It’s hard to imagine in a computer generation firmly packed with pre-pubescent stars who cut their competitive teeth (and milk ones, at that!) on freely available high-level playing engines and multi-million game databases, but back in 1950, when Fide, the game’s governing body first introduced official chess titles, it was David Bronstein, then aged 26, who was the first to appear in the record books as being the world’s youngest grandmaster.
And after Bronstein, there then followed three future world champion who each lowered the threshold further: Tigran Petrosian, who was 23 in 1952; Boris Spassky, 18 in 1955; and Bobby Fischer, who really hit the headlines in 1958 by smashing Spassky’s record at the age of 15 years, six months and one day. There was then a 30-year hiatus before Judit Polgar sensationally broke Fischer’s record.
Ever since then, the threshold has been getting lower and lower – and so much so that the five-time ex-World Champion, Viswanathan Anand, once wryly observed that “Nowadays, when you are not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it.” And taking a leaf out of his hero’s book has been IM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, who earlier this week, at the tender age of 12 years, 10 months, and 12 days, became the second youngest player in history ever to earn the game’s ultimate title.
The little Chennai wunderkind, better known to everyone as “Pragg”, has spent the past eight months or so on the international circuit trying to break Sergey Karjakin’s record of 12 years and seven months exactly. Although he didn’t quite manage to break Karjakin’s remarkable record, last weekend, at the 4th Gredine Open held in the small Italian town of Ortisei, he scored 7.5/9 to not only share first places but also clinch his third and final ‘GM norm’, thus finally ending his odyssey.
Many now believe that Pragg could well go on to emulate his hero, Anand, to become a future world championship contender. He has been coached since the age of eight by GM Ramachandran Ramesh, who in 2002 earned his own place in chess history as the last player from his country to win the British championship before Indians were ruled ineligible.
Photo: The little man with the big name in chess, Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, now becomes the world’s second-youngest grandmaster | © Official Site
GM Roeland Pruijssers – IM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa
4th Gredine Open, (9)
Ruy Lopez, Archangel Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 This very sharp line against the Ruy Lopez was developed in the early Sixties by players from the north Russian port town of Archangelsk – named after the monastery there, Archangel Michael – and has carried this name ever since (though in the west, it is more commonly known as the “Archangel Defence”). Black defines the position with 6…Bb7 to exert pressure against the opponent’s centre, in particular, e4. White must decide whether to protect this pawn solidly with 7.d3 or head towards the unfathomable complications after 7.c3 Nxe4 that’s become the tabiya of the Archangel. 7.c3 Pruijssers opts for the latter – but entering such a sharp line against one of the world’s youngest recognised talents in the game can – and does – become a fraught business. 7…Nxe4 8.d4 exd4 9.Re1 d5 10.Ng5 Qf6 11.Bxd5 This is all theory – if, instead, 11.Nxe4?! dxe4 12.Rxe4+ Ne5 13.Bxf7+ Qxf7 14.Rxe5+ Be7 15.Qe1 Kf8! Black’s bishops will become a handful to deal with, especially after 16.cxd4 Bd6 17.Re3 Qh5! 18.h3 Kf7! and with 19…Rhe8 coming, Black will soon have the makings of a won game. 11…Qxf2+ 12.Kh1 0-0-0 13.Nxe4 Qf5 14.Bb3? A blunder, after which there’s no way back for White. Instead, he had to try: 14.c4! bxc4 15.Bxc4 Ne5 16.Bd3 Kb8! and with the king simply removed from any possible Nd6+ scenarios, Black has the advantage as he has all the better attacking possibilities – but unlike as in the game, here White has fighting chances. 14…dxc3 15.Qf3 Qxf3 16.gxf3 Ne5! Hitting f3, and with it, also unleashing the powerful white-squared bishop down the b7-h1 diagonal. 17.Nbxc3 b4 18.Bg5?! The pressure on f3 has reached ‘critical’ – and the alternative isn’t all that much better, but Pruijssers simply had to tough it out with 18.Kg2 bxc3 19.bxc3 Re8! and Black is well on top with a hit on f3 coming. 18…f6 19.Bf4 bxc3 20.Bxe5 fxe5 21.bxc3 Be7 22.Rab1 Kb8! (see diagram) Removing the king from any awkwardness after a Be6+ and, ultimately, marching out of the pin down the b-file from the rook. 23.Re2 Ka7 24.Kg2 Rhf8 Pragg piles on the pressure, with his rook now also targeting f3. 25.Rd1 Rxd1 26.Bxd1 Rd8 27.Bc2 Bd5 Black’s winning advantage is clear for all to see: not only does Pragg have an extra pawn, he has the bishop-pair and easy targets of his opponent’s four isolated pawns. 28.Bb3 Bc6 29.Bc2 g6 30.Kg3 a5 31.h4 h6 32.Rh2 Rb8! Once the rook infiltrates into White’s position, the game is effectively over – and Pragg successfully achieves this goal; the rest now needing little or no comment. 33.Bb3 a4 34.Bf7 Rb1 35.Rd2 Rg1+ 36.Kh2 Rc1 37.Bxg6 Bxh4 38.Kh3 Be1 39.Rd3 Rc2 40.Re3 Bd7+ 0-1 Something has to give now for Pruijssers: either his a2-pawn falls or his king will get mated.