Praggnanandhaa – yet another Indian super-talent

by Sagar Shah
4/26/2017 – During the last weeks you were comprehensively briefed on Nihal Sarin, twelve years old and on his way to the GM title. Nihal is playing at the Reykjavik Open, where a compatriot is stunning the crowd. Pragga, as he is known to friends, is making life tense for experienced grandmasters, in fact beating the winner of the recent Dubai Open, GM Gawain Jones, rated 2671. And: a fifteen-year-old girl has joined the ranks of young GM killers: Vaishali, who is Pragga's sister.

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Reykjavik Open 2017: The (pre-teen) Indians are coming

Recently Frederic Friedel told you about an extraordinary lad, Nihal Sarin, who visited the ChessBase office in Hamburg. The lad is just twelve years old but blessed with GM strength (and a keen sense of humour). Nihal already has a full IM title, and after his visit he went to Norway, where he completed his first GM norm, crushing a 2600+ GM in the process. Extraordinary talent, unique in the world of chess today.

Or is it? Nihal (that's him on the left) has a colleague, on the right, who is almost a full year younger. You are going to have to learn to pronounce the name: Prag-nah-nan-da – not so difficult, really. And if you cannot manage, go for Pragga, which is what his family and friends call him. The full name is Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu, which is bound to be the bane of every cross table.

Pragga is all of eleven years old and last year, at the age of ten years, ten months and 19 days, became the youngest International Master in history. Like Nihal he is on the path to grandmasterdom, although he still has to make his first GM norm. After eight rounds of the Reykjavik Open he is just half a point behind the leading group, with 6.5/8 and a 2539 performance. It is only a matter of time.

On a recent trip to India Frederic was interviewed by the media giant First Post, and to the delight of his host said: "India is the rising superpower of chess. My prediction is that in five years, or at the very latest in ten years, of the top players, 30-40 percent will be Indian, and of the top ten, four will be Indian grandmasters." He repeated this in other inverviews, and when people were skeptical about the four-of-the-top-ten pediction he told them that he could name two already (hint: check the picture above).

Regarding the general prediction let us take a look at the current standings in the Reyjkavik Open, after eight rounds:

Rk. SNo Ti. Name FED Rtg Pts. Rp rtg+/-
1 1 GM Giri Anish NED 2771 6.5 2797 3.6
2 3 GM Jobava Baadur GEO 2712 6.5 2759 5.7
3 14 GM Gupta Abhijeet IND 2607 6.5 2751 15.9
4 8 GM Vidit Gujrathi IND 2670 6.5 2766 10.9
5 10 GM Grandelius Nils SWE 2641 6.5 2794 16.8
6 4 GM Almasi Zoltan HUN 2696 6.5 2798 7.9
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
15 30 GM Kunte Abhijit IND 2491 6.0 2481 0.7
  38 IM Praggnanandhaa R IND 2447 6.0 2539 11.1
18 25 GM Harika Dronavalli IND 2521 6.0 2517 2.4
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
24 31 IM Liang Awonder USA 2483 6.0 2590 12.6
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
36 43 FM Sarin Nihal IND 2424 5.5 2461 4.9
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
46 79 WIM Vaishali R IND 2259 5.0 2411 31.6

Click for complete standings

The tournament is being led by a Dutch grandmaster named Anish Giri. Indian name: Anish' father is from Nepal. But that doesn't count. Abhijeet Gupta, Vidit Gujrathi and Kunte Abhijit are Indian in heritage and on their passports. And of course Nihal and Pragga are on the table, half a point and one point behind the leaders. ChessBase has reported extensively on the former, so now I would like to show you what the latter is up to. I take the following from ChessBase India, where I today published a report entitle "Praggnanandhaa in Reyk - the boy is turning into a man!"

Sometimes, when an eleven-year-old boy sits on his knees on a chair, rests his elbow on the table and stretches to reach his piece, it becomes difficult to take him seriously. You know he is the youngest IM in the world, but you feel that as a player he cannot be fully developed. How much can a boy who has been playing chess for just five years really know? Well, Pragga's two games at the Reykjavik Open put the question of how strong he is to rest. The answer is: "He is really, really strong!"

