A combination photo showing Magnus Carlsen, left and Praggnanandhaa, right.
Magnus Carlsen (left) and Praggnanandhaa (right) have been involved in close battlers recently. The Norwegian, however, used his rich experience, to win his maiden World Chess Cup title in a tie-breaker in Baku on Thursday. Image Credit: Agencies

Dubai: Pragyan has been in the news this week. Long before the rover Pragyan started exploring and sending pictures of the Moon, Indian chess prodigy Rameshbabu Praggananandhaa has been projecting a dazzling picture of himself on the world stage, ready to move into his own orbit. His gallant loss in the Fide World Chess Cup final against Magnus Carlsen is just a minor blip, considering the vast experience of the Norwegian, who is 14 years oldder.

The teenager had Baku in Azerbaijan as his launchpad when Chandrayaan 3 was launched at Sriharikota, 77 kms off his hometown Chennai in South India. Pragg, as he is fondly known among his peers and friends, had defeated world No 2 Hikaru Nakamura and world No 3 Fabiano Caruana in the Fide World Chess Cup in Baku. He could not make it a hat-trick of the top three after world No 1 Carlsen overturned Pragg's advantage in the first tie-breaker to put the teen under time pressure to win in 47 moves.

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In a hurry to wind up the game

In the second tie-breaker, Carlsen with white pieces seemed to be in a hurry to wind up the game soon and went in for Queen exchange at the 17th move.

Soon after, the two players exchanged their bishops. At the end of the 22nd move, both players had four pawns, one rook, knight and a bishop each. The two then signed the peace treaty for Carlsen to win his maiden World Cup title.

Playing with white pieces in the first game of the tie-breaker, Praggnanandhaa had an advantage in the initial stages and later maintained equality for a large part of the 47-move game.

Late reversal

However, the Indian player suffered a reversal from the 37th move onwards. At that point of time, the players were left with two rooks and minor pieces — two knights for Carlsen and a knight and a light coloured bishop for Praggnanandhaa.

Despite the loss, the 18-year-old Praggnanandhaa has been the talk of Baku and beyond after his sensational run to the final against Magnus Carlsen, where he lost the contest in a tiebreaker. Incidentally, it was in the tiebreaker that Pragg had defeated his good friend Arjun Erigaisi, Nakamura and Caruana in the World Cup.

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The Indian prodigy stunned world No 3 Fabiano Caruana in the World Chess Cup in Baku. Image Credit: ANI

What makes the teen prodigy so special?

His work ethic, dedication, strong defensive game and his ability to innovate under pressure all help him make rapid moves on the chess board.

Following in Anand's footsteps

Praggnanandhaa, hailing from the same city as chess legend Viswanathan Anand, did not have to look far for inspiration. He showed his prodigious skills at a very young age, becoming an International Master at 10 and the Grandmaster at 12, the second youngest to achieve the feat. Pragg is also the youngest player to reach the World Cup final, and second Indian, emulating Anand.

For the current generation, Carlsen remains their idol for every single youngster who wants to make it big on the world stage. Pragg might be no different, but he doesn’t allow it to hamper his game and remains cool either when playing with or against the world No 1 Norwegian.

Prag GCL
The Global Chess League proved a perfect stage for Praggnanandhaa to go on the fast lane this year. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Gulf News had asked him how he felt playing alongside Carlsen in the inaugural Global Chess League in Dubai. “It’s normal, I just have to do my best,” said the 18-year-old with a shrug, showing the mental maturity beyond his age. This mental fortitude and tenacity had helped him beat Carlsen, the youngest to defeat the Norwegian at the age 16 in 2022.

Coming from a traditional south Indian family, which lays plenty of importance on studies as much as sport, if not more, Pragg had to go through a lot of difficulties in managing his studies and chess together. Still, his unwavering focus has helped him make a steady move to the top of the chess board, while also remaining committed to his education.

