The struggle is worth more than records

by Aditya Pai
4/4/2018 – R Praggnanandhaa had been making headlines ever since he became the world's youngest IM in May 2016. All eyes were on the little genius, with everyone eager to see if he could become the world's youngest GM too. The kid gave it his all, and as the deadline to break the record approached closer, he travelled across the globe playing every tournament that offered him the possibility of scoring a norm. But, in the end, he lost the race against time. However, Praggna earned heaps of admiration and love, and, most importantly, his zeal to excel remains undeterred. So, all things considered, wasn't the struggle worth a lot more than the record? | Photo: Lennart Ootes Reykjavik Open Facebook page

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No record, no problem

Just a couple of years ago, the world of chess was abuzz with the news of an eleven-year-old boy becoming the world’s youngest International Master (IM) ever. To be accurate, he was not even 11; he was only 10 years and 10 months and 19 days old and already the boy was making headlines. His name: Praggnanandhaa Rameshbabu. The umpteen syllables in his name discouraged many from even trying to pronounce his name. But they knew they would have to, sooner or later. After all, the boy was rewriting record books.

Praggnanandhaa at the Reykjavik Open 2018

Praggnanandhaa at the Reykjavik Open 2018 | Photo: Lennart Ootes

Now that he was the youngest International Master in the history of the game, the next big question was if he will break Sergey Karjakin’s record and become the youngest Grandmaster (GM) as well. He had almost a year more than Karjakin did back in 2002. Karjakin had become an IM at the age of 11 years and 11 months and about eight months later, he completed all requirements for his GM title. By this time, Karjakin was 12 years and 7 months old. So the target for Praggnanandhaa was clear. He had to complete all his GM norms and reach 2500 Elo before the 10th of March 2018.

This new chase was a long and arduous one. Beating several Grandmasters along the way — most notably, his 18 move win against GM Alex Bachman at the 2016 Isle of Man Masters — Praggnanandhaa reached the rating milestone of Elo 2500 in the August of 2017. No norms were scored yet but Praggnanandhaa still had seven months.


A big opportunity arose at the World Junior Championship that was held later in the year in the month of November. As per the rules of the tournament, the winner is awarded the Grandmaster title if the winning player isn’t already a GM. The big hurdle, however, was the field itself. Despite being rated above 2500, Praggnanandhaa was the 25th seed in the tournament. Not to mention, this was an Under-20 event. Praggnanandhaa was merely 12; most of his opponents were much more experienced and, in most cases, even higher rated. But Praggnanandhaa, too, hadn’t reached this far without beating odds.

He got off to a strong start, winning two and drawing one out of his first three games. And in the fourth round, he beat the top seed of the tournament Jorden van Foreest. By this point, it seemed that the lad might just make it to the title. But in the second half of the tournament, he slowed down. In his last five games, Praggnanandhaa scored only one win while drawing four. Of course, for a 12-year-old, this performance was remarkable. But it was not enough to win the tournament and, along with it, the GM title. Scoring an unbeaten 8.0/9, he finished fourth and earned his first GM norm.


Now he had only four months and fifteen days to break the record. Over the last few months, Praggnanandhaa almost has been living out of a suitcase. Since December, he has travelled to four continents playing norm tournaments but has missed out every time. After the Aeroflot Open, held each February in Moscow, it became clear that he would not be able to break Karjakin’s record. However, he did get to play two games against the youngest GM ever in the Blitz tournament that was held on the last day of Aeroflot.

Praggnanandhaa during his game against Sergey Karjakin at the Aeroflot blitz 2018

Praggnanandhaa at the Aeroflot Blitz against Karjakin | Frame: Live webcast

In the first game, Praggnanandhaa had the upper hand in the position and gave Karjakin a run for his money. There was no doubt that Praggna had dominated throughout the game. But he blundered at a crucial moment and allowed Karjakin to wriggle out with a draw. In the second game, Karjakin knew what he was faced with and played accurately with the white pieces to come out victorious in the mini-match with a score of 1½ : ½.

After the tournament, when Karjakin was asked about Praggnanandhaa, the former world championship challenger said, “Of course, it’s very clear that he is a great talent and he has a big future in chess.”

