18-Year-Old Indian Chess Prodigy R Praggnanandhaa Defeats World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen in Landmark Victory

Featured & Cover 18 Year Old Indian Chess Prodigy R Praggnanandhaa Defeats World No 1 Magnus Carlsen in Landmark Victory

Indian chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa, at just 18 years old, achieved a landmark victory over World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen in a classical match during the third round of the Norway Chess tournament on Wednesday. This notable triumph occurred on Carlsen’s home turf, making it even more significant.

Adding to the day’s triumphs, Praggnanandhaa’s sister, Vaishali, topped the women’s standings after a tense Armageddon victory against Anna Muzychuk. The siblings’ performances were a highlight of the tournament, drawing considerable attention to Indian chess talent.

Carlsen adopted what he later described as a “risky” opening strategy against Praggnanandhaa by choosing not to castle. This unconventional move aimed to unsettle the young player from Chennai but ultimately backfired. Praggnanandhaa, initially taken aback, soon found his footing and began to exert pressure on the five-time world champion.

“His opening was provocative. I said he wants to fight because otherwise he could play something solid. I didn’t mind at all. We’ll fight and we’ll see how it goes,” Praggnanandhaa recounted to The Indian Express after his win.

Commenting on the match, Hikaru Nakamura, speaking from the confessional booth—a unique feature at Norway Chess since 2015—observed, “Magnus has decided to play something very double-edged. I guess you can say, he’s going all in today. He’s either going to win or lose today. Hard to see this end in a draw.”

Post-match, Nakamura shared with Norway’s TV 2 Sport that Carlsen typically reserves such high-risk openings for younger opponents, not seasoned veterans like himself. “I wish Carlsen would take these chances against me or against Fabi. I have this theory that when Magnus is playing the younger kids specifically, he wants to sort of prove a point. He wants to go after them and try to beat them, and he takes far more risks than he does against us old folks!”

A striking aspect of Praggnanandhaa’s victory was his time management. Despite trailing on the clock for most of the match, he maintained composure and capitalized on Carlsen’s risky strategy.

Reflecting on whether this was one of his best victories, Praggnanandhaa said, “I don’t know, I will have to check. I didn’t think I played really well. I did find some good moves. It’s not my best game for sure.”

The match began with Praggnanandhaa taking 31 seconds before initiating with 1.e4, a classic and popular opening move. Carlsen responded with c5, leading to an Open Sicilian. “My prep stopped at bishop d3 (his fifth move). Carlsen playing queen c7 (with the fifth move) was a surprise. I couldn’t remember anything after that,” Praggnanandhaa explained later.

During the game, Carlsen critiqued Praggnanandhaa’s 10th move, h3, in the confessional booth, calling it a “waste of a move.” He elaborated, “Obviously, a pretty risky opening choice today. I think his move 10.h3, though, was a little bit soft. He thought about it for a long time there. I guess he was calculating f4 and queen c5. I don’t really think that’s worse for black. So that was a little bit of a waste of a move. Apart from that, sometimes h3 can be used for rooks and queens for attacks. I wasn’t overly impressed with that one.”

By the 10th move, Carlsen had already established a 20-minute lead on the clock. Over the subsequent four moves, Praggnanandhaa found himself with just an hour left to make 26 more moves to reach the first time control. However, when Carlsen moved his queen to d7 in response to Praggnanandhaa’s f5 on move 13, the evaluation showed a clear advantage for Praggnanandhaa. He admitted that at this juncture, it was becoming challenging for Carlsen.

After the 15th move, Carlsen returned to the confessional booth, expressing his concerns: “I’m a little bit scared that he’s going to go fe6 and knight d5 now. I’ll take the knight and maybe I’ll castle queenside. But it looks quite scary. I doubt that it’s objectively good for white, although I’m not quite sure. I feel that in other lines I’ll be alright. But knight d5 scares me a bit.”

Praggnanandhaa acknowledged a critical moment on the 20th move when he allowed his knight to be captured, which he considered an error. “I’m feeling good. The game was quite interesting. I got a very good position from the opening. I kind of misplayed it at some point. I allowed bishop e3 (20.Bxe3) and f6 (21.f6). I was told later that I still played that position correctly. Maybe I was better throughout the game,” Praggnanandhaa shared with journalists in Stavanger after his victory.

This victory marks a significant milestone in Praggnanandhaa’s career, showcasing his ability to compete with and defeat the world’s best. It underscores the growing prominence of Indian talent in the global chess arena, with Praggnanandhaa and his sister Vaishali leading the charge. Their performances at Norway Chess have set the stage for exciting prospects in the future of Indian chess.

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