Pragg lost, but promises to conquer

Thursday might not have favoured India’s 18-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa in the FIDE World Cup at Baku, Azerbaijan’s primate city. World No.1 Magnus Carlsen defeated him 2.5-1.5 in the tiebreaker to lift the chess title with a prize money of $1,10,000. He might have lost to Carlsen, yet he is the third Indian to accomplish such a fete, which is no small achievement for Tamil Naidu’s chess prodigy, who earned $88,000. But, had he won, his victory would have added yet another feather in India’s cap. That too when the entire nation was celebrating the rarest achievement of a soft landing made by Indian Space Research Organisation’s Chandrayaan 3 on the South Pole of the Moon. Thus, he could have easily scripted a history along with the space scientists of India. Nevertheless, reaching the finals at that age and giving a fight to Grandmaster (GM) Carlsen too is no less a small achievement. He defeated the same challenger, last year on February 22, to become the youngest player at the Airthings Masters Rapid Chess tournament. And, Carlsen seems to have settled scores at the World Grand Masters in Baku after beating his arch-rival Praggnanandhaa. But, not to forget that he is young and has the enthusiasm and conviction to carve a niche for him in the coming years. He followed his icon and former Indian GM Anand Viswanathan, who continued to rule the chess world for quite a long long time to make every Indian proud. Interestingly, both hail from the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Pragg, as he is fondly known among the sports fraternity, achieved his first GM norm at the World Junior Chess Championship in November 2017, finishing fourth with 8 points. He gained his second norm at the Heraklion Fischer Memorial GM tournament in Greece in April the following year. And, on June 23 same year (2018) he achieved his third and final norm at the Gredine Open in Urtijei, Italy, by defeating Luca Moroni in the eighth round to become, at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 13 days, the then second-youngest person ever to achieve the rank of GM (Sergey Karjakin attained the title at 12 years and 7 months). He is the fifth-youngest person ever to achieve the title of GM, behind Abhimanyu Mishra, Sergey Karjakin, Gukesh D and Javokhir Sindarov. In the same year, he was also invited to the Magistral de Leon Masters in Spain for a four-game rapid match against Wesley So and he defeated him in game one,  after three games the score was tied at 1-1/2-1-1/2 in the last game. So defeated Pragg winning the match 2-1/2-1-1/2. Later in July 2018, Pragg won the Xtracon Chess Open in Denmark, scoring 8-1/2-10 points (+7-0 =3).

In October same year, he also won the World Youth Championships in the Under-18 section with a score of 9/11. Yet again in December, he became the second-youngest person to achieve a rating of 2600 and got this at the age of 14 years, 3 months and 24 days. In April 2021, Pragg won the Polgar Challenge, the first leg (out of four) of the Julius Baer Challengers Chess Tour, a rapid online event organized by Julius Baer Group and for young talents. He scored 15.5/19, 1.5 points ahead of the next best-placed competitors. This win helped him qualify for the next Meltwater Champions Chess Tour on April 24, 2021, where he finished in 10th place with a score of 7/15 (+4-5=6), including wins against Telmour Radiaboy, Jan-Krzyszt Duda, Sergey Karjakin and Johan-Sebastian as well as a draw against  world champion Carlsen. Pragg stormed into the Chess World Cup in 2021 as the 90th seed defeating GM Gabriel Sargissian 2–0 in round 2, and advanced to round 4 after defeating GM Michal Krasenkow in the rapid tiebreaks in round 3. However, he got eliminated in round four by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

Last year in February, he became the third Indian player (after Anand and Harikrishna) to win a game against Carlsen in any time format, in the online Airthings Masters rapid tournament of the Champions Chess Tour 2022, with a 15+10 time control. Interestingly, at the Chessable Masters online rapid chess tournament in May 2022, he defeated Carlsen again, his second win over him in 3 months, and advanced to the finals. He also defeated Carlsen 3 times in the FTX Crypto Cup in the same year, finishing second behind Carlsen in the final standings. The 18-year-old Pragg became India’s youngest player to reach the Chess World Cup final this year. Thus far, their rivalry appears to have continued and the loss at Baku, can be called sweet revenge by Carlsen, who happens to become a traditional challenger to Pragg. With fire under his belly, young Pragg has age on his side to become yet another budding iconic ‘role-model’ like Vishwanathan Anand or Sachin Tendulkar or PV Sindhu and join that elite club of celebrities, who made India proud in recent years.