You cannot keep R Praggnanandhaa away from a chess board for long. It was the young grandmaster who spotted and corrected a misplaced piece on a ceremonial chess board set up at an event conducted by his school, Velammal Vidyalaya, on Monday to felicitate all the representatives of Tamil Nadu in the Indian team for the upcoming Chess Olympiad.
Tamil Nadu has six players participating in the event - R Praggnanandhaa, R Vaishali, S.P Sethuraman, Karthikeyan Murali, B Adhiban, and D Gukesh. The state also has three coaches at the tournament with Narayan Srinath and Shyam Sundar with the Indian side, while K Priyadarshan is coaching the Brazil Open side.
Of the nine felicitated, Gukesh and Praggnanandhaa are currently students of the school, while the others are alumni of the Alapakkam-based institution. R.B. Ramesh, the coach of men’s India ‘B’ side was also present at the function.
The loudest cheers on the day were reserved for Praggnanandhaa, who also fielded questions from his schoolmates about his experiences in chess.
One such query was regarding his wins over the World Champion Magnus Carlsen this year. “The first time I played him, I wasn’t confident. But I gained confidence over the next few games and things worked out well for me in those games,” Praggnanandhaa said.
When asked about the difference in playing in a team event, the 16-year-old, who will be part of India ‘B’ side in the Open section, said, “Ultimately, we have to play our game. The team will make some decisions, but mostly it is just your game.”
Praggnanandhaa also revealed that he and his sister, R Vaishali, often play chess against each other for fun and said that they both win.
R Vaishali, who is part of the India women’s ‘A’ team, expressed her excitement in having the event so close to home. “This is my first over-the-board Olympiad, and to have it in my hometown is an extra motivation. All our relatives are going to be there to cheer for us, as both I and my brother will be playing," she said.
“I know we are seeded first and that we have a good chance to win the title. But teams like Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan are also very strong, so it will not be straightforward,” added Vaishali, who had secured her second Grandmaster norm when she won the eighth Fischer memorial title in Heraklion, Greece.
For S. P Sethuraman, who is part of India's ‘C’ team in the Open section, the opportunity to represent India in such a tournament at home is a dream come true. “Growing up, I never expected something like this to happen. I believe the home advantage would work in our favour. Usually, when we play in places like Europe, we never get such an atmosphere. So, it will be a new experience,” he said.
Sethuraman also credited his school for having nurtured so many internationally recognised chess players. “The school supported all of us in many ways. They even helped us financially on certain occasions. Also, because most of us have known each other for a long time, it helps in such team tournaments. For example, I had known B Adhiban since we were five. We were in the same school and college. So, it feels good to be representing the nation together,” Sethuraman added.