For Praggnanandhaa, inaugural season of GCL meant winning a lot and learning a lot more


On Wednesday, after Magnus Carlsen had overpowered Viswanathan Anand in a clash of former world champions and propelled his team, SG Alpine Warriors, to the top of the Global Chess League standings, the Norwegian was asked by GM Tania Sachdev in the post-match broadcast what set the Warriors apart from the other teams.

“Well, we have this one guy (Praggnanandhaa R) who wins every single game. That kinda helps… Pragg has been the absolute star. Not only the fact that he wins games, but the way he wins them. It seems like he wins with class,” said the world no 1.

Over the course of the league stage of the GCL, the 17-year-old Praggnanandhaa has scythed through his opponents, losing none of his 10 games. Seven of those were victories, while two of the three draws came on Saturday (first against Nihal Sarin and then against Javokhir Sindarov) as the Warriors slipped out of contention for the final.

For the talented teenager, the GCL has been as much of an opportunity to show off his ‘class’ as it has been the chance to pick the brains of teammate Carlsen.

He recalls how he exchanged gleeful texts with Warriors teammates Gukesh and Arjun Erigaisi when they found out they would be in Carlsen’s team. “We’re all so happy to have the fortune of being in the same team as Magnus,” he told The Indian Express earlier in the week.

Praggnanandhaa is one of the rare Indians to have managed to beat Carlsen, but the intimidating aura of the Norwegian endures.

At the GCL in Dubai, the trio of Indian teens have managed to see the other side of him. The quartet — Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh, Arjun and Carlsen — are learnt to be playing training games on the sidelines of the GCL and also spending hours over meals discussing the nuances of the sport.

“Carlsen’s just a really friendly person. For us to discuss chess with him is a great experience. We have been playing some training games with him. We generally talk about different positions, we talk about different games. Just to know how he thinks, how his mind really works, what are his first intuitive moves in different positions is just a great experience for all of us. I was always curious about these things, and here I managed to get a glimpse of them. In some positions, his understanding might just be way too strong than how we think,” said the teenager.

At the GCL, all six boards are held at the same moment with a row of over 20 cameras trained on players tracking their every move. For some of the youngsters, this has led to added pressure. Praggnanandhaa, however, shrugged off any talk of him being daunted by the increased attention.

“I would say yes there is some pressure. Every move, every game matters. Thanks to the scoring system, when you play with white you have to be more careful. If you lose, you give away four points. And then you also have to look at how your teammates are doing before deciding (the fate of your own game). But I would see this as a learning opportunity. In the future, I think there will be a lot more tournaments with even more pressure,” he said nonchalantly.


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