In round seven Praggnanandhaa was up against the legendary Alexander Beliavsky

Beliavsky is the former World Junior Champion, four-time USSR Champion and Candidates Quarter Finalist, losing only to the great Garry Kasparov. With years of experience behind him, he took on the little boy from Chennai. Praggnanandhaa played like a champion! He had Beliavsky on the ropes and was very close to winning the game. In the end, the old master had to use all his tricks in the book to wriggle out with the half point.

Praggnanandhaa in his game against Beliavsky, watched by his sister Vaishali (see below)

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2017"] [Site "Reykjavik ISL"] [Date "2017.04.24"] [Round "7.9"] [White "Praggnanandhaa, R."] [Black "Beliavsky, Alexander G"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C50"] [WhiteElo "2447"] [BlackElo "2597"] [Annotator "Sagar,Shah"] [PlyCount "78"] [EventDate "2017.04.19"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. O-O d6 6. c3 a6 {Beliavsky tries to delay castling as long as he can.} 7. Bb3 (7. d4 Ba7 $1 8. dxe5 Nxe5 9. Nxe5 dxe5 10. Qxd8+ Kxd8 11. Nd2 (11. Bxf7 Rf8 $15) 11... Ke7 $11) 7... Ba7 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. h3 Be6 10. Bc2 d5 {It seems like Black has achieved everything that he would like to. But Pragga shows that White still has many ideas up his sleeve.} 11. exd5 Qxd5 12. Re1 Rad8 {If I were a player who was just beginning to learn chess I would have preferred Black. Look at his space advantage, piece development – just about everything seems perfect. But White is slowly going to unravel the position, and he uses the e5 pawn weakness in doing so.} 13. Qe2 Bc8 $2 (13... Bf5 14. Ne4 $14) (13... Rfe8 $1 14. Nxe5 Nxe5 15. Qxe5 Bf5 $19) 14. Nc4 $1 Nd7 (14... Rfe8 15. Ncxe5 Nxe5 16. Nxe5 {Next comes d4 and White is just a pawn up.} Nd7 17. d4 f6 $4 18. Bb3 $18) 15. b4 {Keeping the tension.} ( 15. Ncxe5 Ncxe5 16. Nxe5 Nxe5 17. Qxe5 Qxe5 18. Rxe5 c5 {Maybe Pragga didn't like this position.}) 15... b5 16. Ne3 Bxe3 17. Bxe3 $16 {White has the bishop pair and a clearly preferable position.} Nf6 18. Ng5 $1 h6 19. Ne4 Nxe4 20. dxe4 $16 {The two bishops, the ability to open the position with a4 and it is all so much in White's favour that Pragga would have been really upset that he couldn't score the full point.} Qe6 21. Bc5 Rfe8 22. a4 Ne7 23. axb5 axb5 24. Qxb5 {A pawn is a pawn!} Ng6 25. Be3 Nh4 26. Qf1 $18 {Keeping things under control. White is a pawn up and if nothing bad happens, he should be able to convert.} Qg6 27. Kh1 Rd6 28. Red1 (28. f4 $1 exf4 29. Bxf4 Rf6 30. g3 $18 { All this seems risky, but it works.} (30. e5 Rxf4 $15)) 28... Rxd1 29. Rxd1 Ba6 30. Qg1 {Black has some activity now.} Qc6 31. Bc5 Be2 32. Rd5 (32. Rd2 Bh5 33. Qf1 Bg6 34. f3 $18) 32... Qg6 33. Be3 $6 (33. f4 $5 exf4 34. Bf2 $18) 33... Ra8 34. Ra5 Rd8 {Black now has some counterplay.} 35. Ra1 (35. f3 $5 $16) 35... Qc6 36. Qe1 Qg6 37. Qg1 Qc6 38. Qe1 (38. Bc5 $14 {had to be played to continue the game} Rd2 {It seems White is in trouble, but he can survive with} 39. Ra2 { However, it already seems things have gone wrong. So I feel that Pragga made the right call taking the draw.}) 38... Qg6 39. Qg1 Qc6 1/2-1/2

Once you go through the game you realize that Pragga had all reason to be upset with the draw. His opening play was really good, and kept the advantage deep into the middlegame. After this small mishap (if we may call it that) the boy was really motivated to move on.

