FIDE World Cup: New adult Pragg sets up historic final against Magnus Carlsen

The 18-year-old, who will look Carlsen in the eye for the 20th time in today’s final, is relieved to have sealed his spot at the Candidates next year

R. Praggnanandhaa (photo: @rpragchess/Instagram)
R. Praggnanandhaa (photo: @rpragchess/Instagram)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The fifth Tata Steel Chess India championship, scheduled to be held in the City of Joy from August 31 to September 9, could well have a FIDE World Cup champion headlining the field.

Young prodigy R. Praggnanandhaa, the toast of world chess and of course India's pride, who will be taking on five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen in the final of the World Cup in Baku later today, will be making a rare appearance in his home country too. 

While the 18-year-old ‘Pragg,’ as he is referred to in the chess fraternity, had nearly ensured a berth in the Candidates in 2024 by making the semi-final earlier (the second Indian after Viswanathan Anand to do so), a finalist’s spot means he need not wait for Carlsen’s final call on fighting for another world title or not—the top two at the World Cup, the finalists are automatic qualifiers for the Candidates series. (Carlsen had said earlier that he would not compete for another world crown — meaning he would not be a part of the Candidates next year.) 

‘’I really wanted to qualify for the Candidates early (the qualification goes on till December). I didn’t want to finish fourth and wait for Magnus’ decision (expected withdrawal),’’ the wunderkind said after dismantling world No. 2 Fabiano Caruana in the third game of a tie-break in the semi-final on Monday evening, August 21.

In the round-of-32 earlier, Pragg had beaten world No.3 Hikaru Nakamura. 

While winning the World Cup may help him emulate Anand (who won it in 2000), Pragg already has a strong head-to-head record and can definitely look Carlsen in the eye. The Norwegian leads 8–5 in their 19 games so far (with 6 draws), but experts feel he has not been at his best so far.      

Incidentally, all the four Indian quarter finalists at the World Cup — Pragg, D. Gukesh, Vidit Gujrathi and Arjun Erigaisi — will all be in action at the Kolkata event, to be played at the National Library. Anand is the ambassador for the event, which has a prize purse of USD 41,500 each for both the Open and Women’s categories. 

The women’s fray, too, showcases the best in the game, with current world champion Wenjun Ju making her debut in the tournament. Like last year, the tournament, both the Open and Women categories will follow the same format — rapid and blitz. 

“The Indian squads to the Asian Games for both men and women are participating in the Tata Steel Chess India, which itself is a testimony about the standard of the tournament,” Anand stated in a release. 

What is the Candidates’ tournament? 

The Candidates’ tournament is an eight-player, double round-robin event, whose champion will qualify to play Ding Liren, the reigning world champion in chess. Those qualified to play it are: 

  1. The runner-up in the previous World Championship match (an automatic qualifier) 

  2. The top two finishers of the Fide World Cup 

  3. The top two finishers of the Fide Grand Prix

  4. The winner of the Fide Grand Swiss tournament 

  5. The player with the highest average rating for the year  

  6. A wildcard picked up by the organisers 

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Published: 22 Aug 2023, 1:24 PM