When a 17-year-old beats the five-time World champion and strongest chess player of all time in three games in a row, it is bound to attract attention. R. Praggnanandhaa did that at Miami on Sunday, the final day of the FTX Crypto Cup. His stunning victory over Magnus Carlsen, however, was not enough to win the tournament; he had to settle for the runner-up spot behind the Norwegian. But this is more than creditable, as all his seven rivals in the round-robin event had higher Fide ratings. And it was not the first time that he was beating Carlsen, having scored wins in online tournaments earlier this year. The great show at Miami should no doubt be a huge morale-booster for the Chennai lad. He had flown to Miami soon after helping India 2 win the bronze medal at the Chennai Chess Olympiad. He was not the biggest star at Mamallapuram, though. His teammate, D. Gukesh, also from Chennai and also a teenager, had created a sensation at the Olympiad, posting eight wins on the trot. A few months earlier, it was yet another Indian teenager, Arjun Erigaisi, who was hitting the headlines.
Apart from Praggnanandhaa, Gukesh and Erigaisi, two other young Indians — Nihal Sarin and Raunak Sadhwani — had also come up with excellent performances at the Olympiad. Sadhwani then won the blitz title at the Abu Dhabi International Chess Festival, a few hours before Praggnanandhaa’s victory against Carlsen. At the Masters section of the tournament, Sadhwani shared the second spot after five rounds with Erigaisi and Sarin, among others. As for Gukesh, he is busy improving his rating at the Turkish Chess Super League in Ankara. That all these hugely talented youngsters are making their Grand-masterly moves at the same time augurs well for Indian chess. And there are a few more youngsters waiting in the wings, such as V. Pranav and Bharath Subramaniyam. Rarely has India threatened to take the world on, in any sport, with a group of promising teenagers. Viswanathan Anand, the man who began it all, may have been the lone Indian at the top, but his successors are likely to have company. He is now mentoring the young Indians, who have acknowledged how much they have gained from working with him. These days, quality coaches, some of them Grandmasters, are available across the country. A strong domestic base, made possible by, among other things, parental support and the rise in the popularity of the game, promises even brighter days ahead for Indian chess.