GM Gawain Jones was Praggnanandhaa's next opponent. A word about Gawain's form: he started off 2017 by winning the prestigious Wijk Aan Zee B category, which gives him a direct entry into next year's A Group. He then won the super strong Dubai Open as well. With 2671, he is very close to the highest rating of his chess career.

In the eighth round he was paired against Praggnanandhaa. Gawain spurned the three fold repetition twice in the game. He had the initiative and he wanted to win at all costs. But Pragge defended well – some of his moves towards the end are worthy of being added to any defensive manual. I have inserted them as quiz questions – let's see if you can find the moves that Praggnanandhaa played under pressure.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2017"] [Site "Reykjavik ISL"] [Date "2017.04.25"] [Round "8.12"] [White "Jones, Gawain C B"] [Black "Praggnanandhaa, R."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2671"] [BlackElo "2447"] [Annotator "Sagar,Shah"] [PlyCount "110"] [EventDate "2017.04.19"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 {The Torre Attack.} h6 4. Bh4 d6 5. e3 Nbd7 6. Bd3 g5 7. Bg3 Nh5 {Praggnanandhaa goes for an aggressive system, but at the same time one that is quite justified positionally, because he gains the all important dark squared bishop.} 8. Nc3 {Gawain changes his plans and develops the knight to c3 instead of d2.} Bg7 9. Qe2 a6 10. a4 Qe7 11. a5 Nxg3 12. hxg3 c5 $1 {I feel that Black's play has been more cohesive. He got rid of opponent's dark squared bishop, placed his own on g7 and now is opening up the diagonal with c5.} 13. g4 d5 $1 14. Qd2 Nf6 (14... h5 $5) 15. Ne5 Nd7 16. Nf3 Nf6 {Pragga is fine with a draw, but Gawain wants more.} 17. dxc5 Bd7 18. Na4 Bxa4 19. Rxa4 Qxc5 $11 {The position is around even.} 20. c3 Qe7 21. Rb4 Rc8 22. Qd1 O-O {With the bishop on g7, the king is very safe on the kingside.} 23. Nd4 Rc7 24. f4 Re8 25. O-O Nd7 26. Bc2 Rec8 27. Qd3 Nf8 $6 (27... Nf6 $1 $11) 28. f5 $1 {White is turning on the heat now.} Re8 (28... e5 29. f6 $1 Bxf6 30. Nf5 $18) 29. Rb6 Qd7 30. f6 Bh8 {It seems simply unbelievable that Pragga could have won from this position.} 31. Qd1 (31. e4 $1 $16) 31... Qd8 32. Qf3 Nd7 33. Rd6 $2 {A big mistake.} (33. Qh3 Nxf6 34. Qxh6 Bg7 35. Qxg5 Ne4 $14 { And Black is holding on.}) 33... Qxf6 $1 {Maybe Gawain just overlooked this simple move.} 34. Nf5 $6 (34. Qg3 $1 {The x-ray on the rook on c7 gives White enough compensation.} Qe7 (34... Qd8 35. Qh2 Bg7 36. Bh7+ Kxh7 37. Rxf7 $16) 35. Rxe6 fxe6 36. Qxc7 Nf6 $13) 34... Nf8 $2 (34... Bg7 $1 $17) 35. Rb6 (35. Qg3 $1 $16) 35... Bg7 36. Qg3 Qd8 37. Nxg7 Kxg7 38. Qe5+ Kg8 (38... f6 39. Rxf6 Qxf6 40. Qxc7+ Re7 $11) 39. Qh2 Kg7 40. Qe5+ Kg8 41. Qh2 Kg7 42. Ba4 {Gawain surely has the initiative and continues to play.} Nd7 43. Rd6 Qe7 44. c4 { Now this is going a little bit too far.} Rec8 $1 45. cxd5 Nf8 $6 (45... Nf6 $1 46. dxe6 Rc1 {Black has tremendous bit of counterplay.}) 46. dxe6 Nxe6 47. Qe5+ Kg8 48. Rxf7 (48. Bb3 $16) 48... Qxf7 49. Bb3 $2 (49. Rxe6 $44) 49... Rc1+ 50. Kh2 {[%tqu "What is the only move for Black to stay in the game and even fight for an advantage?","","",R8c5,"Pragga finds the only move to keep himself in the game.",10]} R8c5 $1 {Pragga finds the only move to keep himself in the game.} 51. Qe4 {[%tqu "Now what? Black to play.","","",Kf8,"Once again the only move!",10]} Kf8 $1 {Once again the only move!} 52. Rxe6 (52. Bxe6 Qc7 $1 $17 {White has absolutely no checks and is worse.}) 52... Qc7+ $1 53. g3 { [%tqu "It's time to find something really strong here. Black to play.","","", Qf7,"A brave move! There is no good discovered attack.",10]} Qf7 $1 {A brave move! There is no good discovered attack.} 54. Qg2 {[%tqu "What's the best way for Black to finish off the game?","","",Qxe6,"",10]} Qxe6 $1 55. Qf2+ (55. Qf3+ {[%tqu "What had Gawain missed? Black to play.","","",Rf5,"is what Gawain must have missed.",10]} Rf5 $3 {is what he must have missed.}) 55... Ke7 { A good game by Gawain, but towards the end, Pragga's defensive efforts were simply mind blowing.} 0-1

