“Be like Pragg”: Magnus Carlsen to young chess players

RB Ramesh, Pragg’s coach, was proud to share Carlsen's endorsement in an interview to the Indian Express

Young Indian grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Young Indian grandmaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

NH Sports Bureau

Magnus Carlsen was engaged in a tense and tight game against his German opponent at the current FIDE World Cup being played at Baku. He was on a clock for his next move. But he left his table and walked up to R. Praggnanandhaa to congratulate him with a handshake and a smile after the Indian chess sensation beat Hikaru Nakamura, World No. 2.

Carlsen said something to Pragg and returned to his table. What did he tell the Indian player, he was asked after the day’s play. “I told Praggnanandhaa that today we all want to be like Pragg,” Carlsen told FIDE’s YouTube channel.

Carlsen, who became a grandmaster a year before Pragg was born, appears to share a warm relationship with 18-year-old Pragg, who is 14 years his junior. Not only have they played against each other regularly but Pragg was one of the six members of Carlsen’s team at the inaugural Global Chess League in Dubai earlier this year. That is when they got to know each other better.

In Dubai, Carlsen and other members of his team would apparently go out for walks and meals and discuss how to get out of difficult situations in on-the-board and online games.

Pragg has also acknowledged that Carlsen was warm and helpful and that he learnt much in his discussions with Carlsen.

When Carlsen congratulated him at Baku and told him that everyone wanted to be like Pragg, clearly a private joke between friends, it was not certain that they would meet each other in the final. While Carlsen was of course the favourite, Pragg was yet to play Fabiano Caruana, the World no. 3, in the semi-final. Most analysts were betting on a final between Carlsen and Caruana. But Pragg caused a sensation by beating Caruana in a tie-breaker to set up a championship clash with Carlsen.

Both professionals, Carlsen and Pragg, howsoever friendly away from the tournament, are fierce competitors and it is evident when they play. But Carlsen’s fondness for Pragg comes through every now and then.

The second game of the final on Wednesday, 23 August, was played with Carlsen having the advantage of playing with white. But after just 30-odd moves, Carlsen offered a draw that Pragg was happy to accept.

After the game, Pragg said that he could sense Carlsen was low on energy but did not know that he was unwell. Carlsen, who is recovering from food poisoning, was undergoing treatment and said that he did not have the energy to fight. He decided to offer the draw and take some rest before the two meet in a tie-breaker later today, 24 August.

As Pragg quickly got up after accepting the draw, Carlsen was seen pointing something out to him, gesturing across the board. He seemed to be telling Pragg about how the game would have gone if they had played on. The broad grin on his face suggested that Carlsen could be telling Pragg about his own or Pragg’s vulnerability on the board.

What did Carlsen mean, though, when he said that every chess player should be like Pragg?

European and American grandmasters have observed that the Indian chess players in their teens take chess more seriously and devote more time to learning the game. These teenagers do not spend time on their mobile phones and video games; they have less distractions and avoid partying with friends or other diversions. Chess, observed American grandmaster Lovan Aronia, is like meditation and requires concentration and fits into the Indian lifestyle.

Pragg too has been totally dedicated to chess, confirmed his coach RB Ramesh. He confided that during the pandemic, when on-the-board chess tournaments stopped, he and Pragg would play games without moving anything on the board. These ‘moves in the mind’ have helped Pragg get sharper at the game very fast, said Ramesh.

"Be like Pragg", then, is Carlsen’s advice to the youngsters he himself mentors.

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Published: 24 Aug 2023, 1:49 PM