Former world champion and chess legend Viswanathan Anand has spoken highly of his protege R Praggnanandhaa in an exclusive interview with NDTV, just a day after the young chess prodigy beat current world champion Magnus Carlsen to secure second position in the FTX Crypto Cup. This was not the first time that the youngster had beaten Carlsen in his fledgling career. In the last one year, the 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa defeated Carlsen on two other occasions.
Anand, a five-time world chess champion, pointed out to the fact that Praggnanandhaa beat Carlsen several times on the same day at the FTX Crypto Cup, which makes the achievement even more special.
“R Praggnanandhaa has beaten the reigning world champion three times, and not in individual games. In Miami, for instance, he beat him in a four-game match, with two additional games. So, he is not doing it once, he is doing it several times on the same day. And that shows how strong he is. Magnus is one of the strongest players in rapid and blitz as well – the faster forms of the game. Praggnanandhaa is beating him there,” Anand told NDTV.
“It is phenomenal. It’s very rare to have someone who starts off by beating the world champions, because that’s one of the mental blocks that you conquer at the end. And here he is doing it at the beginning.”
The teenage chess prodigy has received training from Anand, who spoke highly about the cool and calm approach of Praggnanandhaa under pressure.
“He is a hard worker. But mostly, what I like about him, what he really brings to the table is his fearlessness and ability to take on anyone. I mean, he can lose a game, he may lose several games but he comes back. He has shown that in this tournament against not just Carlsen but also (Levon) Aronian, (Alireza) Firouzja, all the world’s best players. It’s a pattern which comes up a lot. It’s his fearlessness, his ability to bounce back from defeat that is helping him right now,” Anand said.
“He trains hard. The most important thing for a player before a game is to calm down. To say that ‘whatever is thrown at me, I will deal with it.’ If he has beaten Carlsen so may time, in the future when he faces him, he is not going to think ‘I am never going to beat him.’ He will bring that confidence to the table. So, he seems to work excellently in not overpreparing, but getting through what he needs to do,” the chess icon added.
Dealing with tension
Anand revealed another aspect of Praggnanandhaa which is not known to many. “He is very fun-loving, likes to crack jokes. He likes to fool (around) a lot. I think it’s his way of dealing with tension. And this is quite nice. RB Ramesh, his permanent coach, knows how to keep him in the right frame of mind. He is quite playful when he is with his sister or family. That helps him ease the tension,” Anand said.
Praggnanandhaa won the World Youth Chess Championship Under-8 title in 2013. Then in 2016, he became the youngest international master at the age of 10 years, 10 months, and 19 days. In 2018, he became a chess grandmaster at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 13 days.
“It seems hard to imagine. But the thing in chess is bit like a language, it lends itself to this intuitive approach. Young people often have that. So, right now India has a golden generation. Not only do we have Pragg, we have Gukesh D and we have Arjun (Erigaisi). All three of them are performing at the very, very top. Pragg is one of the many Indian youngsters who became a grandmasters under the age of 13,” Anand said.
“I am very happy with the development. Lot of youngsters are taking to the game and that is what is driving this revolution. Right now, in terms of bench strength, India is at its strongest that it has ever been because we have so many people to choose from. In fact, in the chess Olympiad, it was the India ‘B’ team consisting mostly of youngsters, which won the bronze.”
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