Three tal­ented In­dian chess play­ers—one of them only eleven—are steadily climb­ing the world rank­ings

India Today - - INSIDE - —De­vang­shu Datta

Per­haps due to the long win­ter nights, Ice­landers are mad-keen on chess. With a pop­u­la­tion of only around 300,000, the coun­try boasts 13 Grand Masters—the high­est rank—and a to­tal of 59 ti­tled play­ers. It’s no sur­prise that the an­nual Reyk­javik Open is one of the most pop­u­lar tour­na­ments in com­pet­i­tive chess.

But In­di­ans are emerg­ing as a force to be reck­oned with. This year, a 16-player In­dian con­tin­gent com­peted in the Reyk­javik Open, from April 19-27. Hol­land’s Anish Giri fin­ished first. But 27-year-old Grand­mas­ter Ab­hi­jeet Gupta, who won in 2016, shared sec­ond place. Three young­sters—R. Vaishali, Ni­hal Sarin and R.R. Prag­gnanand­haa (Vaishali’s younger brother)—stood out in par­tic­u­lar.

Chess rat­ings are based on per­for­mances against other rated play­ers. To be awarded a ti­tle—a life­time award, like an aca­demic de­gree—a player must earn a cer­tain score across 25 tour­na­ment games. The high­est ti­tle is In­ter­na­tional Grand­mas­ter (GM); the sec­ond-high­est is In­ter­na­tional Mas­ter (IM) or Woman Grand­mas­ter (WGM). A Woman In­ter­na­tional Mas­ter (WIM), Chen­nai’s Vaishali is 16 years old. An IM who scored his first Grand­mas­ter norm less than a month ago, Thris­sur-based Ni­hal is 12.

Eleven-year-old Prag­gnanand­haa, or ‘Pragga’, is the world’s youngest-ever IM. He’s tipped to be­come the youngest-ever GM, eclips­ing Sergei Kar­jakin, who won the ti­tle aged 12 years, seven months. Pragga has un­til Jan­uary 2018 to break Kar­jakin’s record and Ni­hal could be among the youngest ever as well. Vaishali de­serves at­ten­tion in her own right. She had dropped off the cir­cuit while she was swot­ting for her Class X ex­ams and she’s back with a bang. All three did well, win­ning and draw­ing matches against strong GMs. Ni­hal and Pragga both scored 6 from their 10 games while Vaishali scored 5.

Vaishali and Pragga’s fa­ther, Ramesh­babu, is a bank of­fi­cer. Their mother, Na­galak­shmi, is a home­maker. Fear­ing their kids were be­com­ing TV ad­dicts, they en­rolled Vaishali in GM R.B. Ramesh’s Gu­rukul Chess Academy. Vaishali says she now puts in eight hours a day. Pragga, who fol­lowed in her foot­steps, prefers about three hours. Ni­hal’s par­ents (both doc­tors) were look­ing for a way to keep a hy­per­ac­tive kid oc­cu­pied. His grand­fa­ther taught him chess.

GM Ramesh is In­dia’s fore­most trainer, known for his in­spi­ra­tional and no-non­sense style. He says, “Vaishali is very tal­ented and also level-headed and prac­ti­cal.” About Pragga, he says, “He has a fan­tas­tic me­mory. He knows the mis­takes he’s made with­out be­ing told and his anal­y­sis is very ma­ture.” Ni­hal also has a fan­tas­tic me­mory—he mem­o­rised ev­ery na­tional flag by the age of three and knows the birth year of ev­ery ac­tive GM.

It can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore the ti­tles be­gin to come in for this trio.

R.R Pragga (above); R. Vaishali

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