A Chess Champion In India
The ace Indian chess player, the Grandmaster (GM), Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, has been earmarked by many chess observers worldwide as the next world chess champion. Still only seventeen years of age, he has caught the attention of the best in the business in the chess world order after producing a couple of sensational wins against current undisputed world chess champion Magnus Carlsen in 2022.
Born and brought up in the Indian city of Chennai, which very recently hosted the 44th World Chess Olympiad, Rameshbabu ‘Pragg’ Praggnanandhaa grew up alongside elder sister Vaishali Rameshbabu, who is also a remarkable chess player. In fact, Vaishali Rameshbabu is both an International Master (IM) and Woman Grandmaster in her own right.
Declared as a chess prodigy at a nascent age, Praggnanandhaa captured the title of an IM when he was only 10. This was, until then, the youngest anyone had ever become an IM. He then went on to be crowned as a GM within the next couple of years, at age 12, which too was a record in itself. He held the record of the second youngest chess grandmaster for a while, only to be surpassed by Abhimanyu Mishra of the United States, compatriot Dommaraju Gukesh, and Javokhir Sindarov of Uzbekistan in recent times.
A much-adored chess champion in India, R. Praggnanandhaa announced his arrival on the world chess stage in 2013 when he emerged victorious in the under-8 division of the World Youth Chess Championship. This win brought Praggnandhanaa the honorific of ‘FIDE Master’ at the age of seven. Two years later, in 2015, he was victorious in the under-10 category of the same championship.
The year 2016 came with further laurels for the brilliant young chess maestro from India. He was recognised as an ‘IM’ by the international chess governing body – Federation Internationale des Echecs (FIDE). This made him the youngest IM in the history of chess at that time.
After becoming a bona fide chess IM, Praggnanandhaa participated in the World Junior Chess Championship towards the end of 2017 and finished in the fourth position with a total of eight points. This was the first tournament in his professional chess career that Praggnanandhaa competed against the other top-ranked chess players from around the world at a single event.
Youngest Chess Grandmaster
He then fought for the top prize at the Heraklion Fisher Memorial GM norm tournament in Greece in early 2018. With two high-level GM norm tournaments under his belt, Praggnanandhaa needed a good show from his corner at one more high-profile chess event in order to fulfil the criteria to be awarded the title of ‘Chess Grandmaster’.
He did the same with flying colours at the Gredine Open held in Italy in June 2013. With a sound, fought-out win over Luca Moroni, Praggnanandhaa achieved a fantastic feat: becoming the second youngest chess player ever to be conferred the title of GM.
One of the first competitions that Praggnanandhaa participated in after becoming a GM was the 2018 Magistral de Leon Masters in Spain. The competition boiled down to a face-off between Praggnanandhaa and Filipino-American GM Wesley So. In the ensuing battle between the two chess GMs, ultimately, Wesley So outsmarted the Indian chess wizard by 2.5 points to 1.5 points.
Praggnanandhaa’s next challenge came in the form of the Charlotte Chess Centre’s Winter 2018 GM Norm Invitational. In challenging conditions, the young chess expert from India showed his class and finished in the third position, tied along with Alder Escobar Forero and Denys Shmelov. His cumulative score in this tournament was a respectable 5.0/9.
The year 2019 turned out to be even better for Praggnanandhaa. He came first in the Xtracon Chess Open, which was staged in Denmark, by finishing with a score of 8.5/10. Soon after this success, he emerged winner in the under-18 category of the World Youth Championships. In this prestigious event, he accumulated a score of 9/11.
To top it all, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa closed the year by reaching 2600 points on the Elo rating chart, thus becoming the second-youngest person to ever achieve that milestone. The record book says that he was just 14 years, 3 months, and 24 days old when the record was planted.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most chess tournaments worldwide were either cancelled or postponed for almost an entire year. This was the time when Praggnanandhaa, like other well-known professional chess players, made his mark on the online chess portal. This gave his numerous fans an opportunity to witness him play in some reputable online chess competitions live on the screen again.
