Rameshbabu Praggnandhaa, all of 17, is the latest sensation on the Indian chess scene. His opponents find him as difficult to beat as many people find pronouncing his name.
‘Pragya’, as he is fondly called, carved a niche for himself by becoming the youngest player to defeat World Champion Magnus Carlssen in February this year. He followed it up by defeating Carlssen four more times, with the recent win coming last week in the final round of FTX Crypto Cup.
With ash smeared across his forehead, the diminutive Tamil Nadu teenager first grabbed headlines when he became the youngest chess player to attain the International Master (IM) norm in 2016 at the age of 10. Not even the great Viswanathan Anand could attain the IM mark at such a tender age. It was Pragya’s elder sister R Vaishali who introduced him to the game. Vaishali herself is a player of repute and an International Woman Master.
She is four years older to Pragya and has won the World Championships in the Under-12 and Under-14 categories. Little wonder that Pragya gives credit to his sister for what he is today. “Vaishali was focused and was also able to impart me the finer points of the game (apart from the basics). Being a very accomplished player, she was quick to point out my flaws and also make me technically sound,” he says.
Blitz India spoke to some experts to try and understand the factors which make Pragya such a formidable opponent. The cornerstone of Pragya’s game is his speed and his ability to not get flustered under pressure, says former GM Pravin Thipsay. “He simply sticks to his basics and ensures that he does not make any mistakes. Also, he ensures that he no matter how tough the situation, he manages to keep his cool and composure – something players twice his age can’t quite manage at the international level,” opined Thipsay.
Another feature of Pragya’s game is that he makes his moves fast. “A majority of players take their own time pondering the next move. In Pragya’s case, he doesn’t seem to take any extra time while making his moves. He is aware that if he wastes too much time, he is likely to come under the pressure of the clock,” said R Shanmugham, a state-level chess player from Tamil Nadu.
Pragya’s maturity and temperament also go far beyond his tender age. As World Champion Magnus Carlsen told chess website 64squares, “With Pragya, what I find most impressive about him is his maturity. No matter whatever be the situation, he knows how to charter a way out. At the age of 17, this is what I find most impressive about him.”
The mental toughness aspect about Pragya’s game was evident from the manner in which he overcame the challenge of Carlsen in the final round of the Crypto Cup. He trailed the World Champion and was on the verge of losing before bouncing back in his indomitable style to turn the tables on the Norwegian.
On his part, Pragya happens to be a great admirer of Viswanathan Anand. “From a very young age, I have been following his (Anand’s) exploits at the international level. My family is a chess playing family. We followed Anand’s exploits at the world level with a lot of anticipation. I have always admired him for the manner in which he is able to conduct himself. He is the perfect ambassador for the game,” signs off Pragya.