Teenage Indian chess prodigy makes history at World Cup

Aug 25, 2023, 3:14pm EDT
Pragg in 2023.
Vysotsky/Wikimedia Commons
J.D. Capelouto/

Norwegian chess grandmaster Magnus Carlsen won his first World Cup on Thursday, defeating 18-year-old Indian prodigy, Rameshbabu “Pragg” Praggnanandhaa. While he didn’t walk away with the top trophy, Pragg made history as the youngest and lowest-seeded player to ever reach the finals.

The world of chess "is on the verge of seeing a generational shift," Devangshu Datta writes.1 "And, that shift is likely to heavily favour India." Pragg was part of a group of young players from India and other countries who "made a huge impression" at the tournament. The game is especially progressing among the next generation because "we have more qualified trainers as grand masters and good players are becoming teachers themselves," Pragg's coach said last year.2

Within India, chess has been booming in popularity since the pandemic, with Pragg "at the heart of it all."3 But the sport still lacks proper structure to support promising young Indian players, Susan Ninan argues. "It’s still a bunch of plucky parents who’ve quit jobs, put chess above school for their kids ... and are travelling to tournaments with their 8-15-year-olds."4

Carlsen, arguably the best player of all time, notched his first World Cup win after a tumultuous year. Last fall, he accused young American grandmaster Hans Niemann of cheating after Niemann beat him at a tournament, prompting Carlsen to withdraw from the event entirely.5 The accusation prompted an investigation and sparked a global scandal for the sport. Niemann later sued Carlsen, but the suit was dismissed in June.6