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Winning moves: Why are Indians getting so good at chess?

Print edition : Jun 22, 2022 T+T-

Winning moves: Why are Indians getting so good at chess?

Vishwanathan Anand (right) playing R. Praggnanandhaa. 

Vishwanathan Anand (right) playing R. Praggnanandhaa.  | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

With India’s brightest chess star R. Praggnanandhaa defeating world champion Magnus Carlsen twice within a span of three months this year, the prospects and popularity of this ancient sport have never been brighter in the land of its origin.

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, who is now known just as Pragg worldwide by everyone fearful of mauling his numerology-compliant name, created history this year by defeating world champion Magnus Carlsen twice--first at the Airthings Masters online chess tournament in February and then at the Chessable Masters online rapid chess competition in May. And in the process of doing so, he has ushered a new era of interest and popularity for the battle fought on 64 squares.

Former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. The first major impetus in the country for chess came from him, our first homegrown Grandmaster (GM) who achieved the title when he was barely 20 in 1988.
Former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. The first major impetus in the country for chess came from him, our first homegrown Grandmaster (GM) who achieved the title when he was barely 20 in 1988. | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

The first major impetus in the country for chess, of course, came from Viswanathan Anand, our first homegrown Grandmaster (GM) who achieved the title when he was barely 20 in 1988. His meteoric rise in the global chess landscape led to a boom in the sport's popularity, with chess academies springing up everywhere, schools and colleges encouraging chess players like never before and more and more tournaments being held across the country.

Female Grandmaster Koneru Humpy.
Female Grandmaster Koneru Humpy. | Photo Credit: GIRI KVS

The next 22 years saw India produce 22 more GMs, including the female Grandmaster in Koneru Humpy. However, in just 12 years since then, from 2010 till date, that number has swelled to 73, with Bharath Subramaniyam, a 14-year-old from Chennai, the latest to join the elite list in January this year.

Interestingly, Anand, Pragg and Bharath Subramaniyam all hail from Chennai. Tamil Nadu has played a key role in India's emergence as a chess power by contributing 26 Grandmasters, a whopping 35 per cent of the country's 73 GMs. Maharashtra comes a distand second with 10, closely followed by West Bengal with 9.

Pragg, a boy genius who is now India's brightest candidate to become world champion, shook the earth when he achieved the GM title at the age of 12, the second-youngest at the time to do so. Earlier, he had already made waves when he became International Master at the age of 10, the youngest at the time to do so. Pragg's rise to eminence has been accompanied by the emergence of several prodigies from India, who have been reducing the average age of active Grandmasters in the country.

The landscape is now strewn with the exploits of dozens of youngsters, such as Nihal Sarin, Gukesh D, Sankalp Gupta and Arjun Erigaisi, to name a few. The fact that the top 10 male junior players in the country are all GMs is testimony to the reservoir of talent in India. And Pragg's wins over Carlsen will only inspire even more youngsters to take to chess and bring more glory to the nation. Chess is truly one of the areas where India is reaping its demographic dividend.

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