CHENNAI: There is a story that R Praggnanandhaa’s parents often invoke to peals of laughter from listeners. When he was taken to Slovenia for his first World Championship in 2012, he turned up at the venue tired and jet-lagged. When his mother returned to check on him, she found Praggnanandhaa asleep at the board, his opponent waiting patiently for him to wake up and make his move.
A couple of years on, the kid who slept during a game is one of the biggest stories in world chess. The 10-year-old from Chennai achieved his third and final International Master (IM) norm after beating a Grandmaster and holding two others at the KIIT International Festival of Chess in Bhubaneswar.
In comparison, Judit Polgar, the youngest IM to date, did it only at 11-plus. Sergey Karjakin, the youngest Grandmaster ever and current challenger to Magnus Carlsen’s crown, became an IM at 11 years and 11 months. Praggnanandhaa is 10 years and 9 months old. “The youngest International Master in the history of chess,” his coach R B Ramesh delivers the punchline.
“He got his first IM norm three months ago at the Cannes Open in France. The second came recently at the Aeroflot Open in Russia. In the Bhubaneswar tournament, he achieved his third norm and ELO rating of 2400 to become an International Master. Now, we just have to wait for the FIDE to process the documentation,” Ramesh says.
Praggnanandhaa’s journey began when he was just over two years, watching his sister R Vaishali, herself a world girls’ under-14 champion, train. “He owes a lot to the two women in his life,” says his father A Ramesh Babu, a bank employee.
“When his sister Vaishali started playing, we had little idea what to do. But by the time Praggnanandhaa started playing, we were able to provide him with all that he needs. Maybe that is why he has progressed so fast,” he says. Praggnanandhaa’s mother, Nagalakshmi, is the one who accompanies the little champ to every tournament.
“I’m physically handicapped due to polio, so his mother has to take him and his sister everywhere,” his father says.
Ramesh Babu, while proud, is also a bit worried. He knows what his son needs now is a lot of international exposure, and that means money. “Praggnanandhaa needs to play a lot abroad,” says his coach R B Ramesh, a noted Grandmaster. “His mindset is already that of a Grandmaster. With the right opportunities, he can overtake Karjakin and become the world’s youngest ever GM.”