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Episode 191 March 5, 2022

Game Time: Mapping Praggnanandhaa’s rise in Indian chess

Last week, the 16 year old R Praggnanandhaa made headlines globally after he beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a rapid chess tournament. Praggnanandhaa, the second youngest Grandmaster in the world, has been slowly rising in the world of Chess. In this episode, host Mihir Vasavda is joined by Indian Express’ Sandip G who has been following Praggnanandhaa’s career, to talk about the Carlsen win, his playing style, and his future as a chess champion.

Transcript:

Mihir Vasavda: Imagine you’re in your early or mid teens. And like any other young teenager, the world for you probably is watching your favourite cartoons, riding your bike, and belting out your favourite song. Now one of India’s youngest sporting sensation, of course like all this. He probably binges on Tom and Jerry, goes on detours around the sleepy industrial township of Padli in West Chennai, has a blazing red bike, which he never stops riding, but what sets him apart that he is also the youngest international master. The youngest Indian and the second youngest in the world to reach 2600 ELO ratings. He’s the fifth youngest Grandmaster in the world, and on February 22, at around 3 am IST, he became the youngest player to beat the world champion Magnus Carlsen.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, then we are talking about Ramesh Babu Praggnanandhaa, the 16 year old chess prodigy who is looking to become the king of his sport. And to talk about his career and what the future holds for him, we are joined today by someone who has followed very closely the rise of Pragg as a prodigy, Sandip Gopal.

Sandip, first of all, welcome to the show.

Sandip G: Thank you. Thank you.

Mihir Vasavda: And yeah, it’s been a crazy week for sport. With the invasion of Ukraine, with the test matches, cricket returning to Pakistan, Virat Kohli’s 100th match…But we are talking about Praggnanandhaa. Can you can you start by explaining, what is so special about him?

Sandip G: Yeah I mean, now look, in the context he has become the youngest player ever to beat Magnus Carlsen, in any format. Though, it might have come in rapids. A format which Praggnanandhaa really likes. It’s a big deal. I mean, because it’s a lot of others, a lot of ours, including Vishwanathan Anand has tried to beat him in this format and couldn’t. And then, besides that, you know, he’s the youngest international master, as you said, and then when he became the Grandmaster he was the third fastest to that mark. And now he’s the fifth. So there are a lot of things that sets this boy apart from the rest of the 16 year olds in the world, maybe. I mean 16 is a time, usually a sporting career, it’s just a time you start. Like, I mean, if you’re a footballer, you’re an academy coming through the rungs and then if you’re a cricketer, you will not even be in your under-19 team. Though in Chess the age limits are little beneath, but still now he started playing Chess since he was nine, and you know, from 10 he was meeting professionals around the world. So to have that composure, to have that tenacity to beat these guys, these tried and tested guys, beating 50 year olds, 40 year olds, I mean, it’s a big deal. And India is starting this Indian chess league also sometime later, so I mean, all these things all go well for Indian chess.

Mihir Vasavda: It is. It is damn interesting. But before we dive deep into Praggnanandhaa’s story Sandip, can you explain what is a Grandmaster? Like, how does one become a Grandmaster in chess?

Sandip G: Firstly, he has to cross his 2500 ELO rating. And then he has to have get two norms. That is, he need to have two favourable results from kind of 27 games. I mean, when you hear like two favourable out of 27 games, it sounds very smooth, but it is actually not. Because again, there are certain certain norms. Like at least 33% of your opponents should be Grandmasters, then at least 50% of them should have won some FIDE title. And then your opponents should have an average ELO rating of 2380. And then again, you should beat opponents from three different countries also.

Mihir Vasavda: That sounds extremely tough. I mean, I didn’t think it was it was so tough to get a GM norm. But now like when we talk, I was just Googling and I looked at the basic stats, which was, I guess in one of the explainers that you wrote. Like, out of millions, there are fewer than 2000 grandmasters in the world. That is a very skewed number.

Sandip G: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Like I mean, when you look at test cricketers with more than 8000 runs. There are very few of them. Maybe 20 of them, 25 of them. It’s almost like that.

Mihir Vasavda: Or probably test cricketers who go on to play 100 test matches..

Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, just to 12 Indian cricketers have done that before him I guess. Of maybe around 300 cricketers.

Mihir Vasavda: It is, it is incredible. So Praggnanandhaa is now the second youngest chess grandmaster. I think, an Indian chess second youngest. What, he was 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. If I’m if I’m right?

