India is emerging as a chess powerhouse
“I just want to hit the bed,” R Praggnanandhaa said early on Monday after defeating Magnus Carlsen, the highest-ranking chess player in the world, at the Airthings Masters, an online rapid tournament.
The frail-looking 16-year-old boy from India’s southern city of Chennai is no stranger to success. At ten, Praggnanandhaa became the youngest International Master in the history of the game. Two years later, in 2018, he had become the world’s then second-youngest chess grandmaster.
Now the prodigious teenager had achieved his “biggest dream” by becoming only the third Indian to trump the 32-year-old Norwegian grandmaster.
Praggnanandhaa, or Pragg as he’s popularly known, belongs to a generation of young Indians who embody the country’s growing influence in chess, a sport that has its origins in a two-player Indian board game from the sixth century. It’s no mean feat in a country of 1.3 billion people feverishly obsessed with cricket.
India has 73 grandmasters now, up from 20 in 2007. Two of them are women. Among them is Koneru Humpy, 34, the World Rapid Chess champion. She won the title in December 2019 after a two-year maternity break.
Three of Praggnanandhaa’s peers are among the most promising players of his generation – Nihal Sarin, 18, a speed chess master and the 2019 Asian blitz champion; Arjun Erigaisi, 18, whom five-time world champion Viswanathan Anand calls one of India’s “best hopes”; and Dommaraju Gukesh, 15, who became the second youngest grandmaster in the history of the game in 2019.
Praggnanandhaa has already attracted worldwide attention. “At an age when boys would trade an arm and a limb for endless hours of gaming, he has perfected the art of stillness and focus in a sport that’s anything but a teen favourite,” Susan Ninan, who covers chess for ESPN India, noted in a presciently titled 2018 article, The boy who could be king. (BBC)