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Prodigy: His Winning Moves

By Swarnendu Biswas Email By Swarnendu Biswas
June 2024
Prodigy: His Winning Moves

RAMESHBABU PRAGGNANANDHAA, the boy from a humble family in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, started playing chess at the age of four and now, at 18, is the nation’s pride.

 [Left] Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa. (Photo: Team Pragg)

There is something very inspiring about witnessing a child born and raised in an Indian family of average means go on to achieve great success, receive worldwide recognition, and earn a fortune. Praggnanandhaa’s story is precisely about such uncommon success.

In January this year, at 18, this young man won the attention and hearts of a billion Indians when he defeated the reigning world champion Ding Liren at the 2024 Tata Steel Chess Tournament in the Netherlands. In so doing, he became the number-one-ranked chess player in India as per ratings from the International Chess Federation (FIDE)—surpassing chess legend Viswanathan Anand.

These stellar achievements are just the latest amongst a long list of the prodigy’s outstanding accolades in the world of chess.

Praggnanandhaa’s fascination with the game began at the tender age of four when he followed in the footsteps of his elder sister, Vaishali, a chess sensation in her own right. In 2023, the 22-year-old sister became only the third female grandmaster from India. In 2013, at age 12, she defeated future World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen in a simultaneous exhibition match that was held in her hometown of Chennai.

I discuss chess a lot. During tournaments, he sometimes helps me with opening strategies for a particular game.” She, too, got interested in chess at a young age. Remembering the time when she was six, she shares, “I used to watch a lot of television back then and my parents wanted to divert me from that, so they enrolled me in chess and drawing classes. My trainer told my parents I have a talent for chess and should play it professionally.”

Praggnanandhaa and Vaishali are the only grandmaster sibling duo in the world. What is the secret behind their success? Let’s start with the parents, who not only introduced them to chess at a young age but also wholeheartedly supported both children throughout the years, with increasingly hectic chess schedules. “I must credit my wife, who accompanies them to tournaments and is very supportive. She takes great care (of the two),” Rameshbabu, the father, a branch manager at a bank in Chennai, is quoted as saying in an article in Deccan Herald. Nagalakshmi, the mother, who is a homemaker, is the one who travels with the siblings to international tournaments.

Nagalakshmi credits Praggnanandhaa’s school, Velammal MHSS, for grooming him as an “invincible chess player.” The son agrees, adding, “My school has been very supportive since I started performing well in tournaments in my age group. They gave me and my sister free education, and we were never pressured [about academics]. The school management always encouraged us.”

[Right] Vaishali Rameshbabu. (Photo: Team Pragg)

Prodigy_2_06_24.jpgIn a country where performance at the Olympics has been abysmal relative to its size, people often complain that the government doesn’t do much for sports, barring cricket which is a national obsession. That’s why it comes as a welcome surprise that the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin awarded Praggnanandhaa with a check of 30 lakh rupees (about $25,000). Udhayanidhi Stalin, Tamil Nadu’s Minister of Youth Welfare and Sports Development, said at the event, “Tamil Nadu government is working to make the state the sports capital of India. But the duo has made Tamil Nadu the chess capital of the world.”

Praggnanandhaa is optimistic about the future of chess in cricket-crazy India and enthusiastically talked about state support that is being extended to chess players in India these days. “I am sure we will see an increase in the popularity of chess in India in the future,” he expressed, which his sister whole-heartedly agreed with. One can only hope that their optimism about the future of chess in India comes true so that the game can flourish in the country that invented it.

Based in Delhi, Swarnendu Biswas is a freelance writer on travel, lifestyle, people, and more.



Accolades worthy of a global chess champion 



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