Sandip G: Absolutely, absolutely.

Mihir Vasavda: So how did his journey begins Sandip? I mean, it’s interesting because it didn’t start with him, right? It was his sister that first got to the sport.

Sandip G: Yeah his sister…I mean, they don’t have any kind of a chess background. I mean Chennai actually has a good Chess tradition. And you know, like your grandparents play, you play, your great grandfather’s play..It’s was not that in their case. Because his parents hardly knew chess. And then when Vaishali was around four or five, she started playing just out of curiosity. Like I mean, a couple of friends introduce to the game. And then she looked into it. And she was doing so well that they thought okay, they’ll enrol her and in an Academy in T. Nagar, which was handled by RB Ramesh, another Grandmaster.

So gradually with the sister, he also started playing. And then initially for fun initially, just to beat her. And then he also started becoming serious. And then he also joined RB Ramesh. And then it was easy for the dad also. I mean, he could take both of them to the academy and leave them there, you know. You leave them in the morning, you know, they don’t have any hassle in looking after two kids. So he’s working in an Indian bank in Chennai, so that was sort of a routine for them. And then gradually, in fact both of them started to win FIDE rated events in Chennai. In Chennai, almost every other week, there is a FIDE rated state level Chess Championship or district level championship. So the exposure was immense. Like every week, you’re playing chess. Every weekend, you are meeting somebody. I mean, and there are good players, for example, B Adhiban, Narayanan, all these guys play this competitive chess in district level and state level chess. So that was great exposure for him. So both of them actually learned the tricks pretty fast. You know, and there was always hunger for him to try different variations. To learn more, you know. He’s always chewed on the ears of RB Ramesh. So basically that was it.

Mihir Vasavda: It’s fascinating the chest culture that you see in Chennai, it’s almost like a football league kind of thing. Where every weekend you play and through the week you practice. So Praggnanandhaa gets into this system, and he is I think, seven or eight years old, when he earns his title of FIDE monster. But Sandip, when was the first time that his talent actually gets noticed?

Sandip G: When he became the fastest international Master. I think he was around ten or nine and a half. That is when people started taking notice of him. Like, oh here is a chess prodigy. And he plays in Chennai, which is obsessed with chess masters and all these things. I mean, it was a big deal. And he became an overnight sensation there.

Mihir Vasavda: I mean, do chess players have styles? Like does Praggnanandhaa have a playing style, so to say?

Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, broadly speaking he’s a very aggressive kind of a guy. He embraces risk. Like sometimes he’s self destructive in that way. Like he embraces too many risks. Maybe it’s the age also. He’s a bit restless kid anyway, so sometimes he tends to act pretty fast. And with very aggressive openings and middle games also. Its the end game, once Ramesh told me, that he has to improve a bit. Because in an end game, all three result are possible. You can draw the match, you can lose a match, you can win the match also. But he always goes for the win. And so in pursuit of the victory, he might actually lose a game that that could be a draw. Draw also yields a lot of points in chess. So that’s why he’s extremely successful in rapids, maybe more than the classical version because he makes fast moves. He is a very aggressive kind of a guy that way. And he generally prefers those variations also. Like he uses the Tarrasch variation against Magnus Carlsen which was quite aggressive and something he hasn’t used much before. So, he likes to gamble also a bit here and there.

Mihir Vasavda: So his rise has been rapid. Like in 2013, he won the Under-8 World Youth title. In 2015, he won the under-10 World Youth title. When he turned 16, he became the youngest international master. His record was then broken by Abhimanyu Mishra, another Indian in 2019. Then 2018, he became a Grandmaster, as we discussed, that at 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. 2019, he he won an under-18 youth title. And I mean, his rise now looks complete. Then, of course, COVID hit and the chess world kind of went topsy turvy, everything went online. But Sandip, something happened in the last week of February which again brought Praggnanandhaa to the World Chess fraternity’s center.

We spoke briefly about his win over Magnus Carlsen on February 22. What is it about that match, which kind of gained so much attention? I mean, Prime Minister Modi tweeted about him. Sachin Tendulkar did that. The entire world it seemed was looking at that result and going gaga over it, but can you kind of put the entire thing in perspective?

Sandip G: It was like, I mean, World Number 150 beating Roger Federer in his peak.

Mihir Vasavda: Wow, that’s massive then.

