnu’s book

“It’s called – Chess Axioms: One-liners and Mantras. It's basically like a list of chess axioms, like one-liners.” 


An excerpt from Vishnu's draft

“Before the tournament games, I read that document. I came up with like 200 different one-liners. Some are more psychological. Some are more practical, like specific chess positions. 

“Even though I knew them intuitively, reading the list before a game helps to have the presence of mind.” 

(The draft is with the publisher but has got delayed for some reason.)

Studying chess for just 3 hours a day 

Having a day job put time constraints on Vishnu’s schedule. So he took an interesting approach to tackle the problem. 

“In October, probably 3-4 days a week, I woke up at 4 am; 4 - 7 am to study. I picked morning because I knew if I didn't do it in the morning, I wouldn't do it all day.”

“Thanks to my supportive wife, I sleep around 8:30 pm or 9 pm. I set the alarm for 4 am. By 4:15 am, I'm in the chair studying.”

Vishnu’s Productivity Playbook

Vishnu knows how to optimize his time. There’s a lot one can learn from him.

Structure your training

Every training session is planned to its last detail.

“My plan is 15 minutes of the puzzle rush. 45 minutes of difficult tactics, one hour on openings, or reading. Every other day, I'll switch between the two.”

Even while exercising, Vishnu uses that time for learning.

“In the last hour, while I'm on the treadmill at the gym, I would just pull up the screen(the treadmill has a screen), which connects to YouTube. I'm usually like watching the ChessMood daily lesson or something like that.”

Activity Time
Puzzle Rush for warm-up 15 minutes
Difficult tactics for improving calculation 45 minutes
Study openings/Read books 1 hour
Consume chess content like Daily Lessons while exercising 1 hour
Total 3 hours

Think less. Do more.

Vishnu wants to optimize his time to take more action. For this, he uses a classic productivity hack.

Vishnu's to-do list.
Screenshot of Vishnu's to-do list

“I'll print the to-do sheet on Sundays for the entire week. Each day is slightly different. Generally, it's like turn off the alarm, turn on the tea kettle, go brush and wash my face, make coffee.”

“And then I have this high-performance planner journal. I put my plan for the day and go through that for about 15 minutes before starting the training.” 

“I also have one to-do list for the evening. Having them on paper helps me not think about it. As a result, I spend my time and energy on what actually needs to get done.”

Save morning time by eliminating friction.

Small tasks can eat up willpower in the morning and cause decision fatigue. But by investing a few minutes at night, Vishnu takes care of this.

“The night before, I'll turn off all my computers and clean the work desk. I put coffee in the French press and water in the tea kettle.”

“So the next morning when I wake up, I first turn off the alarm. And even before I brush my teeth, I go to the kitchen, just push the button, and turn on the hot water because it takes like 4-5 minutes to heat up. And I'll brush my teeth in that time, come back and pour the coffee.”

“Every minute in the morning is very precious. I try not to waste that time.”

Prioritize which openings to study.

Vishnu spends 3 hours studying chess, out of which only 1 hour is for openings. So he had to prioritize what to study first.

“I first looked at my online games: How often do I see the opening? Most common, unsurprisingly, was e4 c5 – the Sicilian and e4 e5. Then came French, the Caro Kann, the Pirc, the Scandinavian.” 

“Also, even though Petroff is probably more solid, Alekhine is more tricky. So I prioritized studying Alekhine over Petroff. I know I'm good enough if I'm playing White pieces when they play something very solid. I have the confidence in myself that okay, I'll figure it out over the board, regardless of whether I know my theory or not.”

“That's how I ended up prioritizing.”

Track progress

“I have an Excel tracker. It has every ChessMood opening with White and Black.”


Screenshot of Vishnu's Excel Tracker

It helps Vishnu track the openings he has studied, access his Chessbase preparation on the web by clicking the link, and review the lessons he learned from the classics.

But why did he come up with the tracker in the first place?

“I have to do that because I'm so busy with the rest of my life. Setting it up took a lot of time at first. But once it was ready, it made life a lot easier.”

