The world is keenly watching R. Praggnanandhaa’s face-off with Magnus Carlsen in the final of the FIDE Chess World Cup currently on in Baku, Azerbaijan.
So far, the final has gone the way the 18-year-old Indian grandmaster wanted it to. The first game was a 35-move comfortable draw for Praggu, as he is fondly called by all. Far from being troubled, Praggnanandhaa acknowledged he was at ease in the first one, but the second game, he predicts, could well be a fight.
Eventual result notwithstanding, Pragnanadhaa’s performance has impressed one and all.
Former world champion and legend Gary Kasparov may be busy with political activities back in Russia but he has been keenly following the Chess World Cup too. On Praggnanandhaa’s march to the final, Kasparov tweeted: "Congrats to @rpragchess —and to his mother. As someone whose proud mama accompanied me to every event, it's a special kind of support! The Chennai Indian defeated two New York Cowboys! He has been very tenacious in difficult positions."
Praggnanandhaa’s matter-of-fact response to playing in the finals with an "I didn't really expect to play Magnus in this tournament because the only way I could have played him was in the finals!" was as modest and self-effacing as it could ever be. His coach R B Ramesh too underplayed his march to his maiden final in the Chess World Cup.
Speaking to THE WEEK from Finland, Ramesh said he and Praggnanandhaa didn't expect to get to the finals this time, what with having to face stronger players like world number 3 Fabiano Caruana in the semifinal and world number 2 Hikaru Nakamura last Thursday.
Ramesh was brutally honest about his expectations from his ward. Though he is not near Praggnanandhaa during this prestigious tournament, Ramesh says the teenager is perfectly capable of handling the pressure and what comes with the territory. Excerpts :
Q) Did you expect Praggnanandhaa to go this far in the WC?
No, we did not expect him to go all the way to the final. He had to beat a couple of strong players on the way. Preparing for two very strong opponents can be risky.
Q) Can you give an insight into the kind of preparation that went into this tournament?
Our preparations were mainly for specific matches. Good to see him decide his approach. Healthy competition can be mutually beneficial for players. Too much competitiveness and the urge to upscore can lead to jealousy. A player can be left behind consumed by these emotions. Praggu doing well here means others will feed off his success.
Q) How do you and Praggnanandhaa cope with expectations?
He has risen manifold in others' minds. He is insulated during events, he doesn’t read or check his check social media but concentrates on his stuff.
Q) What has been the key to him handling pressure in big tournaments like the world cup? After all, he is just 18 years old.
I think he is ok. He is a professional chess player perfectly capable of handling what comes with the territory.