Sandip G: Yeah, that is massive. Like, when you look at it Praggnanandhaa is still not in the top 100. He’s still around 125, 130. He’s like some 200 yellow points behind Magnus Carlsen. Magnus Carlsen has been like a world champion. Like he’s one of the Gods of this game. I mean, a lot of people think is the Greatest Of All Time…so to beat him. And he’s also like, he had a slump in between, but he also bounce backs strongly and he won the world championship. So, he was also in pretty good form. And so for a player whose FIDE ratings is like beyond 100, to beat him is a massive achievement. And it could be stepping stone. I mean, he needed a confidence booster somewhere because last few years he has been meeting a lot of players in this 2600-2700 range and he was like, I was not finding favourable results. So this is an ideal kind of a boost for him.

Mihir Vasavda: So Praggnanandhaa did not like go on and qualify for the quarterfinals of that tournament. He finished 12th in the 16 player tournament, but then again, he has been notching up wins, very important win often now. So before Carlson, he had beaten Levon Aronian. Which, I was watching one of Praggnanandhaa’s interview and he rated the win over Aronian better than the win over Carlson, which again kind of explains his mindset.

He also has defeated Andrey Esipenko and Vladislav Artemiev. All these guys have ELO ratings above 2700. But Sandip like this win and this spotlight on Praggnanandhaa is a double edged sword, right? I mean, he’s still 16. I mean, of course, we don’t know how he’ll develop as a player. He is showing all the promises of becoming a very good one, but still at a very tender age. Now, before we get to you, there is this thing that Magnus Carlsen said about Praggnanandhaa and the need to protect him. Well just hear that and then come you Sandip.

Mihir Vasavda: So Sandip, just this bit about handling spotlight. Now, chess players often seem to be in their own little world like Vishy Anand over the years hasn’t got carried away by all the attention that is put on him and so have the other chess players. How do you look at the attention that Praggnanandhaa is getting? And is it is it kind of a double edged sword as we discussed?

Sandip G: During his pursuit for the fastest Grandmaster norm it was actually a bit of a burden for him. Because like the media was building it up, you know, he couldn’t avoid the hype around him. Like he used to get phone calls almost every day from chess scribes or some well-wisher. And this fraternity, is very close knit fraternity…when everybody follows everybody else. So that was kind of suffocating him. But you know, once that monkey was off the back, he was very happy. He was relieved. Once he attained the Grandmaster norm, that hype was a bit reduced. Now the hype again will be there because he’s beaten Carlson, but then he’s like five years mature. He’s played a lot of grandmasters. He’s beaten a few of them. So he’s also now more composed. He’s also now sort of immune to all this hype around him. And he knows how to take care of himself from all this fluff outside him. And he’s in a nice environment also because like Anand has been mentoring him for a while. And you know Ramesh is also his mentor, he’s also a very calm person. So, he’s been taken care of pretty well. Chances of a chess star getting lost is very difficult, when compared to somebody like an under-19 cricketer, or a young footballer in Europe. The chances of a chess start blossoming is much more higher.

Mihir Vasavda: So it’s very interesting that you mentioned that Anand has been one of his mentors. Like what kind of role has Anand played in Praggnanandhaa’s career?

Sandip G: Yeah like Anand has always been this guiding force. Telling him what to do, telling him little little things that matter. It’s not a major overhaul of anything, it’s just giving him the right guidance at the right time. Like sometimes it happens that okay, you like a variation very much, but you are not good at that and you try to use that. This is a pitfall a lot of chess players actually fall into. But Anand has made him a bit more self aware, made him aware of his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. So he plays to that.

Mihir Vasavda: So, are we are we looking at Anand’s successor when it comes to Indian chess Sandip? Or is it like too big a claim to make so early?

Sandip G: Yeah, I think we have to wait a bit more. I mean, Anant only became a Grandmaster after he turned 18. So, when you come back age wise, his achievements are massive, but he has to develop a bit more patience. You know, he has to polish his end game, and start beating these grandmasters, these 2700 rated grandmasters more frequently. And somehow he should break into the top 100 in next couple of years and then he’ll be set for a massive thing.

Mihir Vasavda: Yeah, just before we bring in producer Shashank, like when we speak about his need for him to break into top 100…I’m guessing now that the world is opening up, now that physical tournaments will start, it will bring a different dimension to his games? So far, if I have understood the rules right, the online matches did not offer ELO rating. So his rating also was stuck for last couple of years. Now when he gets back to the circuit, perhaps he’ll be targeting 2700 ELO rating himself, Sandip? Is it tough to get that far?