For many, trackers can be hard to maintain, especially daily. But Vishnu knows their value.

“It's like flossing your teeth. No one likes to floss. Everyone just brushes. You can get by doing that, but you have to floss because otherwise, in 20 years, you'll lose your teeth.” 

“Similarly with chess. Tracking is tedious, but it's five minutes – I just remember that.” 

A test of persistence and patience

Vishnu played in 2 tournaments – one in February 2022 and one in March 2022. 

“I gave myself 3-4 months to prepare. And I did very poorly.”

“I had 2.5 out of 8 in the February event. And I had 0 out of 4 in March. After the tournament in March, I was pretty upset with myself.”

Things didn’t go according to plan. It was a testing period. 

Train like a professional

Instead of getting discouraged, Vishnu did the opposite.

“So I started training even harder. Then I was studying about 3-4 hours a day. Even after work, I would train. I was watching and re-watching the course videos. That was a big part.” 

“Because I was so upset with my results, I said – okay, even if the next one goes badly, I'm going to train like a professional. That was the attitude I had for myself.”

But what was driving Vishnu? 

The ‘why’ behind Vishnu’s sacrifices

Why was he giving up his peaceful morning sleep to train?

“I just wanna show it's possible to improve as an adult when everyone says you have to do this by the time you're 20.”

“I'm 31. I have a wife and a son. I work as a tech consultant during the day.

On top of that, I'm coaching a little bit and am focused on my improvement. I want to show it's possible to do all of those things. I don't know anyone who's done it as an adult.” 

Pick the right circle

For Vishnu, his friends also serve as an inspiration.

“I have one friend. His name is James Canti. He is one of the chess.com streamers.” 

“Lately, he has improved a lot. He became 2750 in blitz on chess.com. He’s 30, only a year younger than me. James has two kids, and seeing someone like that is like – okay, if he can do it, why can’t I?”

“Another friend of mine is considerably older. His name is Mike Zaloznyy. He’s a US-based player, maybe in his mid-forties, but Mike has recently bumped up his rating to around 2250 FIDE. And he was just like 2000 FIDE last year.”

“Knowing that other people are outworking me – that's what keeps me going too.”

Vishnu was determined to prove his chess strength. He trained harder after the disappointing results in the February and March tournaments. 

Then Chicago happened…

31st Chicago U2300 – The class of a champion.

At this event, Vishnu was seeded somewhere in the range of 60s with a 2041 (USCF) rating, far from the top. It was easy to write him off based on his low seeding.

Round 1 – Sniffing fear.

To kick things off, he faced the best-seeded player.

“I was playing against the top seed and had the Black pieces. My opponent's rating was 2297.” 

But I just remember looking into his eyes, and he had some fear. I could just see from his eyes, his body language.”

“Even before the first move was made, I knew I was winning this game.” 

And that’s what happened – Vishnu won, scoring a big upset which gave him immense self-confidence.

“Once I won the game, I was like – I'm gonna win this tournament. I don't know why, but I had that feeling for some reason.”

Round 3 – The power of self-talk

“In round 3, I played pretty dubiously and lost a pawn for pretty much nothing.” 

But instead of losing hope, Vishnu changed his perspective.

“I remember it was Avetik who said something like whenever you make a mistake, the word I want you to say to yourself is – good; Now I have a chance to defend. Or now I have a chance to learn how to get better at counterattacking.” 

“So instead of saying I'm such an idiot, I was thinking to myself – Okay, now I got a chance to fight, or now I get a chance to improve myself in this aspect of my game.”

“And as soon as I thought like that, on the next move, my opponent made an even bigger blunder, gifting me a random attack out of nothing. That was helpful.”


Vishnu(left) at the event with (L to R) Gauri Shankar, Ben Finegold, James Canty, Karen Finegold

Round 6 – When 2 champions fight

In this round, Vishnu was facing a player in great form.

“He was someone I could tell he was ready to fight.” 

It wasn’t going to be easy. And things got worse quickly.

