Praggu’s race to be youngest ever chess Grandmaster

By Leon Watson / On / In Chess news

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While Chessable’s own John Bartholomew is continuing his quest to get the Grandmaster title, time is running out for another International Master hoping to secure what would be an even more incredible achievement.

On January 10 Indian super talent Ramesh Praggnanandhaa, or Praggu as he is known, was exactly 12 years and five months old, meaning he has just two months left to write himself into chess history.

The boy from Chennai is in the final straight of his race against the clock to become the world’s youngest-ever Grandmaster, a feat that would put him in an exclusive club of chess greats who’ve held the record.

Ramesh Praggnanandhaa at the London Chess Classic. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Ramesh Praggnanandhaa at the London Chess Classic. Photo by LENNART OOTES

If he does it, it will be some feat. The most famous member of the youngest club is of course the American genius Bobby Fischer who became the world’s youngest Grandmaster at 15.

Yet that achievement that now looks rather paltry compared to Sergey Karjakin‘s long-standing current record of 12 years and seven months.

If – and it is a big if – Praggu breaks the Russian’s mark, predictions that he will one day emulate his hero Vishy Anand and become world champion will start looking very serious indeed. The big guns will really start looking over their shoulders.

Norway’s reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, for example, only achieved it at a relatively late-to-the-party 13 years four months.

Right now Praggu has one GM norm (a high level of performance in an elite chess tournament) and needs two more to qualify for the title, and it has to happen before March 10. That is a very tall order.

His next tournament, the Winter 2018 CCCSA GM/IM Norm Invitational in Charlotte will take place between January 11 and 15, where he is expected to face a certain John Bartholomew, IM. It may be that our own Scandi master has a part to play in this.

He’s not norm-al!

In his last norm attempt at the Rilton Cup in Stockholm, Sweden, Praggu had a torrid time. But afterwards he was typically sanguine about his chances.

“I am not thinking about it,” he told Norwegian channel NRK Sport this week. “It’s fun to play some good chess. But if I can achieve it, I will be very happy.”

Don’t be fooled by that though – Praggu clearly wants it.

Praggu is gunning for his final two Grandmaster norms. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Praggu is gunning for his final two Grandmaster norms. Photo by LENNART OOTES

After starting out at the Rilton with two wins, Praggu’s attempt to bag a second GM norm ended in round 8 of 9. He finished the tournament with a performance rating of just 2485 – way below what he needed.

In a large part that was due to a final round loss to the English International Master David “Eggy” Eggleston after the chance of a norm had gone, but it has led to doubts over whether the youngster will manage it.

Before Christmas Praggu fell agonisingly short of snatching the record outright at the World Junior Championship in Tarvisio, Italy.

In the final round he had the chance to win the tournament, which is unique in that it carries an automatic GM title for the winner, but ended up finishing fourth (joint second).

It followed a similar close but no cigar performances at the Isle of Man International in September and before that the HZ Tournament in August.

However at the Isle of Man he did play this brilliant 18-move miniature against one of the best players in South America, a 2645 GM from Paraguay:

The other wonderkids

Praggu, who is sponsored by an Indian property entrepreneur, has not been the only wonderkid in the running to beat Karjakin’s 2002 record. But now he is the only realistic chance right now who’s still standing.

Praggu’s international compatriot Nihal Sarin, now 13, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov of Uzbekistan both battled hard to get there.

Grandmaster hopeful Praggu with his mother. Photo by LENNART OOTES
Grandmaster hopeful Praggu with his mother. Photo by LENNART OOTES

Abdusattorov, who is nine months older, had long been considered a potential record-breaker after he beat two GMs in a tournament aged just nine.

But time ran out on him in July leaving the younger Praggnanandhaa in pole position.

Praggu, meanwhile, hit the 2500 rating requirement on his birthday in August at the HZ Tournament in the Netherlands, but just missed out on a first norm when he lost in the last round.

Disappointment then followed again at the Isle of Man International tournament where he missed another chance to secure the required norm.

Next up is the Charlotte event. And then Praggu is targeting the Tradewise Masters, a 10-round open tournament in Gibraltar that starts on January 21.

Gibraltar has a stellar field that includes Armenia’s in-form Levon Aronian, the US blitz king Hikaru Nakamura and the French number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

And after that he will have to find another high-level tournament to enter – and do it fast.

After all, time waits for no man – or boy.

About Leon Watson

Leon is a national newspaper journalist from London, England. He is an avid chess fan, and writes regularly about the game. Apart from chess, he loves cricket, Tottenham Hotspur FC and spending time with his son.
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