Around the same time, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa joined the star-studded roster of the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour and won its first leg, named the ‘Polgar Challenge’ in honour of legendary chess player Judith Polgar of Hungary. With a score of 15.5/19, he lay 1.5 points ahead of the next-placed competitors in the competition. By winning this tie, Praggnananandhaa became eligible to compete in the Meltwater Champions Tour in April 2021.
Even though Praggnananadhaa performed really well against tough opponents, the likes of which included Sergey Karjakin, Johan-Sebastian Christiansen, Teimour Radjabov, and Jan-Krzysztof Duda, he failed to rise above the 10th position when the final standings were announced.
One notable event during this tournament was that Praggnanandhaa was able to secure a healthy fought-out draw against the world number one Magnus Carlsen. This was the first Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa vs. Carlsen showdown the world had ever seen, and it clearly showed a sign of the bright future that lay ahead of the Indian chess master.
Fast forward to the Chess World Cup that came along later in 2021, Praggnanandhaa was seeded in the 90th spot. In the early rounds, he played above his weight by seeing off higher-seeded players such as GMs Gabriel Sargissian and Michal Krasenkow. However, in round four, he fought against a spirited Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and eventually lost out.
Next, Praggnanandhaa entered the Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2022 as one of the favourites to finish on top of the podium. After a successful run of wins, which saw the elimination of GMs Vidit Gujrathi, Nils Grandelius, and Andrey Esipenko, Praggnanandhanaa lost form and ended in the 12th spot.
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa vs Carlsen
The career highlight of the young chess prodigy from India occurred earlier this year when he shook the chess world by notching a tremendous win against Magnus Carlsen. He swiftly became the talk of the chess world after he defeated the reigning world chess champion, the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, in the Airtings Masters Rapid Chess Tournament.
By beating Magnus Carlsen in February 2022, young Praggnanandhaa became only the third chess player from India, after Vishwanathan Anand and Pentala Harikrishna, to eke out a win over Magnus Carlsen.
All those who thought of his victory as a one-time affair or a fluke were reminded of their error in judgement when Praggnanandhaa repeated the feat sometime later in May 2022. This time he got the better of Magnus Carlsen in the Chessable Masters Online Rapid Chess Tournament.
His second victory over Carlsen within three months made the media covering chess competitions tizzy, and they hailed him as the new chess sensation. His most recent success came at the just-concluded 44th World Chess Olympiad, where he won the bronze.
Is Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa the Next World No. 1 in Chess?
With two phenomenal victories in his bag, R Praggnanandhaa is growing in confidence with each passing day. It would not come as a surprise if he surpasses all expectations and reaches a career-high in rankings in the near future.
The common question in everyone’s mind is, ‘Is Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa the next world no. 1 in chess?’ This is natural since the kid has shown tremendous capabilities in recent months and continues to improve his game with each passing day.
However, it is relatively too early to come to any conclusion regarding the length to which Rameshbabu Praggnanandhanaa would go in his chess career. Putting excessive media glare on the teenager is undoubtedly not a good idea.
Considering the amount of pressure chess players have to endure, supporters and well-wishers of the chess prodigy should allow the young talent to grow and become mature. Only then shall we witness the true genius of the chess wizard from Chennai.
As it stands now, the number one ranked chess player in the world – world chess champion Magnus Carlsen is still a force to reckon with and will definitely remain so for a reasonable amount of time. While the next generation of chess players come up the ranks, it will be quite the exercise for chess lovers worldwide to enjoy watching their favourite players battle it out on the 64-square chessboard and provide us with nerve-wracking entertainment.
Praggnanandhaa, a chess Olympiad bronze medalist, has all the qualities to evolve into a world-beater.
As a chess enthusiast, your task would be to follow great players such as R. Praggnanandhaa and Magnus Carlsen and keep a tag on their quests. To be able to better understand how chess players are rated, check out our Square Off article titled, ‘Chess Ranking System: A Complete Guide’.