By Ian Rogers
Chess Gurukul, the legendary chess school in Chennai run by Grandmaster Ramachandran Ramesh and his WGM wife Aarthie Ramaswamy, has another reason to celebrate with one of their students becoming the youngest International Master of all time.
R.Praggnanandhaa (cover and top), at just 10 years and 10 months, smashed Sergey Karjakin’s longstanding record by a year, by earning his final International Master ‘norm’ at the KiiT Open in New Delhi last month.
Praggnanandhaa’s result in Delhi was astonishing, more than breaking even against 5 Grandmasters and scoring four points from his other five games.
Having won the World Under 8 and Under 10 titles, Praggnanandhaa has always been viewed as a kid with potential but he had been somewhat overshadowed by his older sister Vaishali, who has also won two world titles and at age 14 is already one of the top ranked girl players aged under 20 in the world.
However Praggnanandhaa, travelling widely with Vaishali, has enjoyed a remarkable 2016, securing International Master level results in both Cannes and Moscow before his Delhi triumph.
Praggnanandhaa now has just under two years to attempt to take another record from Karjakin, that of youngest Grandmaster, but it is clear from the level at which Praggnanandhaa is already playing that this task is far from beyond him, especially with super-coach Ramesh in the background.
While Ramesh (pictured below) has enjoyed success as Indian Olympiad and Youth Olympiad coach, his achievements with Ramaswamy at Chess Gurukul have attracted worldwide attention, especially given that Chess Gurukul students won more gold medals at the last World Youth Championships than Russia, China and the USA put together.
Chess Gurukul recommends 20 hours of practice per week for children aiming to become Grandmasters, a quantity of study that is probably unachievable for an Australian junior unless their school is cooperative. (Part of the success of the Australian Institute of Sport has been its method of combining school with sports practice but chess has not been accepted as a sport in Australia since the 1980s and has never been part of the AIS.)
In India, it is more acceptable to simply leave school early to seek fame and fortune as a chessplayer but Chess Gurukul students have other handicaps. Even though most Chess Gurukul students have families from India’s middle class, when compared to Australian middle class parents, supporting a rising star as they compete abroad is a big ask.
However as Chess Gurukul has developed, the school has also been able to attract sponsors for their stars; achievements such as that by Praggnanandhaa can only help in that aim.
The latest Australian rankings also see the inexorable rise of youth, with Grandmaster David Smerdon the only player aged older than 30 among the top 8 and veteran Grandmaster Darryl Johansen dropping outside the top 10 for the first time since the 1970s.
15-year-old Anton Smirnov is up to third place and over the next few months will go hunting in Europe for his first Grandmaster ‘norm’.
June 2016 Australian Rankings
(Average of latest FIDE and Australian Ratings)
Australian Top 15
1.Zhao (N) 2553;