Sergey Karjakin knows a thing or two about prodigies | ChessBase India YouTube

What’s all the more important is that Praggnanandhaa is extremely passionate towards playing chess and has a fierce zeal to win. RB Ramesh, Praggnanandhaa’s coach, thinks that this drive is something that sets him apart from other kids of his age. "Praggu has immense drive, which is difficult to spot at this age. Generally, after a few rounds, many kids tire and stop. But there’s no stopping him", Ramesh says. "He keeps on playing as if he’s unhappy if he couldn’t beat every player inside the hall".


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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fgkdjlkag fgkdjlkag 4/4/2018 11:49
Since it is widely believed to be easier to attain the GM title today compared to history, a year-adjusted youngest GM would be interesting. Eg, I imagine it was easier for Judith Polgar to get the GM title when she did compared to when Fischer got it.
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 4/4/2018 07:00
i think kevinconnor suffers from indophobia!
ulyssesganesh ulyssesganesh 4/4/2018 06:59
on the one hand chasing the records, brings out one's best .... but also, a lot of pressure ......fame a stiff price!!
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 4/4/2018 06:45
Mr. Holmes' remarks are very pertinent. If you look at the link to which he refers ( ) , many of these young GMs would later hover around the 2650 or 2700 ceiling at the adult age (which is very respectable) but could not significantly go over it.

On the other hand, many big players (Karpov, Kortchnoi, Kasparov, Larsen and, as mentioned by Mr. Holmes, Kramnik, Ivanchuk and many many others) are not on that list.

We should begin to be attentive when a young player has a 2800 performance in a significant tournament. Before, hard to know how the kid will develop. The current 2400 could become a future world champion and the current 2600 more or less stay there.
fructosobedogus fructosobedogus 4/4/2018 05:30
I agree with Chris Holmes. Look at Bu Bacrot Negi and others, nothing remarkable in his adult careers. On the other hand Aronian Kramnik Anand Ivanchuk not close to the list. The leap in quality of play is not related to how young you became GM. However the boy talent is remarkable and I really hope to see him in the Top 5 some day.
KevinConnor KevinConnor 4/4/2018 01:24
Yes and these days Chessbase is the ultimate platform to overhype young indian chessplayers!
benedictralph benedictralph 4/4/2018 12:46
A waste. Oh, well. Plenty of kids in India and China. Someone else will do it soon enough.
ChessHulk ChessHulk 4/4/2018 12:42
Good job, kid! :)
morphic6 morphic6 4/4/2018 10:43
Good on Praggnanandhaa for having a crack! If you never give up you can never lose in the long run. Keep playing and all the best for the future! We'll all be watching his moves very carefully, and learning a lot '=-)
daftarche daftarche 4/4/2018 10:40
only superficial people cares about who become a gm sooner. what difference does it make? not to mention how much the gm title has been devalued in recent years.
Chris Holmes Chris Holmes 4/4/2018 10:38
Although records are interesting it should be noted that the 4 earliest record holders for being youngest grandmasters were
Bronstein (aged 26, a Candidate at 24, & Challenger at 27)
Petrosian (Aged 23, a Candidate at 23)
Spassky (aged 18, a Candidate at 18)
Fischer (aged 15, a Candidate at 15)
which is to say that their GM title announced their arrival among the world elite. We could say the same for Judith Polgar, although it took her 15 years between youngest GM & Candidate.

Carlsen was a GM at 13 & a Candidate at 15, Kasparov & Kramnik GM at 16-17 & Candidate at 19, Short GM & Candidate at 19.

However, possibly because of GM inflation, other prodigies either haven't made an impact or have taken a long time to move from youngest ever to world elite. Karjakin took 12 years from his GM title to being a Candidate, Caruana & So 10 years.

If you look over the list of youngest GMs some have made it to the world elite but a lot have made a promising start, & are strong chess-players, but never managed to make the leap to being world class players.

I think youngest Candidate is a better measure of a player's abilities than youngest GM. I sincerely hope that Praggnanandhaa will belong to the 2nd category.
melante melante 4/4/2018 08:52
"Over the last few months, Praggnanandhaa almost has been living out of a suitcase. Since December, he has travelled to four continents playing norm tournaments but has missed out every time"

Too much pressure and expectations on this kid. Adults who worry about records may seriously run the risk of burning him out: let him just play chess and enjoy it.