R Praggnanandhaa is no ordinary kid. He became the world's youngest International Master at 10 years, 10 months after beating a Grandmaster in the ninth round at the KIIT International Festival of Chess in Bhubaneswar on Sunday.
Praggnanandhaa attained his first IM norm three months ago at the Cannes Open in France with the second coming recently at the Aeroflot Open in Russia. In the Bhubaneswar tournament which concluded on Monday, he achieved his third norm and an ELO rating of 2400 to become an IM.
His coach RB Ramesh, who also trains the Indian senior national side, believes that Praggnanandhaa is well on course to becoming the youngest ever Grandmaster as well. Currently, Sergei Karjakin holds the record for the youngest Grandmaster, at 12 years and seven months.
Praggnanandhaa missed out on his first Grandmaster norm by half a point on Monday following a draw. Three norms each are required to gain IM and GM status. "Honestly we have been working towards him becoming the youngest GM but incidentally he has already scripted history his own way," Ramesh told ESPN, "Right now it's more about finances since he will have to play international tournaments to gain more points. He's an exceptional talent and can be groomed to become the next Anand."
Incidentally his elder sibling, 15 year-old R Vaishali - the current under-14 world and Asian junior rapid champion - too happens to be a prodigy in her own right. Both have been training under Ramesh at his academy, Chess Gurukul in Chennai, for the past two years now.
"At the higher level, preparation is mostly done with the help of computers and the focus is mainly on technique. We don't usually talk about the basics or things like how to think in a match with senior players. It's taken for a given. But with children, it's usually a mix of chess and the psychological aspect. Vaishali too is quite talented and could soon become a woman international master."
Funnily, television went on to turn from a bane to a boon for the siblings. "As a child, Vaishali used to watch a lot of TV. So, to keep her occupied, we enrolled her in a chess academy," their father A Rameshbabu told ESPN, "Watching his sister play, Praggnanandhaa too began to take an interest in the sport when he was only 2 and a half years of age. As a middle class family, it's difficult to bear the expenses of international travel for competitions. We are hoping that help will soon come our way." Rendered physically handicapped after being struck by polio, Rameshbabu banks on his wife Nagalakshmi to accompany the children to tournaments.
Age has come to assume a defining role in chess in recent times. Incidentally, the World Championship match this year will be played between the youngest and third-youngest GMs in chess history - Karjakin and Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen turned GM at 13 years, four months and 27 days. India's Parimarjan Negi holds the second spot at 13 years, four months and 22 days.