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