Sandip G: No, no, it’s not tough. I mean, the more games you play, the more Grandmasters you meet… and he certainly can beat grandmasters, like he beat Aronian beautifully. So he definitely has that quality and the game to actually beat Grandmasters and get into 2700 or even beyond that in future. But his ultimate ambition is to win a World Championship. Which is incredibly difficult now. Now that Magnus Carlsen is ruling, like he’s like the heyday Roger Federer. Winning everything.

Mihir Vasavda: I mean, who knows Praggnanandhaa will be the Nadal to Carlsen or Djokovic to Carlsen..

Sandip G: And it’s not just Magnus Carlsen, there are a lot of these teenagers also doing extremely well. Like Alireza, the Iran born French player who is also 16, the same age as him. He’s the world number two. And it’s an ultra competitive circuit now. Like all of them are like not very old. So they are all very young. So that is another challenge he is going to get. I mean getting all these guys who are who are sort of contemporaries.

Mihir Vasavda: It’ll be fascinating to see how these careers simultaneously rise. But Shashank to bring you in, do you play chess? Are you are you a chess fan? Somehow I feel that you’d be you’d be a guy who who does play a lot of chess.

Shashank Bhargava: I wish man. I wish I was because I’m interested in…I mean, you can’t call chess a board game really, but like the fact that it’s indoor and all these things…like I like the concept of it, but I’ve never got around to playing it really. I wish I did. But by the way, one thing I want to say is that, you started the podcast saying that Praggnanandhaa is 16 years old and then saying that he is probably watching Tom and Jerry which? Which I’m thinking like ab toh he won’t be watching be Tom and Jerry.

Mihir Vasavda: I still watch Tom and Jerry, when i get time yaar. What’s wrong in watching Tom and Jerry?

Shashank Bhargava: Unless Tom and Jerry is a euphemism for something, I find that hard to believe.

Mihir Vasavda: Oh god! Yeh humme koi aur hee direction mein like jaa raha hai.

Sandip G: I never thought he was so wicked man.

Mihir Vasavda: I know, seriously. And what other direction are you referring to? Ab yeh clearly bata hee do.

Shashank Bhargava: Nahi nahi, yeh sab cheeze hum…yeh family podcast hai. Hum iss mein nahi jaayenge. But I had a question for you Sandip. So you know, when we when we’re talking about Praggnanandhaa’s match with Carlson…like the fact that this was rapid chess right? This was not the standard chess that is played. And that is sort of the caveat there. That Praggnanandhaa beat Magnus Carlsen but it was in rapid chess. In the other traditional sort of chess, he probably may not have been able to do that. And we had this conversation earlier where you were saying that rapid chess is like the T 20 of the chess world. But why is it that we mention that with a caveat? Because I’m guessing in in the rapid chess different sort of skills are used and in in traditional, there are different ones, right?

Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, it’s just like a game of T20. I mean in T20 you need different skills. You need to bowl Yorkers a lot. You need to bowl slow cutters a lot, you need to slog. They play a lot of ram shots, they play all these fancy shots, but test match it’s a patience game. Similarly, you can make an elaborate pattern. You can sit there for hours just deciding on one definitive move. I mean, basically in classical format, you’re just focusing on the next move, but as José Capablanca said, the decisive move. But rapid movie you are thinking a few steps ahead. So you can you can blunder here and there. And Magnus Carlsen also loves to take gambles in these big games. Like he is somebody who used to be like Virendra Sehwag. Like he goes for the big shots, if he feels. He might actually see an avenue to win but he tries to do a different thing. So yeah, because it’s that sort of game actually because he also tried a couple of fancy moves, and then he blundered. So yeah, in classical format, it’s incredibly difficult to beat Magnus Carlsen.

Shashank Bhargava: Right. So Im guessing in the chess world, people who are good at rapid chew but not good in the traditional format…they are seen really as great players right?

Sandip G: Magnus Carlsen actually good in all three formats. But yeah in rapid matches, he at times is prone to making a blunder or two. But otherwise world rapid championship, he’s really solid. He has a solid game and he’s a little risk averse also.

Mihir Vasavda: Its fascinating how these formats work in chess as well when you when you kind of explain it that way Sandip. But it’s great to have you explaining these very complicated things in simple terms. So as always, that you do. But thanks for joining us today. And thanks for listening to this week’s episode. We’ll be back again next week. Like we mentioned at the top of the episode, there’s so much happening in the sports world right now that we won’t run out of topics. So we will be back with something new, something interesting again next week. Till then keep listening to Express Sports podcast and take care, and adios.

