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India’s teenage chess sensation sets sights on world title

New Delhi, Mar 3 (EFE).- The sensational victory of India’s 16-year-old chess sensation Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa against current and five-times world champion Magnus Carlsen has brought India back into the spotlight in the sport, with the young and promising talent aiming to bring back the world crown to his country.

“I am very happy about it (the victory). It boosts my confidence. I am happy to see so many people following and supporting chess,” Praggnanandhaa told EFE, adding that his “ultimate aim is to become world champion.

Since the reign of compatriot Viswanathan Anand, who won five world titles between 2000 and 2013 including four consecutive ones, Indian chess players have failed to compete at the top level internationally.

Anand – India’s first ever grandmaster – has himself dropped in the FIDE rankings to the 15th place in the classic section, with no successor in sight so far to carry forward his legacy.

However, Praggnanandhaa’s recent victory aganst Karlsen – who was Anand’s nemesis at the 2013 world championship – in a rapid game of the Airthings Masters online tournament – the third-ever defeat of a reigning world champion by an Indian – has brought into limelight the talented crop of youngsters from the country who are ready to take the world of chess by a storm.

The youngster, who became the second youngest person ever to become grandmaster – now he stands fifth in the list – at the age of 12 years, 10 months and 13 days, is part of a generation that has dominated the junior world rankings, with five Indians figuring among the top 15.

To fulfill his dream of becoming number one some day, Praggnanandhaa (junior ranking 11, world ranking 163) is training in an academy established by Anand along with other emerging talents such as Nihal Sarin (age 17, junior ranking 5), Raunak Sadhwani (age 16, JR 12), Dommaraju Gukesh (age 15, JR 13) and Pragghnanandhaa’s sister Vaishali Rameshbabu (age 20, ranked 50th in the women’s rankings).

Apart from Vaishali, all the other young chess players figure in the list of 73 grandmasters that India currently boasts of, up from just 10 in 2010 and 3 in 2000, a testimony to the rapid progress the sport has made in the country.

This meteoric rise has been helped by the spread of the internet, Praggnanandhaa’s coach Ramachandran Ramesh – a grandmaster himself – told EFE.

He said that the internet has been an extremely useful tool for training players in cities where there was no existing chess culture, and enable the best players to play against each other without having to travel, as evident during the Airthings Masters.

However, Ramesh insisted that this was not enough to make the Indians – including Arjun Erigaisi, the third highest ranked player in the country – leapfrog to the top, with just three players from the country currently figuring in the top-50 and Anand being the only one in top-20.

“We don’t have a good system, which can identify talented players and matches them providing training and playing opportunities,” he stressed.

The coach praised Praggnanandhaa for his ability to not let immediate results affect him and focus on building aptitude for the future, expressing hope that the media attention would attract sponsors, along with the aid already being provided by the government to help the youngster improve.

Ramesh was confident that “within a decade, India would produce a world champion.”

The honorary secretary of the All India Chess Federation, Bharat Singh, is of the same opinion and told EFE that the main challenge ahead was to regain the world no. 1 spot, but one of the youngsters could achieve it.

He highlighted the federation’s upcoming venture aimed at further boosting the sport in the country, an Indian Chess League set to kick off later this year, in which six teams of top junior and senior chess players would compete in a team format, giving the Indians an opportunity to compete against the world’s best. EFE


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