At 16, India’s great chess hopeful reaches his first peak and defeats his own hero and world number one Magnus Carlsen

World champion AS Magnus Carlsen was bewildered with his palms on his face after realizing he was going to lose the eighth round of the Airthings Masters online rapid chess tournament shock waved over his face his future killer R Praggnanandhaa. Wide-eyed and unable to comprehend what had transpired on the other side of the screen in Oslo, he covered his mouth with his hands in the 2am silence of his home in the Chennai suburb of Padi .

Praggnanandhaa was so exhausted from the mentally demanding game that all he wanted was to get some sleep. “I just want to go to bed,” he told the International Chess Federation website with groggy eyes. It is probable that he would not have slept at all.

It was his “I can’t believe it” moment, the moment that has always been part of his wildest dream. Norwegian world number 1 Carlsen, the undisputed emperor of chess, a true GOAT, the marketing face of the game, has always been his idol. “Beating him once is my biggest dream,” he told this newspaper shortly after becoming the world’s second-youngest grandmaster four years ago. “He (Carlsen) has a solution to even the most complicated problem,” he explained.

But this time there was no solution and Praggnanandhaa’s dream finally came true. The fact that he is only the third Indian, after Viswanathan Anand and P Harikrishna, to accomplish the rare feat of beating Carlsen underscores his incredible potential. That he knocked it down in 39 moves and with black pieces, a perceived handicap in the game, illuminates the brilliance of his victory.

Aggressive from the start, he pushed Carlsen on the back foot but missed a glorious game-killing chance midway through the phase. But he came to his senses and bounced back, piling relentless pressure on Carlsen, who cracked and blundered.

Perhaps, more importantly, India has discovered a potential successor to Anand as well as a poster for the impending chess boom in the country – the Indian Chess League is set to run from June with prize money of at least Rs 2 crore.

Praggnanandhaa’s resurgence is also a timely boost to the game’s profile in the country. It was also a timely reminder of his talent.

Outside the close-knit chess fraternity, he was all but a forgotten figure after narrowly losing the race against time to become the youngest grandmaster in history, a record then held by Sergiy Karjakin before being claimed by American prodigy Abhimanyu Mishra. The world often forgot that he was still just a child, not even a teenager, and expectations were often unrealistic.

But the relative anonymity of this period eased the pressure. “There were no unnecessary distractions and he could fully focus on his game. He wasn’t obsessed with that record, but there was too much focus on him. But after that he was definitely more relaxed. and worked a lot,” says his father Ramesh Babu.

The step into the big leagues, punctuated by regular confrontations with seasoned pros, was not without a stutter or two. But far from being disillusioned, setbacks and near-misses harden him. “He’s always cheerful and ready to learn, especially from his mistakes. He hates losing games, but doesn’t sulk and pushes forward. These traits will ensure he’s a top player in the future,” he said. childhood coach RB Ramesh at this diary earlier.

Shortly after, Anand, who had chosen him along with Iranian-French GM Alireza Firouzja as future chess stars, took him under his wing for the Chess Olympiad and smoothed over the rough edges, the occasional tendency to make hasty movements and take risks. Adding caution to his aggressiveness made him a better player – one who could be the standard bearer of Indian chess after the days of Anand.

Carlsen wasn’t the only elite player he scaled in the tournament. Hours before beating him, he had passed Armenian GM Levon Aronian. A while ago he also beat Wesley So and Michal Krasenkow. He broke into the scoring ceiling of 2600 Elo, a rarefied space in chess.

He is, after all, only 16 years old. At this age, Anand was not yet a grandmaster. But despite how many points he might go on to rack up in his career, or how many points he will overcome in the future – he wants to be world champion – he won’t forget the first time he beat Carlsen, his hero and his inspiration. The night he wanted to sleep, but couldn’t.

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