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Game Time: Mapping Praggnanandhaa’s rise in Indian chessLast week, the 16 year old R Praggnanandhaa made headlines globally after he beat World Champion Magnus Carlsen in a rapid chess tournament. Praggnanandhaa, the second youngest Grandmaster in the world, has been slowly rising in the world of Chess. In this episode, host Mihir Vasavda is joined by Indian Express’ Sandip G who has been following Praggnanandhaa’s career, to talk about the Carlsen win, his playing style, and his future as a chess champion. Transcript: Mihir Vasavda: Imagine you're in your early or mid teens. And like any other young teenager, the world for you probably is watching your favourite cartoons, riding your bike, and belting out your favourite song. Now one of India's youngest sporting sensation, of course like all this. He probably binges on Tom and Jerry, goes on detours around the sleepy industrial township of Padli in West Chennai, has a blazing red bike, which he never stops riding, but what sets him apart that he is also the youngest international master. The youngest Indian and the second youngest in the world to reach 2600 ELO ratings. He's the fifth youngest Grandmaster in the world, and on February 22, at around 3 am IST, he became the youngest player to beat the world champion Magnus Carlsen. If you haven't guessed it yet, then we are talking about Ramesh Babu Praggnanandhaa, the 16 year old chess prodigy who is looking to become the king of his sport. And to talk about his career and what the future holds for him, we are joined today by someone who has followed very closely the rise of Pragg as a prodigy, Sandip Gopal. Sandip, first of all, welcome to the show. Sandip G: Thank you. Thank you. Mihir Vasavda: And yeah, it's been a crazy week for sport. With the invasion of Ukraine, with the test matches, cricket returning to Pakistan, Virat Kohli's 100th match...But we are talking about Praggnanandhaa. Can you can you start by explaining, what is so special about him? Sandip G: Yeah I mean, now look, in the context he has become the youngest player ever to beat Magnus Carlsen, in any format. Though, it might have come in rapids. A format which Praggnanandhaa really likes. It's a big deal. I mean, because it's a lot of others, a lot of ours, including Vishwanathan Anand has tried to beat him in this format and couldn't. And then, besides that, you know, he's the youngest international master, as you said, and then when he became the Grandmaster he was the third fastest to that mark. And now he's the fifth. So there are a lot of things that sets this boy apart from the rest of the 16 year olds in the world, maybe. I mean 16 is a time, usually a sporting career, it's just a time you start. Like, I mean, if you're a footballer, you're an academy coming through the rungs and then if you're a cricketer, you will not even be in your under-19 team. Though in Chess the age limits are little beneath, but still now he started playing Chess since he was nine, and you know, from 10 he was meeting professionals around the world. So to have that composure, to have that tenacity to beat these guys, these tried and tested guys, beating 50 year olds, 40 year olds, I mean, it's a big deal. And India is starting this Indian chess league also sometime later, so I mean, all these things all go well for Indian chess. Mihir Vasavda: It is. It is damn interesting. But before we dive deep into Praggnanandhaa's story Sandip, can you explain what is a Grandmaster? Like, how does one become a Grandmaster in chess? Sandip G: Firstly, he has to cross his 2500 ELO rating. And then he has to have get two norms. That is, he need to have two favourable results from kind of 27 games. I mean, when you hear like two favourable out of 27 games, it sounds very smooth, but it is actually not. Because again, there are certain certain norms. Like at least 33% of your opponents should be Grandmasters, then at least 50% of them should have won some FIDE title. And then your opponents should have an average ELO rating of 2380. And then again, you should beat opponents from three different countries also. Mihir Vasavda: That sounds extremely tough. I mean, I didn't think it was it was so tough to get a GM norm. But now like when we talk, I was just Googling and I looked at the basic stats, which was, I guess in one of the explainers that you wrote. Like, out of millions, there are fewer than 2000 grandmasters in the world. That is a very skewed number. Sandip G: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Like I mean, when you look at test cricketers with more than 8000 runs. There are very few of them. Maybe 20 of them, 25 of them. It's almost like that. Mihir Vasavda: Or probably test cricketers who go on to play 100 test matches.. Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, just to 12 Indian cricketers have done that before him I guess. Of maybe around 300 cricketers. Mihir Vasavda: It is, it is incredible. So Praggnanandhaa is now the second youngest chess grandmaster. I think, an Indian chess second youngest. What, he was 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. If I'm if I'm right? Sandip G: Absolutely, absolutely. Mihir Vasavda: So how did his journey begins Sandip? I mean, it's interesting because it didn't start with him, right? It was his sister that first got to the sport. Sandip G: Yeah his sister...I mean, they don't have any kind of a chess background. I mean Chennai actually has a good Chess tradition. And you know, like your grandparents play, you play, your great grandfather's play..It's was not that in their case. Because his parents hardly knew chess. And then when Vaishali was around four or five, she started playing just out of curiosity. Like I mean, a couple of friends introduce to the game. And then she looked into it. And she was doing so well that they thought okay, they'll enrol her and in an Academy in T. Nagar, which was handled by RB Ramesh, another Grandmaster. So gradually with the sister, he also started playing. And then initially for fun initially, just to beat her. And then he also started becoming serious. And then he also joined RB Ramesh. And then it was easy for the dad also. I mean, he could take both of them to the academy and leave them there, you know. You leave them in the morning, you know, they don't have any hassle in looking after two kids. So he's working in an Indian bank in Chennai, so that was sort of a routine for them. And then gradually, in fact both of them started to win FIDE rated events in Chennai. In Chennai, almost every other week, there is a FIDE rated state level Chess Championship or district level championship. So the exposure was immense. Like every week, you're playing chess. Every weekend, you are meeting somebody. I mean, and there are good players, for example, B Adhiban, Narayanan, all these guys play this competitive chess in district level and state level chess. So that was great exposure for him. So both of them actually learned the tricks pretty fast. You know, and there was always hunger for him to try different variations. To learn more, you know. He's always chewed on the ears of RB Ramesh. So basically that was it. Mihir Vasavda: It's fascinating the chest culture that you see in Chennai, it's almost like a football league kind of thing. Where every weekend you play and through the week you practice. So Praggnanandhaa gets into this system, and he is I think, seven or eight years old, when he earns his title of FIDE monster. But Sandip, when was the first time that his talent actually gets noticed? Sandip G: When he became the fastest international Master. I think he was around ten or nine and a half. That is when people started taking notice of him. Like, oh here is a chess prodigy. And he plays in Chennai, which is obsessed with chess masters and all these things. I mean, it was a big deal. And he became an overnight sensation there. Mihir Vasavda: I mean, do chess players have styles? Like does Praggnanandhaa have a playing style, so to say? Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, broadly speaking he's a very aggressive kind of a guy. He embraces risk. Like sometimes he's self destructive in that way. Like he embraces too many risks. Maybe it's the age also. He's a bit restless kid anyway, so sometimes he tends to act pretty fast. And with very aggressive openings and middle games also. Its the end game, once Ramesh told me, that he has to improve a bit. Because in an end game, all three result are possible. You can draw the match, you can lose a match, you can win the match also. But he always goes for the win. And so in pursuit of the victory, he might actually lose a game that that could be a draw. Draw also yields a lot of points in chess. So that's why he's extremely successful in rapids, maybe more than the classical version because he makes fast moves. He is a very aggressive kind of a guy that way. And he generally prefers those variations also. Like he uses the Tarrasch variation against Magnus Carlsen which was quite aggressive and something he hasn't used much before. So, he likes to gamble also a bit here and there. Mihir Vasavda: So his rise has been rapid. Like in 2013, he won the Under-8 World Youth title. In 2015, he won the under-10 World Youth title. When he turned 16, he became the youngest international master. His record was then broken by Abhimanyu Mishra, another Indian in 2019. Then 2018, he became a Grandmaster, as we discussed, that at 12 years, 10 months and 13 days. 2019, he he won an under-18 youth title. And I mean, his rise now looks complete. Then, of course, COVID hit and the chess world kind of went topsy turvy, everything went online. But Sandip, something happened in the last week of February which again brought Praggnanandhaa to the World Chess fraternity's center. We spoke briefly about his win over Magnus Carlsen on February 22. What is it about that match, which kind of gained so much attention? I mean, Prime Minister Modi tweeted about him. Sachin Tendulkar did that. The entire world it seemed was looking at that result and going gaga over it, but can you kind of put the entire thing in perspective? Sandip G: It was like, I mean, World Number 150 beating Roger Federer in his peak. Mihir Vasavda: Wow, that's massive then. Sandip G: Yeah, that is massive. Like, when you look at it Praggnanandhaa is still not in the top 100. He's still around 