Arjun's progress a bit like Alireza's, says Praggnanandhaa

Chess Olympiad at home will add to the pressure but it will be fun too, says young GM

Young chess GM R. Praggnanandhaa with his mother Nagalakshmi and sister Vaishali.   -  Vibhu. H

As a kid, R. Praggnanandhaa used to frequently disturb his elder sister Vaishali whenever she played chess. He was fascinated by the strange little pieces and used to pluck them from the board to play.

“So we got a board for him. The chess pieces were his first toys, he was three then,” said his mother Nagalakshmi.

The little fellow has come a long way. One of the world's youngest when he became a Grandmaster four years ago, the 16-year-old from Chennai shocked World champion Magnus Carlsen in the online rapid Airthings Masters recently as the world watched in disbelief.

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Pragg's fascination for the pieces continues and now it's the way 18-year-old Alireza Firouzja is magically handling them. The Iran-born French GM became the youngest player in history to enter the 2800-rating club late last year, breaking Norway's World No. 1 Carlsen's record by six months.

“I'm fascinated with Alireza's play, he's so good. And I'm surprised with his progress because he went from 2600 to 2800 very fast,” said Pragg in a chat with The Hindu, at Kalady.

Firouzja is now the World No. 2 and he has qualified for this June's Candidates tournament, the winner of which will challenge Carlsen for the World title.

Does he think Firouzja will become the youngest-ever World champion?

“Not sure about the youngest-ever World champion part because I don't think Carlsen will lose in the next few years, doesn't seem like. But Alireza could be a World champion one day, that's possible. He's very strong,” said the 16-year-old from Chennai.

He was at Kalady's Sree Sarada Vidyalaya to receive the Sankara Prize from K. Anand, the Adi Sankara Trust's managing trustee, on Thursday.

Pragg feels Telangana's 18-year-old GM Arjun Erigaisi is currently doing a Firouzja sort of progress.

“Now, Arjun is kind of doing that, he has played some incredible chess in the last few months. He has crossed the 2670 range, I think he's a bit stronger than everyone now,” said the 11 standard student of Velammal School, Mogappair in Chennai.

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The Chess Olympiad, moved from Moscow, will now be held in Chennai later this year. Will a home Olympiad be an advantage?

“I don't know. There will be pressure definitely because there will be the home crowd but it will also be fun,” he said.

Two years ago, India and Russia – the world's strongest chess nation – were declared joint winners of the Olympiad (held online for the first time) after a couple of games were affected by internet connectivity issues. But now, there are many other issues after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“Sad to see that...I know so many Ukrainian players, it's hard for them,” said Pragg.

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