Even on the mobile, I only played chess: How Chennai lad Praggnanandhaa became a Grandmaster at 12

Praggnanandhaa has previously been the Under-8 champion in 2013 and the Under-10 winner in 2015

Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess Grandmaster and current World Chess Champion, earned the title of Grandmaster at the age of 13 years. Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, lovingly called 'Prag', is actually ahead of the current world champion, when Carlsen was at a similar age. Prag became a Grandmaster at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 13 days, taking young Indian chess players to new heights. The chess prodigy, now 14-years-old, recently became the World Youth Chess Champion and was felicitated at his school — Velammal School Mogappair in Chennai. Praggnanandhaa dedicated his recent triumph to the late Sujith Wilson, the two-year-old boy, who tragically lost his life after getting stuck in an abandoned borewell.

Prag, whose father is a banker and mother, a homemaker, lives with his family in Padi, Chennai and is a Class XI student at Velammal. He is coached by Grandmaster RB Ramesh. Prag clinched a gold medal at the World Youth Chess Championship Under-18 tournament that took place in Mumbai last month. The 14-year-old Grandmaster finished with a draw in the 11th and final round against Valentin Buckels from Germany, hence emerging on the top with nine points. Praggnanandhaa has previously been the Under-8 champion in 2013 and the Under-10 winner in 2015. The 14-year-old also won the Finesse Master title in 2013, International Master title in 2016 and the Grandmaster title in 2018.

Praggnanandha at Velammal

"I didn't have any particular strategy before I went for the championship, I just played my best. It wasn't an easy task as there were top players from across countries who I had to compete with," says Praggnanandhaa, adding, "Winning a tournament brings in a lot of confidence. I am also happy that I will create some awareness in this arena that will lead to other young Indian players getting recognised and invited to various tournaments around the world." Prag says that he practises six to seven hours a day and is able to juggle between his academics and the game as his school is extremely supportive. He can concentrate on his game completely as he knows that his teachers will put him up to speed even if he misses some of his lessons due to matches.

His parents always accompany him to all the tournaments he's been to. His sister Vaishali Rameshbabu is also a talented chess player. She has won the Girls' World Youth Chess Championship for Under-14s and Under-12s. Since 2016 she is also a Woman International Master. As of October 2016, she is ranked second in India and world number 12 female U16-player. Vaishali has had a huge role to play in her brother's chess career. When Prag was just three and a half, he watched his sister play chess in the house and asked her to teach him the rules of the game. Very soon, the young player mastered it too and kept adding accolades to his list of achievements.

Praggnanandha dedicating his prize to Sujith Wilson

So, what does the Grandmaster do apart from playing chess? "I love to play table tennis, cricket and badminton. All these sports require a lot of stamina and that also helps me with my marathon chess tournaments. Physical fitness is also extremely important and thus I began swimming from last month to keep myself fit at all times," adds Prag. Also, the 14-year-old feels that he is not missing out on having friends or the world of mobile phones as he's playing most of the time. Even if he is on his phone he is playing chess, he says.

Speaking of his favourites, he says, "Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen are my favourite players, but I like all the top players. I study their strengths and weaknesses and try to grasp them to get better at the game. I feel I have to work a lot more to face them at tournaments and get to their level."

Prag will be in London next month and then in Spain for several other tournaments. "Lot of Indian players are doing well and will help improve the number of chess players in the international circuit in the near future," he concludes.