It’s 2:30 a.m. in Chennai, India.
While most people slumber, one 16-year-old sits back in his chair, covering his mouth with his hand in shock. It’s dawning on him the magnitude of what he’s just done.
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa has just stunned Magnus Carlsen, grabbing a seat at the top table of the sport by beating chess’ most dominant player.
But rather than celebrating, Praggnanandhaa’s thoughts turn to digestion.
“I think it’s about just going to bed,” he explained to CNN Sport. “It’s about time to go to bed, as I don’t think I will have dinner at 2:30 in the morning.”
For Praggnanandhaa, it is the biggest moment of his career to date.
It was a breakout moment for the young star – nicknamed Pragg – to secure a victory against the five-time world champion and current world No. 1 during the Airthings Masters – an online tournament – in February. In doing so, he is the youngest player to beat Carlsen since the superstar became world champion in 2013.
But even after months to reflect on the victory, Praggnanandhaa remains levelheaded about it – in spite of the fanfare which has accompanied it; a skill he has already learned at a young age.
“Even if I had time, I don’t think I would have celebrated because usually I don’t celebrate things too much because, OK, this is just a win, and it’s just one win, and it’s a rapid game, so there are a lot more things to do and a lot more things to work on,” Praggnanandhaa said.
“It’s just one win, so it’s not like the end of something. And I think same goes to a loss. If you lose a game, it’s not like the end.”
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Born and raised in Chennai, India, Praggnanandhaa’s older sister, Vaishali, is also a successful chess player, becoming a woman grandmaster in 2018 and an international master in 2021.
“She started playing first when she was six,” said Praggnanandhaa.
“Back then, I was two and then when she practiced at home, I usually went and disturbed her and then my parents decided to buy me a chess book, and that’s how it started. Then I started to go to tournaments and I just started training.”
From there, Pragg fell in love with the game. While his sister was making moves, a young Pragg, with the help of his parents, was plotting his route through the sport.
Chennai is described as the ‘chess capital of India’ and provided plenty of options for Praggnanandhaa to hone his craft, notably at the Bloom Chess academy, where he says he “learned a lot.”
At the age of six, he came second in the under-seven Indian championship before winning gold at the Asian Championships; a moment he sees as being catapult for his future success.
When he was seven, Praggnanandhaa won the World Youth Chess Championship under-eight title in 2013. He then took the under-10 World Youth Chess Championship title in 2015.
And then, in 2016, he created history.
While many other 10-year-olds might be out having fun with their friends or at school, Praggnanandhaa was etching his name into the record books.
In winning his ninth round game at the KiiT International Chess Festival in Bhubaneswar, India, Praggnanandhaa earned his third international master norm – an achievement handed out for high level of performance in a tournament.
Having earned two previous norms already, at the age of 10 years, 10 months and 19 days, Praggnanandhaa became an international chess master, the youngest ever.
Then in 2018, he became the world’s then second-youngest chess grandmaster at the age of 12.
He admits that after becoming an international master, he felt some pressure to progress and become a grandmaster.
“And then I had like around one-and-a-half year’s time to become a grandmaster. But I think at that time I was in a lot of tournaments, I think at that point, I had some pressure in trying to become a grandmaster,” he said.
“When I became a grandmaster, it was just a relief because I was trying for around two years playing, playing at least two tournaments a month, so that’s already huge.
“And it was tough. I was just really happy to just complete the requirements. I just know I can really focus on improving my game, and I’m playing chess just as I do (whereas) before I was trying to become a grandmaster.”
After becoming a grandmaster, Praggnanandhaa arrived back in Chennai to a hero’s welcome, with a huge crowd and a function at his old school.
As someone who’s blossomed at such a young age, playing against older opponents is something Praggnanandhaa has had to get used to.
“When I started playing chess, I played against a lot of older players … I was the only one who was small, so it’s just a normal thing for me. It doesn’t put me under pressure because even if I lose, it’s fine .. it doesn’t make much difference.”
When he played Carlsen in February, the odds were stacked heavily against Praggnanandhaa.
As a five-time world champion and the No. 1 player in the world, Carlsen is the most dominant player in the sport’s recent history.
But Praggnanandhaa remained calm and precise and, as Carlsen made some uncharacteristic errors, took advantage to claim a famous win.
In doing so, Praggnanandhaa became only the third Indian grandmaster to win against the Norwegian after Viswanathan Anand and Pentala Harikrishna.
If Praggnanandhaa didn’t celebrate his victory too much, the reaction and praise he received from some of his compatriots – notably cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, who is widely considered one of the greatest batters of all time – showed him the significance of his win.
“It was great to see so many people following chess. I think chess is getting huge support, and it’s very good for chess,” Praggnanandhaa explained. “It’s just nice to see other people, other sports persons and in professions … people are following chess and are interested in it. And it is just nice and a great thing for chess.”
Despite his tender years, Praggnanandhaad has an International Chess Federation (FIDE) rating of over 2600, and is ranked 108th in the world.
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Now Praggnanandhaa hopes to “enter the top 10 (in the world) and try to play for the world championship” in the near future.
When asked about whether he thinks of himself as a guiding light for young chess fans at such a young age, much like his calm demeanor, Pragg is suitably modest about such expectations.
“I think maybe some people see me (as a role model),” he explained. “I don’t know, because I think for me, all the top players are role models because each one has a different, different qualities to learn from. And if someone can learn something from me, that’s good.”