Name: R. Vaishali

Age: 17

Name: R. Praggnanandhaa

Age: 13

From: Chennai

Discipline: Chess

R. Vaishali and her younger brother R. Praggnanandhaa have achieved significant success at a pretty young age. While Pragg, as he is affectionately called by his parents, became the world’s second youngest chess grandmaster at 12 years, 10 months and 13 days in June 2018, Vaishali became a woman GM just two months later at age 17.

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The beginning

Vaishali is talented in both chess and drawing. When her parents enrolled her in the Bloom Chess Academy when she was five years, she showed her skills in the game by winning tournament after tournament, inlcuding gold medals at the national under-11, 13 and 15 championships. In fact, she was one of the recipients of the National Child Award for Exceptional Chess 2015, presented to her by then president Pranab Mukherjee.

Vaishali acquired her first woman international master norm in Bangkok in April 2015 and a second one at the KIIT Festival in Bhubaneswar the same year. She won her third and final norm in Kolkata at the National ‘A’ Championship in November 2015.

While her quest for an international masters title took less than a year, Vaishali took a bit more time to become a woman GM, needing 15 months. But the Chennai girl remained steadfast. Her best moment came when she won the Asian Continental Blitz Chess Championship in Chengdu, China, last year.

When Vaishali was selected for the Asian Youth Championships in 2011 held in the Philippines, she had no sponsor. Since the third-placed girl in the national under-10 championship pulled out, Vaishali, who had finished fourth in the event, was asked to join the team.

With government rules preventing Vaishali from being sponsored by it as she had finished fourth in the nationals – the government sponsors only the top three – it became tough for Vaishali’s parents. With no support, they had to spend around Rs. 90,000 of their own money. “It was quite a difficult time for us and that was the first time Vaishali was travelling abroad,” recalled Ramesh Babu, her father.

Praggnanandhaa, meanwhile, became the country's youngest IM at 10 years and nine months in 2016. He has been the national under-11, 13 and 15 champion, and has won gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championships in the under-12 and 14 categories as well as at the Asian Youth Championships in the under-12 and 14 age groups.

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Vaishali’s ambition is to become a men’s GM, and she realises it is no easy task. “It is a big challenge, but I am trying,” she said. “Only [Dronavalli] Harika and [Koneru] Humpy have achieved it. It is possible if I manage my time properly.”

Becoming a men’s GM is tougher as it involves sacrificing academics and spending much more time on chess. To put that into perspective, Vaishali is now in class XII. She says her immediate concern is to become a men’s IM. “I am playing the right tournaments with sir’s (R. B. Ramesh) guidance. “I hope things will work for me as soon as possible,” she said.

For Praggnanandhaa, the aim is to become a super GM and play in more international tournaments to gain more ELO rating points.

Their schedule

At R. B. Ramesh’s academy, Chess Gurukul, there are monthly camps, academic and daily classes. There are camps from 10 a.m.-5.30 p.m. daily or coaching camps twice or thrice a week before and after tournaments for Pragg and Vaishali. The siblings also have academic classes twice a week for three hours each.