Praggnanandhaa has his own Facebook page, which is run by ChessBase India:

Take another look at the table given above – there we find the name R. Vaishali. This is a 15-year-old WIM from India, winner of the Girls' World Youth Chess Championship for Under-14 and Under-12. She is also the sister of Praggnanandhaa.

We mustn't forget how little Pragga began playing chess: it was only by watching his elder sister. Vaishali would work on the game and go to her chess training centre, and the little boy started following her.

Vaishali, as I have always believed, is a special talent. She is fearless and a thoroughly practical player. It is for this reason she can inflict defeats on any opposition of any level. Recently she had been busy studying for her tenth standard examination, which is so very important in India. But as is often the case, she is in great form after having the burden of studying off her mind.

In the fifth round Vaishali was up against Eugene Torre, the first grandmaster from Asia. Eugene was a good friend of Bobby Fischer and a man of tremendous experience. Here's how their game went:

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2017"] [Site "Reykjavik ISL"] [Date "2017.04.22"] [Round "5.25"] [White "Torre, Eugenio"] [Black "Vaishali, R."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A45"] [WhiteElo "2455"] [BlackElo "2259"] [Annotator "Sagar,Shah"] [PlyCount "146"] [EventDate "2017.04.19"] {Beating Torre in the Torre Attack!} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bg5 d5 3. e3 e6 4. Nd2 Be7 5. Bd3 O-O 6. f4 c5 7. c3 b6 8. Ngf3 Ba6 $5 {Exchanging the all important d3 bishop.} 9. Bxa6 Nxa6 10. Ne5 Rc8 11. Bxf6 $5 {A very interesting decision. Overall Black should not have any problems because both his minor pieces are pretty good.} Bxf6 12. O-O Nc7 13. Qg4 Nb5 $1 {The knight makes its way from b5-d6-e4.} 14. f5 exf5 15. Rxf5 Nd6 16. Rh5 Rc7 17. Qh3 h6 18. Qf3 cxd4 19. exd4 Bg5 20. Rd1 Qf6 21. Qxf6 Bxf6 {Objectiviely White is better because of his better pawn structure. But the rook on h5 looks a little silly.} 22. Nef3 Nc4 23. Nxc4 dxc4 24. Re1 Rd8 25. Kf2 a6 26. Rf5 b5 27. a3 Rc6 28. Ne5 Re6 29. Ng4 Be7 30. Rxe6 fxe6 31. Re5 Kf7 32. Re2 Bd6 33. Kf3 Ke7 34. g3 Rf8+ 35. Kg2 { The position is now around even, but Torre tries to outplay his young opponent. } Kd7 36. Nf2 Rf5 37. Nd1 h5 38. Ne3 Rf6 39. Rf2 Rxf2+ 40. Kxf2 e5 $1 {Black gets rid of the weakness and what is left is a superior bishop over the white knight.} 41. dxe5 Bc5 42. Kf3 Ke6 43. Ng2 (43. Ke4 Bxe3 44. Kxe3 Kxe5 45. h3 g5 46. g4 h4 47. Kf3 $11 {would end in a draw.}) 43... Kxe5 44. Nf4 g5 45. Nxh5 g4+ $1 46. Ke2 (46. Kxg4 Be3 47. Nf4 Bc1 48. h4 Bxb2 49. Ne2 Bxa3 50. h5 Bf8 { And Black should win this.}) 46... Be7 47. Nf4 Bg5 48. Ng2 Ke4 49. Kd1 Be3 50. Nxe3 $2 {The endgame was already very bad, but this just hastens the end.} Kxe3 51. Ke1 a5 52. Kf1 Kd3 53. Kf2 Kc2 54. h4 gxh3 55. g4 Kxb2 56. g5 h2 57. Kg2 h1=Q+ 58. Kxh1 b4 59. axb4 axb4 60. g6 bxc3 61. g7 c2 62. g8=Q c1=Q+ 63. Kg2 c3 {That's a winning endgame.} 64. Qb8+ Ka1 65. Kh3 c2 66. Qa8+ Kb1 67. Qe4 Qa3+ 68. Kh4 Kb2 69. Qe2 Qa4+ 70. Kh5 Qa5+ 71. Kg6 Qd5 72. Qf2 Qe6+ 73. Kh5 Kb1 { An excellent game by Vaishali.} 0-1

