A chat with Pragg

by Aditya Pai
7/6/2018 – R Praggnanandhaa recently qualified for the Grandmaster title at the Gredine Open in Italy. Besides scoring his final grandmaster norm with a round to spare, the little champ also finished joint first in the tournament alongside GM Ivan Saric. But this success came after a dismal finish at the Schaakweek Apeldoorn where he had finished at the bottom of the leaderboard. In this interview, he tells how he remains confident despite setbacks, his meeting with Vishy Anand and his preference for sambhar and rice over pizza. | Pictured: Praggnanandhaa received a grand welcome on his return to India | Photo: Arun Sekhar

The Fashionable Caro-Kann Vol.1 and 2 The Fashionable Caro-Kann Vol.1 and 2

The Caro Kann is a very tricky opening. Black’s play is based on controlling and fighting for key light squares. It is a line which was very fashionable in late 90s and early 2000s due to the successes of greats like Karpov, Anand, Dreev etc. Recently due to strong engines lot of key developments have been made and some new lines have been introduced, while others have been refuted altogether. I have analyzed the new trends carefully and found some new ideas for Black.

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The world's second youngest GM!

The recently concluded Gredine Open brought big news for Indian chess. The young prodigy, R Praggnanandhaa not only finished joint first in a field where he was seeded sixth, but more importantly, he also made his final grandmaster norm with a round to spare and becomes India’s 52nd Grandmaster.

Top three finishers of the Gredine Open: Konstantin Tarlev, Ivan Saric, Praggnanandhaa, with the tournament director Ruben Bernardi

Top three finishers of the Gredine Open (L-R): Konstantin Tarlev, Ivan Saric, Praggnanandhaa, with the tournament director Ruben Bernardi | Photo: Official Website

Back in the May of 2016, Praggnanandhaa had become the youngest International Master in the history of the game at the age of 10 years and 9 months. And ever since, the little boy has piqued the interest of the world as he stood a chance to become the world’s youngest grandmaster.

Chasing his dream, Praggnanandhaa travelled the world and played several tournaments trying to earn GM norms (rating performances within a tournament). He easily reached the 2500 rating threshold in time but always fell short when it came to norms. At the conclusion of the Aeroflot Open this year, it was clear that he will not be able to meet the requirements for the GM title before March 10th, the deadline for breaking Karjakin’s record.

In a year and ten months after becoming an International Master, Praggnanandhaa had only managed to bag one GM norm. But once it became clear that he had missed becoming the world’s youngest grandmaster, the boy just breezed through his title requirements. It just took him about three and a half months to score his two remaining GM norms and became the second youngest grandmaster in history.

Video report on Praggnanandhaa's final GM norm | Footage by Shishir Lohia

Praggnanandhaa's final GM norm

The norm which made Praggnanandhaa a Grandmaster

By now, Praggnanandhaa is already in Spain, playing at the Leon Masters. But before he left, we were able to catch up with him for an interview.

AP: So, the long-awaited GM title is finally yours now. How do you feel?

PR: Actually, before the eighth round, I wasn’t aware that if I win, I will score a GM norm. But after the eighth round, when I realized that I had made it, I was just exhilarated.

AP: There were actually some reports about the possibility of you scoring a GM norm after the seventh round which you apparently didn’t read. How often do you go through everything that the media reports about you?

PR: Yes, I hadn’t read these reports. And also, I don’t do that usually. I fear if I read everything that’s written about me, I might keep thinking about it during my games. Especially, if I am having a bad tournament, reading these reports might disturb me.

AP: How did you manage to keep up your fighting spirit and push for a win in the final round, especially after you had achieved your GM norm? Did the thought of taking a quick draw occur to you?

PR: Actually, I was just playing; I didn’t think about winning or losing. I was just playing my game. I was in my preparation for some 10 moves. Then my opponent went out of the book. I think he was out of his preparation.  I knew his move 14.Bb3 was a mistake as per theory so I was just trying to get some advantage.

About taking a quick draw, I thought about it but I didn’t seriously consider it. I thought: ‘let’s just play. If it ends in a draw, it’s ok’.

 

AP: Which was your favourite game from the Gredine Open?

PR: I think my game against Luca Moroni Jr. from the seventh round was my best game. I like it because I feel I played a nice game. And also, by beating him, I became a Grandmaster.

 

AP: Did you celebrate after the tournament?

PR: After coming back to India, I went with my parents to the temple and some relatives visited me. So that was how I celebrated.

AP: How about when you were in Italy. Did you not even have a small pizza party?

PR: No, I don’t eat pizzas. I don’t like that kind of food.

AP: Then what do you like to eat?

PR: I like eating rice with curd or sambhar.

AP: Did you get a chance to play hand cricket or bed tennis (Prag had devised these games with his friends to play in the closed spaces of hotel rooms) at the Gredine Open?

PR: Oh no, the city was on a mountain. So we had to walk down to the tournament hall and then walk up the hill after the rounds. So I would be too tired after my games to play all that.

A view of Ortisei, the town which hosted the Gredine Open 2018

The hilly Italian town of Ortisei | Photo: Official website

AP: So what did you do after your games?