“I messed up, especially the opening. He was completely winning.” 

Something had to be done. Then Vishnu noticed an interesting detail about his opponent.

“He was a small kid, so he was playing very fast. I figured I would use that against him.” 

Miraculously, it worked!

“In the endgame, I tricked him into moving too quickly, allowing me to save the game with a draw. I got lucky.” 

“Losing that game would’ve stopped me from winning the tournament.”

Keeping the Right Mood before the game

Before each game, Vishnu would prime his mind for peak performance.

“The other thing that helped me was the playlist on Apple Music, called ‘Greatest Hits Motivation’. Before each game, if I had time, I would spend 15 or 20 minutes listening to that. It would get me into the right frame.”

From an underdog with almost no chances to becoming a champion!

Vishnu won that event, along with the same person who nearly beat him in Round 6. And with that, he went from being seeded in the 60s to co-winning a tournament! 

Vishnu Warrier c0-winning Chicago U2300
Krishnan 'Vishnu' Warrier co-winning Chicago U2300 tournament.

His rating jumped from 2041 to 2173 USCF, gaining 132 points in a single tournament! He also bagged a prize of $3750.

“It was like seven months of studying had to pay off finally. I knew that at some point, it would. It’s something that clicks. Unfortunately, it's not one of those things you can force.”

Chess coaching

Vishnu also coaches on the side and recommends ChessMood to his students. 

“I'm especially making them watch the classical games, the Tactic Ninja, the Mating Matador, and the WhiteMood and BlackMood openings.”

So with his students learning from ChessMood, where does his role as a chess coach lie?

“During class, we go through practical endgames. I'll show, for example, Capablanca’s endgames, which are less theoretical but more practical. And then heavy focus on strategic planning.” 

“I tend to focus less on openings within class unless there're specific questions. I'll do a game review if they have some games for me using my coach's method.” 

“He doesn't look at the engine and he doesn't look at the game before class. And always just like every move, he'll put it on training mode and guess the move that I played.”

“And I do the same with my students’ games because then they'll see my real thoughts without having any bias of knowing the result of the game and how things went.”

But who is this coach? It’s GM Babakoli Annakov, who was also the trainer of young American star GM Jeffrey Xiong.

Working with GM Babakoli Annakov

He’s a GM from USSR who now stays in the US. Vishnu started to work with him in February 2022. 

“He is like an old Soviet coach. His style is very, very different than how I grew up – Less openings, more focus on middlegames and endgames.”

“He was even telling me that my openings are better than his in certain ChessMood lines. I know these lines much, much better than he does.” 

Becoming stronger for the next challenge

On his quest to become a stronger player, Vishnu is focussing on his fitness.

“I haven't been playing any norm tournaments. Before that, I need to improve my stamina to be able to fight for the entire duration of the tournament. So that's kind of the next thing I'm working on.” 

“For me, the motivation is not necessarily to look better, which is a nice by-product. But it’s more like; I need to do this because I will play better.”

Rapid Fire

Your favorite chess piece.

Knight

Your favorite player from the current generation.

Praggnanandhaa.

Your favorite opening.

The Sicilian.

It has so many different types and has imbalances in all of them.

Your playing style in 1 word.

Resilient.

What’s the favorite memory chess has given you?

Friends.

What’s the most important lesson chess has taught you?

Results will come with time.

Your favorite ChessMood course.

The Classical Games or the Classical Attacking Games.

My knowledge of the classics was fairly good, but I didn’t know a few of them from the course. It was good to see them.

Your Right Mood ritual.

I listen to the podcast on Apple Music – the Greatest Hits Motivation

If goddess Caissa could give you a chess superpower, what would you prefer it to be? Which chess superpower you’d like to have?

Control my impulse to play a move.

You know – when you make a move, you look at three or four moves, and nothing looks good. Then you play some other random move that you didn't look at :) I don’t want to do that. 

Connect with Vishnu, share your congratulatory messages with him via this forum thread.

Originally published Sep 06, 2022

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