At first, the Chess World just struggled to perfectly pronounce Praggnanandhaa but now it is striving to grapple with the terrific tactical intricacies he conjures up on the chequered board with relentless regularity. Add to that, his uncompromising attitude towards shunning short draws, scant regard for ratings and reputations, his willingness to explore and experiment in positions pronounced ‘dead’ by most experts and it is little wonder that he has caught the imagination of one and all and not just in the chess world.
How often is it that a seasoned and toughened five-time reigning World Chess Champion is caught off on the wrong foot twice in three months to a teenager who is yet to storm into the top 100 in World Rankings? It is a rare occurrence in the chess world for sure and Magnus Carlsen dubbed the mean machine had his calculations going awry against 16-year-old prodigy, Pragg as he is fondly referred to, first in February this year and now, just last week. In fact Praggs family could be dubbed ‘Carlsen beaters’ as his elder sister IM Vaishali was the first one to defeat a then 22-year-old Carlsen way back in 2013 in a Simultaneous exhibition match. As part of World Chess Championship promotion, Carlsen played a Simultaneous Match against 20 selected players. If it can be recalled, Carlsen had won his first World title then, defeating Viswanathan Anand in the finals.
However it is not the double blows that Pragg pummelled Carlsen with, that elevated and showcased his talent and nor was it the clutch of World titles won in Age level Categories and nor was the feat of becoming the youngest International Master (IM) in the world but a game played in a small event in 2016 at the Isle of Man against Axel Bachmann, a strong Grandmaster rated more than 200 points above him, that gave a glimpse of his immense potential and invited comparison with none other than the mercurial maverick, Robert James Fischer, fondly referred to as Bobby Fischer. The 18-move miniature unleased by 11-year-old Pragg then, was compared with the famous game dubbed as the ‘Game of the Century’ played brilliantly by 13-year-old Fischer against Donald Byrne.
These sort of comparisons with legends and icons who have cemented their place not just in record books but also etched their names in human memories, most often herald the advent of face of the future and Pragg throughout the next five years with power packed, stunning performances has emphasized that the comparison at that time was no fluke. Of course, there are quiet periods in a players career where many think that they are not progressing or stagnating but in reality they are consolidating at that level before asscending. Pragg too was under immense media glare and public pressure to be the youngest ever GM in chess history but missed the distinction by a few days.
At the board, Pragg’s fingers push and shove the wooden pieces in perfect harmony, just like a perfectly played orchestra but it is his ambition, drive, self confidence and the ability to work hard on the board irrespective of the position, that differentiates him from other prodigies. According to his coach GM R. B. Ramesh, Pragg himself had realised and acknowledged very early on that his is a precious talent and only hard work would hone and add sheen for it to be outstanding. Defeats don’t daunt him nor are triumphs a reason for celebration for this immensely matured 16-year-old whose only focus and obsession is to perfect his game by working and eliminating his weaknesses. Accolades in form of awards, invitation to elite events and sponsorships have started pouring in.
Pragg to a large extent has been fortunate in having a sparring partner at home in his elder sister Vaishali who is also an International Master. In fact the duo are representing India in the forthcoming Olympiad scheduled at Chennai in July and both are huge medal prospects for India in the individual medal Category also. Both Pragg and Vaishali have been training with Grandmaster R B Ramesh for almost a decade.
For more than three decades India has revered and rejoiced in the exploits of five-time World Champion, Viswanathan Anand who had single-handedly ushered in a chess revolution and paved the path for youngsters to follow. India is rising and aiming to be a super power in chess as can be gauged from the fact that according to the current Rating list, India is positioned 4th in World ranking which is based on the average rating of their top. 10 players. However unlike Anand, Pragg has many more teen talents to match steps with and Chess level hasn’t appeared this better ever in India! 18-year-olds Arjun Erigaisi and Nihal Sarin, 15-year-old Dommaraju Gukesh and 16-year-old Raunak Sadhwani, all amongst the youngest GMs in the World have been performing consistently above their rating level, winning and dominating international events for the past couple of years. Currently these talents are bunched tightly together in terms of rating and it remains to be seen how they garner more momentum.