125, 130. He's like some 200 yellow points behind Magnus Carlsen. Magnus Carlsen has been like a world champion. Like he's one of the Gods of this game. I mean, a lot of people think is the Greatest Of All Time...so to beat him. And he's also like, he had a slump in between, but he also bounce backs strongly and he won the world championship. So, he was also in pretty good form. And so for a player whose FIDE ratings is like beyond 100, to beat him is a massive achievement. And it could be stepping stone. I mean, he needed a confidence booster somewhere because last few years he has been meeting a lot of players in this 2600-2700 range and he was like, I was not finding favourable results. So this is an ideal kind of a boost for him. Mihir Vasavda: So Praggnanandhaa did not like go on and qualify for the quarterfinals of that tournament. He finished 12th in the 16 player tournament, but then again, he has been notching up wins, very important win often now. So before Carlson, he had beaten Levon Aronian. Which, I was watching one of Praggnanandhaa's interview and he rated the win over Aronian better than the win over Carlson, which again kind of explains his mindset. He also has defeated Andrey Esipenko and Vladislav Artemiev. All these guys have ELO ratings above 2700. But Sandip like this win and this spotlight on Praggnanandhaa is a double edged sword, right? I mean, he's still 16. I mean, of course, we don't know how he'll develop as a player. He is showing all the promises of becoming a very good one, but still at a very tender age. Now, before we get to you, there is this thing that Magnus Carlsen said about Praggnanandhaa and the need to protect him. Well just hear that and then come you Sandip. Mihir Vasavda: So Sandip, just this bit about handling spotlight. Now, chess players often seem to be in their own little world like Vishy Anand over the years hasn't got carried away by all the attention that is put on him and so have the other chess players. How do you look at the attention that Praggnanandhaa is getting? And is it is it kind of a double edged sword as we discussed? Sandip G: During his pursuit for the fastest Grandmaster norm it was actually a bit of a burden for him. Because like the media was building it up, you know, he couldn't avoid the hype around him. Like he used to get phone calls almost every day from chess scribes or some well-wisher. And this fraternity, is very close knit fraternity...when everybody follows everybody else. So that was kind of suffocating him. But you know, once that monkey was off the back, he was very happy. He was relieved. Once he attained the Grandmaster norm, that hype was a bit reduced. Now the hype again will be there because he's beaten Carlson, but then he's like five years mature. He's played a lot of grandmasters. He's beaten a few of them. So he's also now more composed. He's also now sort of immune to all this hype around him. And he knows how to take care of himself from all this fluff outside him. And he's in a nice environment also because like Anand has been mentoring him for a while. And you know Ramesh is also his mentor, he's also a very calm person. So, he's been taken care of pretty well. Chances of a chess star getting lost is very difficult, when compared to somebody like an under-19 cricketer, or a young footballer in Europe. The chances of a chess start blossoming is much more higher. Mihir Vasavda: So it's very interesting that you mentioned that Anand has been one of his mentors. Like what kind of role has Anand played in Praggnanandhaa's career? Sandip G: Yeah like Anand has always been this guiding force. Telling him what to do, telling him little little things that matter. It's not a major overhaul of anything, it's just giving him the right guidance at the right time. Like sometimes it happens that okay, you like a variation very much, but you are not good at that and you try to use that. This is a pitfall a lot of chess players actually fall into. But Anand has made him a bit more self aware, made him aware of his weaknesses, as well as his strengths. So he plays to that. Mihir Vasavda: So, are we are we looking at Anand's successor when it comes to Indian chess Sandip? Or is it like too big a claim to make so early? Sandip G: Yeah, I think we have to wait a bit more. I mean, Anant only became a Grandmaster after he turned 18. So, when you come back age wise, his achievements are massive, but he has to develop a bit more patience. You know, he has to polish his end game, and start beating these grandmasters, these 2700 rated grandmasters more frequently. And somehow he should break into the top 100 in next couple of years and then he'll be set for a massive thing. Mihir Vasavda: Yeah, just before we bring in producer Shashank, like when we speak about his need for him to break into top 100...I'm guessing now that the world is opening up, now that physical tournaments will start, it will bring a different dimension to his games? So far, if I have understood the rules right, the online matches did not offer ELO rating. So his rating also was stuck for last couple of years. Now when he gets back to the circuit, perhaps he'll be targeting 2700 ELO rating himself, Sandip? Is it