This victory wasn't enough to satiate Vaishali's hunger of beating grandmasters. In the sixth round she scored a fine win with the white pieces against GM Eugene Perelshteyn. And have a look at the game, it was a completely off beat opening where Vaishali managed to outplay her opponent on sheer middlegame strength.

[Event "Reykjavik Open 2017"] [Site "Reykjavik ISL"] [Date "2017.04.23"] [Round "6.15"] [White "Vaishali, R."] [Black "Perelshteyn, Eugene"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B50"] [WhiteElo "2259"] [BlackElo "2509"] [Annotator "Sagar,Shah"] [PlyCount "105"] [EventDate "2017.04.19"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. c3 Nf6 4. Be2 Nbd7 5. d3 b6 6. O-O Bb7 7. Nbd2 g6 8. Re1 Bg7 9. Bf1 O-O 10. d4 Qc7 11. Bd3 cxd4 12. cxd4 e5 13. d5 Nc5 14. Bc2 a5 15. a4 Na6 16. Ra3 Nd7 17. Bd3 Nb4 18. Bb5 Nc5 19. Nb3 h6 20. Nxc5 bxc5 21. Bc4 Kh7 22. Bd2 Qd8 23. Rae3 f5 24. exf5 gxf5 {Black has a nice position and already is slightly better.} 25. Bc3 Qd7 $6 (25... Ra7 {was better. In any case giving the knight the h4 square was not a good idea.}) 26. Nh4 $1 Ba6 27. b3 (27. Bxa6 Rxa6 28. g4 $1 f4 (28... fxg4 29. Bxb4 cxb4 30. Qd3+ $18) 29. Re4 $16) 27... Bxc4 28. bxc4 Qf7 29. Rg3 f4 30. Rg6 f3 31. Qb1 $1 {This is just game over!} Kg8 32. Nxf3 Rad8 33. Bd2 Qf5 34. Bxh6 Kh7 35. Rxg7+ Kxh6 36. Qxf5 Rxf5 37. Rg4 Rb8 38. Rb1 Rbf8 39. Rb3 Rf4 40. Nxe5 $1 {Very alert for any tactical trick!} Rxg4 41. Nxg4+ Kg5 42. Rg3 Rf4 43. Ne3+ Kf6 44. Rg4 Rxg4 45. Nxg4+ Kg5 46. Ne3 Nd3 47. Nd1 Ne5 48. Nb2 Kf4 49. h4 Ke4 50. h5 Kd4 51. h6 Kc3 52. h7 Ng6 53. f4 {A great win for Vaishali.} 1-0

GM killer! After six rounds Vaishali was on 5.0/6 and gaining 38 rating points. In the next two rounds she lost to GMs Erwin l'Ami (2614) and Abhijit Kunte (2491). Currently she is gaining only 31.6 rating points.

Before I finish I must mention another (non-Indian) elderly IM:

Liang Awonder from the US, just turned 14 and with 6.0/8 is well on track for a GM norm

And here a bunch of Islandic IMs with norm ambitions – no, wait, they are just spectators

The wonderful pictures in this report were provided by Lennart Ootes


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Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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