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R Praggnanandhaa: Unconquered king of Youth Chess

R Praggnanandhaa may come across as a shy and easy-going boy, but beneath his coy self rages a champion. He is the youngest ever in the world to become an International Master (IM), the fourth youngest in the world and India’s second-youngest ever Grandmaster (GM) and on Saturday he became first male chess player from the country to win a world title in the under-18 category.

The 14-year-old Chennai boy with an Elo rating of 2567 scaled the new peak after playing out a draw against German IM Valentin Buckels (2442) in the 11th and final round of the World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) here.

Praggnanandhaa entered the final round at 8.5 points with Armenian GM Shant Sargsyan (2580) breathing down his neck with 8 points. Both the Grandmasters played out draws as the Indian went on to claim the first gold medal in the category for the country.

Interestingly, at the start of the WYCC, Praggnanandhaa was not aware history was stacked against him. “No, I did not know this,” he told HT after round one on being asked if he was under pressure to become the first Indian male to win the tournament. But on Saturday, he acknowledged his feat too.

“The feeling is great. It was a tough tournament to be honest,” he said. “But I did not really think about it (the record). It has not sunk in yet but I had prepared myself like I always do.”

The road to the gold medal was not easy for the second-seeded Praggnanandhaa as the open under-18 category had three GMs—top seed Sargsyan and Indian P Iniyan (2509) posed significant challenges. Iranian IM Aryan Gholami too had set himself up well for a medal in last few rounds. Praggnanandhaa had to bring out his A game to the fore in order to be at the podium.

“All the players were strong and had been preparing very well. It is not easy to get anything from them. Not easy at all,” Praggnanandhaa said.

It is indeed a massive achievement for the 14-year-old Praggnanandhaa, who was described to be somehow lagging behind his Indian peers—the 15-year-old GM Nihal Sarin (2610) from Kerala competed in the Chess World Cup last month, and the second youngest GM Gukesh D (2520).

A journey like no other

Inspired by his sister, Vaishali, who became a Woman Grandmaster (WGM) last year in August, Praggnanandhaa’s has been a stellar career at a very young age. The winner of world titles in under-8 and under-10 in 2013 and 2015 respectively, Praggnanandhaa became the youngest IM at the age of 10 years, 10 months and 19 days in 2016.

His first of the three GM norms came at the World Junior Chess Championship in November 2017 in Italy, wherein he finished fourth. The second GM norm was achieved after he won the Fischer Memorial GM Norm tournament in Greece in April 2018, and in June last year, he got his third norm at the Gredine Open in Italy.

Both Vaishali and Praggnanandhaa train at the Chess Gurukul in Chennai, which is run by Grandmaster RB Ramesh.

World title

Praggnanandhaa’s achievement was put into perspective by Ramesh, who said, “I am very happy for many reasons. He chose to play in the higher category; he could have played in a lower one. He was the second seed but won the title, and also (for) getting the first medal for India, that too a gold medal. He is going to increase a lot of rating points; I think 18 is what he is getting from this tournament,” said Ramesh on Saturday.

“When he confirmed his entry in this tournament, we knew he had a very good chance. I was very curious to know how dominating he would be in the process, and he clearly did that against all his contemporaries.

“Praggnanandhaa will be playing in the World Junior & Junior Girls Chess Championship in a couple of days at New Delhi in the under-20 category,” Ramesh added.

A win should not be surprising, since Praggnanandhaa has participated in the under-20 category earlier as well.

First Published:
Oct 12, 2019 22:40 IST

Source: HindustanTimes