PR: I mostly relaxed and tried to sleep early. I also prayed. I would close my eyes and listen to some songs. Not movie songs but hymns of Kalki Bhagwan, the god we pray to.

AP: You did not perform very well at Schaakweek Apeldoorn, the event you played before achieving your norm. How did you manage to keep your spirits high at the Gredine Open?

PR: I lost six games in that tournament. In the last round also, I lost against GM Alexandr Fier. And the next day itself, the first round of the Gredine Open began. So, I had to forget it immediately.

AP: But how did you manage to manage that?

PR: Actually, I don’t get upset too easily. I don’t know I was very confident at that time. I don’t know how I did that.

Praggnanandhaa playing against Alexandr Fier in the final round of Schaakweek Apeldoorn

Prag defending against a Fier(ce) attack in a Ruy Lopez | Photo: Karel van Delft

 

AP: What has the role of your coach, GM Ramesh, been in this?

PR: We just kept in touch as usual. After my performance in Schaakweek, he told me that I should not be upset and just keep playing. He motivated me to be confident but he does that during every tournament.

AP: You really struggled to score GM norms when you were on the brink of becoming the world’s youngest GM. Did you feel any pressure while you were trying to set this record?

PR: Yes, there was some pressure at the time. But I was also playing continuous tournaments back then. And in many tournaments, I felt quite tired.

AP: Tell us about your meeting with Anand. How did you feel meeting him? What was the advice he gave you?

Praggnanandhaa meeting Anand at his residence in Chennai, IndiaPR: I went to his house. He congratulated me and then we were just talking about my games. He analysed some of my games. At one point we were analyzing my game against IM Hugo Ten Hertog from the Schaakweek tournament and suddenly he remembered one of his games he had played a long time ago. But I don’t remember who he played against.

AP: If I remember correctly, you had given up an exchange on c5 in that game. What was your idea behind this sacrifice?

PR: I think the exchange sacrifice was a good one. I could have got passed pawns on the queenside after the sacrifice but even after I had lost those passers, I felt I could still try that endgame. But then, I just blundered 45.Rf6.

 

Here, Pragganandhaa, with black, went for the enterprising 33...Rxc5, giving himself two queenside passers after 34.bxc5. But he lost the endgame.

AP: What was your reaction to the grand welcome you received at Chennai airport on your return from Italy?

PR: Actually, I hadn’t expected so many people to turn up. I thought a few people from my school would be there but I hadn’t expected media to be there. So yeah, I was quite surprised by that.

AP: Now that you have achieved your GM title, what’s the next goal?

PR: I just want to improve my playing strength and increase my rating.

AP: How many hours do you devote to chess daily?

PR: I usually practice for four to five hours daily. But I want to change that. I want to work more on chess now and practice for an hour or two more, every day.

AP: Do you only work with GM Ramesh or do you have any other coaches also?

PR: No, I only work with GM RB Ramesh.

AP: What do you enjoy doing besides playing chess?

PR: I love playing badminton and cricket.

AP: So, who is your favourite cricketer?

PR: Oh no, I don’t watch cricket, I just play it. I don’t watch cricket or badminton.

AP: Where will we see you play next?

PR: I will play the Leon Masters in Spain and then at the Pardubice Open in the Czech Republic.

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Aditya Pai is an ardent chess fan, avid reader, and a film lover. He holds a Master's in English Literature and used to work as an advertising copywriter before joining the ChessBase India team.
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kyi kyi 7/7/2018 03:55
I don't see little, tiny or young as derogatory. Rather, it is the opposite. Remember the duel between biblical David and Goliath. Who would like to think that a tiny, young David could defeat the well armored and well armed giant Goliath by his sling shot ? His single sling shot hit the giant in the forehead and killed him instantly. Then, David beheaded him and got his head as a trophy. My point is that size and age of the kid does not matter and what really count is the brain. We should encourage more younger and younger kids to become GM. As a matter of fact, compared to adults, young kids will be small in size.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 7/7/2018 12:32
no royce campbell ..... the words .... little ... young are certainly out of affection ... i feel ... not at all patronising ...or demeaning the player..
royce campbell royce campbell 7/7/2018 07:08
Three times in this article. Too much. It's demeaning, regardless of intent. And I fully get that it's my problem, not his, yours or the authors. But I looked back some other recent articles and found only one that did not brand him little. I guess it's better than 'tiny.' I'm done.
eric b eric b 7/7/2018 05:53
@royce Campbell. I think you're overreacting and over-analyzing a little bit. Yes, they use the word little and young to describe him, but I think it is not intended in a demeaning way but as a term of endearment.
royce campbell royce campbell 7/7/2018 12:56
Authors need to stop using adjectives such as 'little' and perhaps even 'young' every single time Praggnanandhaa is referenced. 'Young prodigy' is probably redundant anyway. It seems that he is described as 'little' multiple times in every article (although I haven't read them all -- it is my perception). It may be just me, but 'little' is a word that could be inexorably linked to him, even as an adult. I just think its rude, regardless of his stature.
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