World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen, No. 10 Anish Giri and No. 22 Wei Yi are names that have recently struggled to read the minds of Indian chess magician Rameshbabu Praggnandhaa, ‘Praggu’ to those close to him. At the Chessable Masters last week, he beat them all by knockout, before battling world number two Ding Liren in the final. The Indian genius lost the title match in the blitz tie-break.
Soon after, around the wee hours of the morning, the next thing on Praggu’s mind was his “Computer Application” exam at school in a few hours.
The 16-year-old spoke to TimesofIndia.com in an exclusive interview, where he talked about his experience beating Magnus Carlsen again, the support he gets from Viswanathan Anand, juggling academics with his grueling chess schedule and more.
The second-youngest in the game’s history to become a grandmaster, Praggu didn’t initially expect his exam dates to conflict with his failures, as he didn’t expect to be in the finals of the Chessable. Masters.
“I really surprised myself,” he said TimesofIndia.com in this special interview.
Q. This year is proving to be a landmark season for you so far. Did you expect this?
The year continues and I would like to play even better. This year I think this tournament (Chessable Masters) was one of the good tournaments. I also played well at the Oslo Esports Cup last month (I finished fourth). So the last few months have been better. I play a good game of chess.
Q. You are only 16 years old and your evolution as a chess player has been remarkable…
I didn’t play any tournaments for a year and a half (due to the Covid pandemic), but the good thing was that I could still train. It was a good thing for chess players compared to other sports. For example, in cricket, you can’t train every day during confinement, you can’t go out. Of course, you can do other things like the gym (workout), but it’s not easy for everyone. For chess players, it’s quite easy. You need a laptop and you can practice.
I thank my sponsors Ramco, who have supported me since 2016, when I was 10 years old. Also recently, I was inducted into Indian Oil. So I have to say thank you to both of them. I don’t think that without their support it is possible to reach this level. Thank you to everyone who supported me and wished me (well).
Q. The pandemic has made it more necessary than ever to play chess online. How did you find that the two versions – online and remote were different?
There are good and bad things about playing online or on the board. I like to play both, but at the same time I feel like general chess is more serious, tactical chess. Online is also pretty serious. These (online) tournaments are very strong… (In) over-the-board chess, there is a ranking, so it’s much more competitive in that sense. But… it’s (online chess) pretty cool / You don’t have to travel anywhere, just sit there against every player. In general, I like to do it.
Q. Has your coach RB Ramesh introduced any changes for the online version?
No, nothing as such. I was just doing my prep like I do. Nothing has changed. But certainly in the last few months we have analyzed my game a lot. I try to work on the mistakes that I make, I try to rectify them.
Q. How do you prepare for a match? What is the mental and physical side of it?
Usually, before a game, I don’t mentally prepare myself. I’m just trying to be game ready and in the mindset to play a competitive game etc. I work with Ramesh sir, he’s my trainer. I am also part of the Westbridge-Anand Chess Academy (WACA). Thanks to (Viswanathan) Anand sir, I learned a lot from there… It’s always been a busy schedule for me with the classes as I also train with my trainer.
Q. What was the role of Viswanathan Anand and WACA in your growth as a chess player?
He (Anand) has been the biggest (greatest) support for me. Whenever i have any doubts i can just message him he responds very soon…what i did wrong (in a match) i can just message him and sir will be ready to analyze it. I am very happy to also be part of the Westbridge-Anand Chess Academy, where I have four other coaches. I am in constant contact with Mr. It was a great experience for me.
Q. What is school life like for a chess grandmaster?
I don’t have many friends at school. I don’t go to school much. Whenever there is an exam, the school teachers will help me study and make me understand the lessons easily, so that I can pass the exams. I have to thank the Velammal school and its teachers. Even now, I take board exams. They (teachers) taught me important things, like important lessons that are hard to learn, they will teach me. In this sense, I am lucky to be in this school.
Q. Did the attention you received, especially after the wins over Magnus Carlsen, surprise you?
I accepted this event knowing that there will also be exams, but I thought I was playing without any pressure. It’s always a good opportunity to play against these guys (Carlsen, Giri, Liren and others). But I did not expect to reach the final. I really surprised myself, but I think I played pretty well. I am happy. It’s a pleasant surprise.
Q. Do you rely on any particular technique?
These days it’s hard to play a single opening, so I’m not prepared. You just have to be wider with openings, always have an element of surprise for your opponent. That way, I won’t say that I have a specific opening that works against everyone. It’s just about trying to be wide and surprise everyone.
Q. Is there anything you’re working on specifically to keep that momentum going?
Recently, I played a lot of tournaments. For the past six months, I’ve been good. Previously, I made a lot of mistakes, which we identified and tried to correct. That’s one of the reasons I feel like I’m playing better now. I think one of the issues I had was time management, chess clock management, but I think now it’s much better. Working on weak points is important.
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