R Praggnanandhaa: Not Just A Wonderkid, But A Great In The Making
A stunning performance in the FIDE World Cup in Baku has catapulted R Praggnanandhaa to the Candidates tournament to determine the challenger to current world champion Ding Liren.
For someone, who took to chess just because his parents wanted him and his sister to wean away from watching television, R Praggnanandhaa has charted his own path to glory and is closer to greatness than ever. The 18-year old wonderboy has long been seen as a possible successor to the five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand and is certainly on the path to be a chess great. A stunning performance in the FIDE World Cup in Baku has catapulted him to the Candidates tournament to determine the challenger to current world champion Ding Liren.
By becoming the only Indian player after Anand to book a spot in the Candidates, the Chennai teenager has proved that he will be the name to reckon with when it comes to big-ticket chess events.
A wonderkid, who took up the sport at the age of four-and-a-half, Praggnanandhaa has achieved several firsts in his distinguished career thus far.
After coming under the wings of Anand, who has taken to mentorship like a duck to water, the rise has been steady for Praggnanandhaa.
By beating Magnus Carlsen, the world No.1 and former classical champion in an online tournament last year, Praggnanandhaa showed that he could soak in the pressure and defeat the best in the business at their own game.
Though questions remain on his ability in the classical format, the teenaged GM has shown that he has it in him to be in the big league.
Hailing from Chennai, the hotspot of Indian chess, Praggnanandhaa has been in the spotlight since he made waves at a young age.
He won the national under-7 title to lay down the marker and has been on the rise ever since. At 10, he was an International Master and two years later, he became a GM.
Late in 2019, he achieved a ELO rating of 2600 at 14 years and three months and looked to be on the overdrive. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 came as a speed bump.
However, Praggnanandhaa shone in online tournaments and kept getting better. In 2021, he impressed in the Meltwater Champions Tour, scoring victories over top names like Sergey Karjakin, Teimour Radjabov and Jan-Krzystof Duda and drawing Carlsen.
In 2022, his stock rose further when he stunned Carlsen in the Airthings Masters rapid tournament. He became only the third Indian after Anand and P Harikrishna to win a game against the seemingly unbeatable Carlsen.
Praggnanandhaa's calm demeanour when at the table hides a confident and aggressive player. He can be quite a formidable opponent when he sits across the table for a game.
And, he has shown great fighting qualities, in the World Cup especially. Up against world No.2 Hikaru Nakamura, he showed that in abundance and felled a higher-rated opponent.
Then against Fabiano Caruana, the world No.3, in the semifinal, his defensive capabilities were to the fore and he came through in a nerve-wracking tie-break.
As Grandmaster M Shyam Sundar, a coach with the Indian team in Baku for the World Cup, says, "One of his (Praggnanandhaa's) biggest strengths is his ability to defend bad positions even against the absolute elite." This stands him in good stead in adverse situations.
That apart, as Shyam Sundar says, Praggnanandhaa is good in all formats and that helped him reach the finals as he was confident in the tie-breaks against Caruana.
Like Anand, family support, especially from his mother, has been a great factor in his evolution as a player. His mother Nagalakshmi is a constant at tournaments that he plays and he seems to feed off her valuable presence.
There is a feeling that Praggnanandhaa's opening repertoire is not top-notch but he is quite a force in the rapid and blitz formats and in online games.
He has improved leaps and bounds and with the work put in under noted coach R B Ramesh and subsequently Anand (as the mentor), Praggnanandhaa can only get better, which may not be good news for his rivals.
He has achieved a lot at 18 and is already on the path to greatness. With people of the stature of Anand and Ramesh to guide him, the Chennai player will be dreaming of becoming the world champion sooner than later.
For someone so talented, Praggnanandhaa, surprisingly, is yet to win the national championship despite his other accomplishments.
His performance in the FIDE World Cup has turned the spotlight firmly on him even as compatriots like D Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi too has kept reminding the chess world of their own potential.
A triumph against Carlsen would certainly help Praggnanandhaa pull away from the two ambitious fellow Indians and on the way to achieving his dream of fighting for the world title by contesting the Candidates tournament.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)