Indian teen prodigy Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa could make history at Chess World Cup

The 18-year-old faces world number one Magnus Carlsen in a final tie-breaker round

India's Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa during his match against Norwegian world number one Magnus Carlsen, in Baku, on Wednesday. EPA
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Only a day after India became the first country to land on the south pole of the Moon, a teen chess sensation could write another chapter in the nation's history.

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 18, will face world number one Magnus Carlsen, 32, in a tiebreaker round at the FIDE Chess World Cup final in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Thursday.

Social media was abuzz with messages of good wishes for Praggnanandhaa, fondly nicknamed Praggu – only the second Indian player after chess Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand to reach the World Chess Final.

Grandmaster is a lifelong title bestowed to the world's strongest players by the International Chess Federation, which is known by its French acronym FIDE.

“Patience is the key! An 18-year-old young lad is set to create history today. India is rooting for you, champ! Let’s go,” said social media user Meeti Shah on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“Praggnanandhaa is such an inspirational man! I hope he wins against Magnus,” said another, Jasha.

Did chess originate in India?

Some historians believe chess originated in India about 1,500 years ago.

Praggnanandhaa, from Chennai, the chess capital of cricket-loving India in the southern state of Tamil Nadu was inspired to take up the game after watching his sister Vaishali Rameshbabu.

Vaishali, 21, holds the titles of Woman Grandmaster and International Master.

Their mother Nagalakshmi enrolled them in chess classes to make sure the siblings did not spend too much time watching television.

Father Rameshbabu has spoken in the past of great pride in his children's achievements.

“I must credit my wife, who accompanies them to tournaments and is very supportive,” he said.

“She takes great care of them.”

Praggnanandhaa began practising chess at the age of two. His first success came in 2013 when he won the Under-Eight World Youth Chess Championship at the age of seven, earning the title of FIDE Master.

He again won the title two years later in 2015 in the Under-10 category.

A year later, he became the Youngest International Master at the age of 10 years, 10 months and 19 days and won his first Grandmaster title at the World Junior Chess Championship in 2017 – becoming the youngest player ever to accomplish the feat.

In 2018, he became the fifth-youngest Grandmaster globally and the youngest Indian to achieve the feat.

Last year, he became the youngest player to beat reigning world champion Carlsen at the online Airthings Masters.

Praggnanandhaa practises for six to eight hours a day.

His mother, Nagalakshmi, still takes him to chess classes and accompanies him to tournaments abroad, carrying her induction stove, rice cooker and masalas to feed Praggnanandhaa home-cooked meals.

Updated: August 24, 2023, 9:55 AM