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At 12, he is the second-youngest Grand Master; now R Praggnanandhaa eyes to settle at the top spot

When R Praggnanandhaa claimed the title of Grandmaster at the Gredine Open in Italy, he was only 12 years, 10 months and 13 days old. In the process, he became the world’s second youngest Grandmaster following Sergey Karjakin of Ukraine who became the youngest ever Grand Master by achieving the feat at 12 years and 7 months in 2002.

Chennai boy, Praggnanandhaa, had a great Gredine Open as he defeated Iranian players Aryan Gholami and Pruijssers Roeland of Netherlands. In the 8th round of the tournament, the 12-year prodigy beat Italian Grandmaster Luca Moroni Jr Gredine Open. In this game, Moroni resigned after being unable to handle the pressure of Praggnanandhaa’s attacking moves.

In May 2016, Praggnanandhaa created history by becoming the youngest International Master at only 10 years and 9 months. But he missed being the youngest-ever Grandmaster when he lost the opportunity to complete all his GM norms and an ELO rating of 2500 before 10th March, 2018. But Praggnanandhaa’s never-say-die attitude stood out and he finished his GM norm on 27th June, 2018 to lead the Indian chess masters in terms of becoming the youngest Grand Master. On the way, he achieved his first norm at Tarvisio in Italy in November 2017. Then, Praggu, as he is fondly called, completed his second norm with a win in the final round-robin match at the Herkalion Fischer Memorial GM norm tournament in April 2018. And then he finalized the things by getting his third at the 4th Gredine Open.

Born in a simple South Indian middle-class family in the Chennai suburb of Padi, Praggnanandhaa, was inspired by his elder sibling R Vaishali who herself is a Woman International Master with two Woman Grandmaster norms. “As a child, Vaishali used to watch a lot of TV. So, to keep her occupied, we enrolled her in a chess academy,” their father A Rameshbabu. “Watching his sister play, Praggnanandhaa too began to take an interest in the sport when he was only 2 and a half years of age,” continued Rameshbabu.

But that turned to be a boon for both the siblings. They got hooked into the game and as they continued to show impressive performances, the brother-sister duo was noticed by famous chess coach RB Ramesh. They were enrolled in his academy where Vaishali and Praggnanandhaa became parts of group sessions and individual training as well. “When he came to me three years ago I knew he was a special kid. He is very much aware of his strengths as a player and is willing to work extremely hard and stick it out through everything. That can be a rare combination to find,” RB Ramesh recollected in an interview with ESPN.

But for a family like Rameshbabu’s and Nagalaksmi’s, it was always difficult to afford the expenses needed to follow chess for both their children. But things rolled on, help poured in, sponsors came in and Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali followed their dreams. As per the mentor, Praggu has a strikingly high-level of maturity that is most rare in kids of his age. But all his maturity rests on chess as like any other 12-year old boy, Praggu loves to cycle, play hide and seek in the car-parking space of his building and even watches his favourite cartoons. The new TT table up on the terrace is Pragnnandhaa’s latest fixation.

However, the big-competitive world is ready to throw every challenge towards him. Age does not matter as the burden of expectations is bound to increase. From now onwards, he has to face better-prepared rivals as they know that they are facing a GM. Praggnanandhaa has to keep his composure and ethics at the right place and those can only allow him to touch the feats of his idol, the great  Vishwanathan Anand.

Youngest Grand Masters in Chess history

Sergey Karjakin (Ukrain): 12 years, 7 months
R Praggnanandhaa (India): 12 years, 10 months & 13 days
Parimarjan Negi (India): 13 years, 4 months, 22 days
Magnus Carlsen (Norway): 13 years, 4 months, 27 days
Bu Xiangzhi (China): 13 years, 10 months

About Poulomi Kundu

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