By Alex P. Vidal
“I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.”—Soren Kierkegaard
FROM the point of view of chess enthusiasts, including this writer, the recent upset win of 16-year-old Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa against reigning FIDE world champion Magnus Carlsen in their face-off in an online tournament that had featured 16 elite players, was a shocker.
We haven’t heard in the news Carlsen attributing the loss in his recent match to Covid-19.
Those who follow world chess are aware that our super GM Wesley So, who used to represent the Philippines before becoming a US citizen, has beaten Carlsen on several occasions.
But So, 28, used to be No. 2 in the world and fans have been familiar with his successive conquests of Carlsen that they were not anymore shocked.
A grandmaster from India who is commonly referred to simply as “Pragg,” Praggnanandhaa’s victory came while Carlsen was on his long reign as world champion, thus his win became a sensation, and was even given a prominent space in CNN.
The chess prodigy said after the game he was glad to improve on his play from the tournament’s first day and to avoid a draw in his game against Carlsen, which included 39 moves.
“I’m just really happy,” he said in an interview from Chennai, India.
Pragg is the youngest person to defeat Carlsen since he became world champion—a streak that extends back to 2013, as World Chess notes.
Many chess enthusiasts think it was another disappointing game in a tournament that has seen him make uncharacteristic blunders for Carlsen.
The Norwegian said he was feeling the effects of COVID-19, after testing positive for the coronavirus before the tournament.
“It’s been pretty bad. I played a couple of decent games, but the rest of them have been poor. I need to do a lot better than that,” Carlsen said, according to the International Chess Federation (FIDE) website.
“It’s been a little bit better today,” Carlsen said on February 21, “but the first couple of days I was feeling like I’m OK, but I didn’t have the energy, which made it hard to focus because every time I tried to think I blundered. It was a little bit better today, but still pretty bad.”
Carlsen had notched three straight wins before running into Pragg, showing signs of returning to form after a rough start.
In contrast, Pragg was bouncing back from three losses.
The teenager was required to stay up late at night to face the world’s best chess players because of the time difference involved in playing the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour 2022 online tournament,
Pragg was asked whether he would get some rest or take time to celebrate with a nice dinner after his win.
“It’s about just going to bed, because I don’t think I will have dinner at 2:30 in the morning,” he said.
We expect more teenagers to be inspired by Pragg’s success, especially from the Philippines, where chess is making a Renaissance.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)