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Future is bright for chess in India with its rising young stars

December 18, 2018

If children are, indeed, the future, then the future is very bright for Indian chess.

The fabled birthplace of chess already boasts a modern world champion in Vishwanathan Anand as well as a stable of world-class grandmasters such as Pendyala Harikrishna and Humpy Koneru.

But the rising generation is just as impressive, with 12 Indians among FIDE’s top 100 juniors worldwide, and new prodigies seeming to emerge every week.

One of the most prodigious of those prodigies is 13-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, a former world Under-10 champion who this year became the third-youngest player ever to achieve the grandmaster title. Like so many of the young Indians, “Pragg” already boasts a mature style, as can be seen in his victory over veteran Ukrainian GM Pavel Eljanov as a newly minted GM at the recent Isle of Man Masters open tournament in England.

After some sharp early play in a Sicilian Richter-Rauzer, White sets a sly trap that catches Eljanov unawares: 27. e5 Qf4 28. Nc6! Ne3?! (just what Praggnanandhaa was banking on; Black has the edge in lines such as 28...Rdc7! 29. Re4 Qxh6 30. Nd4 Ne3 31. Rh1 Nxg2 32. Rxh6) 29. Rxd7 Nxg2 30. Ne7+ Kf8 31. Nxc8, and the hanging White rook can’t be taken because of 31... Nxe1?? 32. Rd8 mate.

White’s active rooks and Black’s lack of counterplay allow the young Indian to transfer to a favorable endgame on 34. Nxf7 Qg7 35. Rd8+ Ke7 (Kxf7 36. Rd7+) 36. Ra8! Qxf7 37. Ra7+ Kf8 38. Rxf7+ Kxf7 39. b3. Rook vs. knight endings are notoriously tricky, but White outplays his older opponent in the highly technical play that follows, neutralizing Black’s kingside pawns, keeping the Black king from the queenside, and sidestepping tricky knight forks. After 62. Rh4 Kd5 63. a5 Ne6 64. Rc4!, Black resigns as his king and knight can’t corral the White a-pawn; e.g. 64...e4 65. a6 e3 66. a7 Nd4+ 67. Kb4 Nc6+ (e2 68. a8=Q is check) Rxc6 e2 69. Rc1 and wins.

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There’s plenty more in the pipeline on the subcontinent. Twelve-year-old D. Gukesh of Chennai could shatter the GM record if he notches his third and final norm at the Sunway Sitges Tournament now underway in Barcelona.

And a third young Indian already made some noise at the Spanish event, when 12-year-old master Maralakshikari Sreeshwan scored a sensational upset of Ukrainian great Vassily Ivanchuk in just 26 moves. The mercurial Ivanchuk wasn’t at his best, but young “Sreesh” (nicknames are de rigueur for the country’s multisyllabic, mellifluously named stars) deserves full points for boldly seizing his opportunity, despite a nearly 500-point rating differential.

We pick it up from the diagram, where the young Indian puts all his chips in the pot with 19. e5!?. White clearly wants to open lines to the exposed Black king, but Ivanchuk can defend here with 19...Bxc3! 20. Bxg6 (bxc3 Nxe5 21. Qg3 Ncd3 is also fine for Black) 20. Bxg6 Nxe5! 21. Bxh7+ Kxh7 22. Qh3+ Kg8 23. Qg3+ Ng4! 24. bxc3 (Qxg4+ Bg7 25. Bh6 Qd7 holds) Qd7, and Black is better.

Instead, it all goes downhill for Black on 19...Bxe5? 20. Bxg6! hxg6? (essentially giving up; with 20...Rf8! 21. Bf7+ Kh8 22. Bh6 Qe7 23. Bxf8 Rxf8 24. Be6 Nf6 25. Qh3 Nxe6 26. dxe6 Re8, Black has a decent chance of saving the ending) 21. Qxg6+ Bg7 22. Qf7+ Kh8 23. Qh5+ Kg8 24. Bg5! (not settling for the perpetual check) Qc8 (Nf6 25. Bxf6 Qd7 26. Qg6 Rf8 27. Rf5 Rae8 28. Raf1 and wins) 25. Qf7+ Kh8 26. Rf4!, and Ivanchuk resigns ahead of 26...Nf8 27. Bf6! Bxf6 28. Qxf6+ Kg8 29. Qf7+ Kh8 30. Rh4+ Nh7 31. Qxh7 mate.

Praggnanandhaa-Eljanov, Isle of Man Masters, England, October 2018

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. O-O-O Be7 9. f3 Qc7 10. h4 Nxd4 11. Qxd4 b5 12. Qd2 Bb7 13. Kb1 O-O 14. Ne2 Rac8 15. Nd4 Rfe8 16. g4 Nd7 17. Bxe7 Rxe7 18. h5 d5 19. h6 g6 20. exd5 Bxd5 21. Bd3 Qe5 22. Be4 Bxe4 23. fxe4 Nf6 24. Rhe1 Rd7 25. g5 Ng4 26. Qg2 Qxg5 27. e5 Qf4 28. Nc6 Ne3 29. Rxd7 Nxg2 30. Ne7+ Kf8 31. Nxc8 Qxh6 32. Rf1 Nf4 33. Nd6 g5 34. Nxf7 Qg7 35. Rd8+ Ke7 36. Ra8 Qxf7 37. Ra7+ Kf8 38. Rxf7+ Kxf7 39. b3 h5 40. c4 bxc4 41. bxc4 h4 42. c5 Ke7 43. Rd1 h3 44. c6 Nd5 45. Rg1 h2 46. Rh1 Nb4 47. c7 Kd7 48. Rxh2 Kxc7 49. Rh6 Kd7 50. Rg6 a5 51. Rxg5 Kc6 52. Kb2 Kd5 53. Kb3 Kd4 54. Rh5 Nc6 55. Ka4 Kc4 56. Rh6 Kd5 57. Kb5 Nxe5 58. Rh5 Kd4 59. Kxa5 Nd3 60. Kb5 e5 61. a4 Nf4 62. Rh4 Kd5 63. a5 Ne6 64. Rc4 Black resigns.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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