16-year-old Indian chess grandmaster beats World champion Magnus Carlsen

But he missed out on qualifying for the quarterfinals.
Deena Theresa
Magnus Carles and Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaastefan64/Wikimedia - Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa/Facebook

In the wee hours of Monday, while most of India was in slumber, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, silently made history.

The Indian chess Grandmaster defeated world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in the eighth round of the Airthings Masters online rapid chess tournament. At 16, Praggnanandhaa, fondly known as Pragg, became the youngest person to defeat Carlsen since the latter became world champion for the first time in 2013.

Pragg immediately texted his coach, R B Ramesh, and woke his father to tell them about the victory. Meanwhile, Carlsen of Norway was tending to the wounds of his shocking loss somewhere offline, according to The New York Times.

Carlsen revealed that the after-effects of COVID-19 played spoilsport, which could be an explanation for his poor streak in the Airthings Masters tournament.

While the world champion immediately logged off when he resigned, Praggnanandhaa returned later to be interviewed. When asked what he would do to celebrate, the Grandmaster nonchalantly replied, "I think it’s about just going to bed."

"I tried to sleep late, for the past 10 days, to get into this routine," Pragg continued. And it worked. With rapt attention, he declined Carlsen's first move, the famous Queen's Gambit. Though Praggnanandhaa had black pieces and all the disadvantages that come with it, the defeat was orchestrated in 39 moves. 

The second time's the charm

Carlsen had defeated Praggnanandhaa in January, a month after Praggnanandhaa was invited by the international federation to make the ceremonial first move in a world championship match between Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi, a Russian grandmaster. 

This time, fortune didn't favor him. When asked how COVID-19 hindered his chances, Carlsen told Chess24, "It’s been a little bit better today, but the first couple of days I was feeling like I’m ok but I didn’t have the energy which made it hard to focus because every time I tried to think I blundered. It was a little bit better today, but still pretty bad.”

The victory has added to Pragg's confidence, who won the World Youth Chess Championship Under-8 title in 2013. At seven, the victory secured him the title of FIDE Master, an open title that is below Grandmaster and International Master. He then became the youngest International Master in history at the age of 10 years, 10 months, and 19 days. Two years later, at 12 years, 10 months, and 13 days, Praggnanandhaa became the youngest Grandmaster after Russian chess star Sergey Karjakin.

"Beating a player of Magnus' caliber gave me tremendous self-belief. As a kid picking up the sport, I had looked up to Magnus. I started Day 2 of the tournament with a victory over Levon Aronian. Beating two players in a single day was very special," Pragg told the Times of India. Levon Aronian is the fourth-highest rated player in history

It's raining accolades

Praggnanandhaa is only the third Indian, after Indian chess Grandmaster and a five-time world chess champion Viswanathan Anand and prominent chess player P Harikrishna, to conquer the world No 1.

The internet went berserk with wishes pouring in from different corners of the world for the youngster. 

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India congratulated “the young genius” for his win on Twitter. "We are all rejoicing on the success of the young genius R Praggnanandhaa. Proud of his accomplishment of winning against the noted champion Magnus Carlsen," Modi wrote.

Retired Indian cricket player Sachin Tendulkar, considered to be one of the greatest players in cricket's history, tweeted, "What a wonderful feeling it must be for Pragg. All of 16, and to have beaten the experienced & decorated Magnus Carlsen, and that too while playing black, is magical! Best wishes on a long & successful chess career ahead. You’ve made India proud!"

Vishwanath Anand, whom Pragg looks up to as an idol, wrote on Twitter, "Welcome to the club & congrats Praggnanandhaa!!". 

Praggnanandha comprehended his win only after congratulatory messages began pouring in. "The wishes from people made the occasion more memorable for me," he told the Times of India

But despite the win, Pragg missed out on qualifying for the quarterfinals. He finished 11th in the standings with 19 points with the top eight going through to the knockout phase.

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