tough to get that far? Sandip G: No, no, it's not tough. I mean, the more games you play, the more Grandmasters you meet... and he certainly can beat grandmasters, like he beat Aronian beautifully. So he definitely has that quality and the game to actually beat Grandmasters and get into 2700 or even beyond that in future. But his ultimate ambition is to win a World Championship. Which is incredibly difficult now. Now that Magnus Carlsen is ruling, like he's like the heyday Roger Federer. Winning everything. Mihir Vasavda: I mean, who knows Praggnanandhaa will be the Nadal to Carlsen or Djokovic to Carlsen.. Sandip G: And it's not just Magnus Carlsen, there are a lot of these teenagers also doing extremely well. Like Alireza, the Iran born French player who is also 16, the same age as him. He's the world number two. And it's an ultra competitive circuit now. Like all of them are like not very old. So they are all very young. So that is another challenge he is going to get. I mean getting all these guys who are who are sort of contemporaries. Mihir Vasavda: It'll be fascinating to see how these careers simultaneously rise. But Shashank to bring you in, do you play chess? Are you are you a chess fan? Somehow I feel that you'd be you'd be a guy who who does play a lot of chess. Shashank Bhargava: I wish man. I wish I was because I'm interested in...I mean, you can't call chess a board game really, but like the fact that it's indoor and all these things...like I like the concept of it, but I've never got around to playing it really. I wish I did. But by the way, one thing I want to say is that, you started the podcast saying that Praggnanandhaa is 16 years old and then saying that he is probably watching Tom and Jerry which? Which I'm thinking like ab toh he won't be watching be Tom and Jerry. Mihir Vasavda: I still watch Tom and Jerry, when i get time yaar. What's wrong in watching Tom and Jerry? Shashank Bhargava: Unless Tom and Jerry is a euphemism for something, I find that hard to believe. Mihir Vasavda: Oh god! Yeh humme koi aur hee direction mein like jaa raha hai. Sandip G: I never thought he was so wicked man. Mihir Vasavda: I know, seriously. And what other direction are you referring to? Ab yeh clearly bata hee do. Shashank Bhargava: Nahi nahi, yeh sab cheeze hum...yeh family podcast hai. Hum iss mein nahi jaayenge. But I had a question for you Sandip. So you know, when we when we're talking about Praggnanandhaa's match with Carlson...like the fact that this was rapid chess right? This was not the standard chess that is played. And that is sort of the caveat there. That Praggnanandhaa beat Magnus Carlsen but it was in rapid chess. In the other traditional sort of chess, he probably may not have been able to do that. And we had this conversation earlier where you were saying that rapid chess is like the T 20 of the chess world. But why is it that we mention that with a caveat? Because I'm guessing in in the rapid chess different sort of skills are used and in in traditional, there are different ones, right? Sandip G: Yeah, I mean, it's just like a game of T20. I mean in T20 you need different skills. You need to bowl Yorkers a lot. You need to bowl slow cutters a lot, you need to slog. They play a lot of ram shots, they play all these fancy shots, but test match it's a patience game. Similarly, you can make an elaborate pattern. You can sit there for hours just deciding on one definitive move. I mean, basically in classical format, you're just focusing on the next move, but as José Capablanca said, the decisive move. But rapid movie you are thinking a few steps ahead. So you can you can blunder here and there. And Magnus Carlsen also loves to take gambles in these big games. Like he is somebody who used to be like Virendra Sehwag. Like he goes for the big shots, if he feels. He might actually see an avenue to win but he tries to do a different thing. So yeah, because it's that sort of game actually because he also tried a couple of fancy moves, and then he blundered. So yeah, in classical format, it's incredibly difficult to beat Magnus Carlsen. Shashank Bhargava: Right. So Im guessing in the chess world, people who are good at rapid chew but not good in the traditional format…they are seen really as great players right? Sandip G: Magnus Carlsen actually good in all three formats. But yeah in rapid matches, he at times is prone to making a blunder or two. But otherwise world rapid championship, he's really solid. He has a solid game and he's a little risk averse also. Mihir Vasavda: Its fascinating how these formats work in chess as well when you when you kind of explain it that way Sandip. But it's great to have you explaining these very complicated things in simple terms. So as always, that you do. But thanks for joining us today. And thanks for listening to this week's episode. We'll be back again next week. Like we mentioned at the top of the episode, there's so much happening in the sports world right now that we won't run out of topics. So we will be back with something new, something interesting again next week. Till then keep listening to Express Sports podcast and take care, and adios.
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