While all of us had our attention focused at the recently concluded 2016 Rio Games or at best followed Indian cricket team’s tour to the Caribbean, a chess prodigy from Chennai did something that no other 10-year old had ever done before. Nearly 4 weeks ago, India’s R Praggnanandhaa defeated Czech Grandmaster Jan Krejci in Round 8 of the 27th Czech Open in Pardubice. A few months ago, the unassuming Chennai kid with the FIDE rating of 2429, had already fulfilled all requirements to become the youngest International Master, IM in chess history and he is now hunting down Sergey Karjakin’s Grandmaster record. When the Czech Open ended a few days before the 2016 Rio Games, Praggu finished with 5½ points out of 9. He couldn’t reach the GM-norm in Czech Republic but time is still on his side. He is not quite 11 and since Karjakin reached the GM status at the age of 12 years 7 months, Praggu can still beat the Russian’s GM’s record of achieving the coveted status at a younger age. In the Czech tournament, Praggu had the company of another 10-year-old from Uzbekistan, Javokhir Sindarov. The 2374-rated Sindarov also finished on the same score as Praggu in Pardubice and the world of chess could hear more about these two prodigies as time goes by.
On May 29 2016, R Praggnanandhaa achieved the ELO rating of 2400 after beating a Grand Master and holding two at bay at the 9th KiiT International Chess Festival in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar. In his ninth round game, Praggu beat compatriot Al Muthaiah and fulfilled the third and final IM norm after the first at Cannes and second at Moscow earlier this year. Doing so at 10 years 10 months, Praggu also broke the 27-year-old record of Judith Polgar, widely regarded as the greatest woman chess player of all time. Polgar had already turned 11, when she became IM. In another tournament in New Delhi during winter last year, Praggu frustrated Uzbekistani Grand-Master Marat Dzhumaev. The 10-year old Praggu kept pressing Dzhumaev and the Uzbek was already at his wits end. He hung on to dear life and the time pressure also didn’t help. In the end, Dzhumaev had a lucky escape and managed to hold Praggu to a draw. While the Uzbek had a huge sigh of relief, Praggu was disappointed that he couldn’t beat a Grand-Master.
In Pardubice’s Czech Open, Praggu began his first round with White and beat 29-year old woman Grand Master Eva Kulovana of the Czech Republic and followed that up with the second-round win with Black over Germany’s Danijel Gibicar. He drew his third game with Czech Republic’s Robert Cvek and lost the fourth-round to Russian IM Mikhail Demidov. Praggu won the next two rounds against Slovakia’s Ladislav Sarkozy and Russia’s Maskim Chigaev before losing in the seventh round to another Russian Daniil Yuffa. That brought him into his famous eighth round match with the Czech GM Jan Krejci. It was a game that began with a Barcza Opening established by 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3. Praggu had Whites and he was unperturbed against the Czech GM. Pretty soon, he obtained a winning advantage. The game lasted only 32 moves and Praggu won with 14 pieces still left on the board. Despite losing the 9th round against Spain’s David Simon Pardo, Praggu announced his arrival on the international chess scene. In a massive field of 291 players, Praggu’s score of 5½ placed him 47th in the overall standing at Pardubice. His nearest 10-year old contender for the youngest GM ever, Javokhir Sindarov of Uzbekistan was placed 48th. Incidentally Sindarov also played against Jan Krejci in his 5th round match but somehow managed a draw from the brink of defeat.
At the FIDE rating of 2429, Praggu is currently the highest rated U-12 player in the world, though he is not quite 11 years of age. There are no chance factors that have taken Praggu to the pinnacle of glory at such a young age because he has proven his worth in duly earning the IM norms. Along with Uzbekistan’s Javokhir Sindarov, Praggu is moving to the top and barring unforeseen circumstances, he should break Karjakin’s record of becoming the youngest GM of all time. He still has more than a year to do so but most critics, who have seen Praggu’s game, feel that the Indian wonder could do that much earlier. Close on Praggu’s heels is Sindarov, who is about 4 months younger and his current FIDE rating of 2374 is higher than Praggu’s, when the Indian was Sindarov’s age, 4 months ago. But these details are no important as the two 10-year olds are both neck-to-neck in flirting with records at the highest level. The GM tag has a certain charm because it comes with a great deal of reverence. The current World Champion Norway’s Magnus Carlsen is the third youngest to become the GM at the age of 13 years 4 months 27 days but another Indian Parimarjan Negi is second to Sergey Karjakin with a 5-day difference to Carlsen’s time. Negi became the GM at the age of 13 years 4 months 22 days.
In Praggu’s case, he also picked up the U-8 and U-0 World Youth championship and he had competition at home because his older sister Vaishali won the U-12 and U-14 World Girls Championships. The two children of Chennai’s Rameshbabu are normal in any other sense. They belong to a middle-class family and pursue all activities like normal children of their ages. Praggu is an avid cartoon watcher on television and Tom & Jerry, Mighty Raju and Chhota Bheem are his favorites. But he also devotes time to his school education besides practicing chess for 5 hours every day.