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa

Age: 18 (10 August 2005)

Title: Grandmaster (2018)

FIDE rating: 2707 (August 2023)

Peak rating: 2707 (August 2023)

Ranking: No. 29 (August 2023)

Praggnanandhaa has been making giant strides over the last few years, but the catalyst for the current surge in form began in Dubai during the Global Chess League, where he produced one of his best performances. He followed it up with another stunning effort in Hungary, winning the Super GM Chess tournament.

A place in Candidates

Pragg’s goal in the World Cup in Baku is to book a spot in the semi-finals in order to seal a place in the Candidates, which is a stepping stone for the World Chess Championship.

“He is a huge talent. At such a young age, he has shown that he has what it takes to go all the way. He has all the qualities you need, tenacity, ability to keep playing under pressure. He has huge competitive skills as well. He is not only about knowledge, he competes at a very high level as well.

Indian chess legend Viswanathan Anand heaped praise on fellow-Chennaiite, saying his tenacity has been his strength to win close games. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News Archives

“He has been able to do it against the strongest players. He did that against the No. 2. He was in a difficult spot, but one good chance and he went for it,” Anand was quoted by Times of India. While Anand had won two World Cups, both finalists — Carlsen and Praggnanandhaa — are targeting their first title.

Head-to-head 9-5 lead

Carlsen holds against Pragnanandhaa in 23 meetings with nine draws.

Exceptional show, says Kasparov

Anand’s ace rival, former World Chess Champion and Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov congratulated Praggnanandhaa after his exceptional show.

“Congrats to @rpragchess — and to his mother. As someone whose proud mama accompanied me to every event, it’s a special kind of support! The Chennai Indian defeated two New York cowboys! He has been very tenacious in difficult positions,” Kasparov wrote in his tweet.

Prag’s father Rameshbabu is a bank manager, while his mother Nagalakshmi, a homemaker accompanies him to all the tournaments. His elder sister, Vaishali, is also a Grandmaster and was part of the bronze medal-winning Indian team in the 44th Chess Olympiad, held at Mamallapuram near Chennai last year.

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Pragnanandhaa's mother watching him action during the final. Image Credit: Source: FIDE

Carlsen, Pragg’s rival in the final, reserves the highest praise for the teen. The Norwegian never misses a chance to throw the spotlight on him.

“Pragg moves around a bit with his openings. I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t prepare for c4. Then I started to play some common sense moves,” said Carlsen, when asked why he took more time to make his moves in the opener of the final.

Be like Pragg effect

Pragg and Carlsen have met each other 23 times so far with nine ending in a draw. The Norwegian, however, holds a 9-5 advantage.

Carlsen also spoke at Fide’s YouTube channel on ‘Be like Pragg’ effect. “I told Praggnanandhaa that today we all want to be like Pragg,” Carlsen told the channel after the Indian defeated the world No 2.

Pragg’s coach R.B. Ramesh clarified to Indian Express what Carlsen meant. Ramesh, the former Indian player and Grandmaster, has a habit of showing his ward as an example of how his single-minded approach has helped him achieve success in an era where the youth can easily be distracted by social media and other means in the current era.

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Indian Grandmaster Praggnanandhaa playing against Magnus Carlsen in the World Cup final. Image Credit: Source: FIDE

Recently, Ramesh had used this phrase to some aspiring talents at Carlsen’s club that they should be like Pragg. Carlsen, who was informed about the phrase, spread the word to the world, which proves the high esteem the Norwegian holds the Chennai teen in. Be Like Pragg has now become the buzzword at the World Cup in Baku.

Pragyan means wisdom and Anand means joy. While Praggnanandhaa shows his wisdom on the 64 squares in the chess board, his performances have brought joy to millions of chess fans across the world.

A tricky question

While replying to a question from Gulf News, on what he does as pastime as most of us play chess as a pastime, for once the prodigy seemed lost.

“It’s a very tricky question, I have not thought about it at all. Sometimes I play games like table tennis and badminton but am not good at it,” he said in his typical nonchalant style. But the current younger lot like Dommaraju Gukesh, Pragg and others play a card game to ward off the monotony and get a breather between matches.

Pragg certainly must have picked up a few tricks on how to play his cards close to his chest.

- With inputs from Agencies