Our young chess geniuses and the wonderful years : The Tribune India

Viswanathan Anand

OUR own R Praggnanandhaa has become the youngest player to beat Magnus Carlsen since Carlsen became world chess champion. It will give Pragg, who is only 16, a lot of confidence – “I did it once and I can do it again”, he will think.

Praggnanandhaa is one of our best prospects. He is mentally strong. When he has difficult tournaments, he loses matches but he is not discouraged. He comes back, he fights. This time he beat Magnus, who had won three straight. He interrupted a very good sequence. Pragg has struggled a lot, but that’s because he’s now competing against the best in the world at the senior level. He is tested. This exposure is very good for his game.

Pragg has been one of the young players I have been working with at WestBridge Anand Chess Academy since January 2021. He, Arjun Erigaisi and D Gukesh are all under 19 and compete very fiercely against each other. I think the fact that they are peers could have a big impact on chess in India, like what happened in the former Soviet Union, where juniors propelled each other.

Working with juniors is wonderful. I try to be realistic with them. We are all human beings, we will react emotionally in most situations. So, for me, it’s about imparting to them the wisdom, rather than the strategies, which are constantly evolving in this sport. I try to share with them how I approach a problem, how I work on it, and they can incorporate things that work for them.

I try to share with them that once I too was a teenager, traveling the world. At that time, I didn’t know many people. I experienced it and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I’m trying to reassure their parents that everything will be fine, so don’t worry.

The kids recognize that I’m a multiple world champion, so at first they were surprised to see me sitting there and analyzing matches with them, but they’ve gotten used to it and are talking freely now. They are respectful children and I am over 50, so there is a bit of ‘sir’ and ‘uncle’ during the conversations!

They need to grow but they need to have experiences. Chess gives you the opportunity to meet interesting people, to travel. The important thing is to have other interests, to make friends, to have the ability to put chess aside for a few hours a day – to disconnect for a while. It is very important.

There are currently eight Indian general managers in the top 10, and the average ELO rating of the Indian top 10 is 2671, the fourth best in the world. Vidit Gujrathi is in the top 25, P Harikrishna has been in the top 15 for a while, touching No.10 at one point.

It’s true that we had a lot of promising players but they couldn’t continue. Sometimes luck matters too. Many players had to take a job early, or they had obligations. They did their best, but some may not have followed through. But many of the previous generation GMs have seeded the current generation. Many of them started their academies, became coaches.

I often tell people that yes, I had a lot of talent, I was very good – but I also had many, many breaks. My parents supported me. I was a very talented junior, but many talented juniors didn’t win the World Junior Championship, I did. I became a grandmaster and it opened doors for me. I was invited to tournaments, I had my chances and I took them.

We had a lot of good players, but the first generation after me had maybe 100-120 ELO points behind me. The younger ones will eventually reach 2700 ELO ratings. I think a lot in my academy and a few of those outside are heading in that direction. I hope to contribute to its realization.

I was the best player in India for 35 years. My time at the top will end. It will be difficult. The day it does happen will be a bit of a shock. I’ve experienced it before, when I lost my world title or the day someone passed me in the standings… You find new paths when the world passes you by! The last two years have left me a little confused as to where I am in chess because I had to take a long break. I had breaks before, but not like six months. I’ll be playing a few tournaments later this year and I’m trying to prepare for that. I have never been so inactive for so long.

I’m also at a stage where I can see it’s fun to take on new roles. I did a lot of coaching, mentoring, taking on many other assignments and commenting. You are always learning, trying new things. I will face.

As India’s first general manager, players often tell me that they were inspired by me. The baseline has changed for the new generation. They will always be compared to my results. Many of them start at a very high stage. Pragg, Nihal Sarin, Gukesh and Arjun are capable of becoming 2700 ELO players which means they will play the best tournaments. We’re just steps away from the best in the world, but I’m confident we’ll get there.

(As told to Vinayak Padmadeo)

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