There was a large contingent of chess fans at the Chennai Airport on that June night in 2012 to welcome Viswanathan Anand home after winning his fifth word championship. Among the crowd was a six-year-old R. Praggnanandhaa. Even at that age, he had given indications that he was no usual chess player.
Praggnanandhaa has more than lived up to the early promise he showed on the chessboard. Today, he is among the worlds most talented 15-year-olds in the game.
READ| Chess legend Viswanathan Anand turns coach for youngsters
He still remembers the excitement with which he awaited Anands arrival all those years ago. The air had indeed been festive, with the presence of musicians and dancers. That world title, which Anand won after defeating Boris Gelfand of Israel in Moscow, would prove to be the last one in classical chess for the genial genius (and for India).
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Anand himself has fought the world title match twice since, albeit unsuccessfully against Magnus Carlsen, who has been reigning supreme for the last seven years. As for a serious Indian challenge for the ultimate crown in the mind game, we may have to wait for a few years.
Praggnanandhaa dreams of bringing the world chess title back to India, and to Chennai, once again. That dream got a major boost the other day, when Anand picked him as one of the five players he would train.
The expectations are indeed high from the recently-launched WestBridge Anand Chess Academy. Besides Praggnanandhaa, Anand will also be working with Nihal Sarin, Raunak Sadhwani, D. Gukesh and R. Vaishali.
I am really looking forward to the sessions with Anand, Praggnanandhaa told Sportstar over phone from his residence in Chennai. He has always been my hero and I feel fortunate that I would be able to learn from him.
I want to see Nihal Sarin and Praggnanandhaa (above) start thinking of reaching 2700 rating (the former at present has 2620 and the latter 2608), says Anand. - Handout
Anand is, of course, the hero of every Indian chess player. He has single-handedly revolutionised the sport in the country.
During an online interview, Anand explained why he decided to join hands with WestBridge, a Bengaluru-based investment firm. I decided to take this up because I wanted to see more young Indian players in FIDEs list, he said. When you look through the list, you will see a lot of Indian names all over, but you will also find that we are not as dominant as I would like us to be. There is another thing, too: we are doing very well at the junior level. Why are we not carrying it over?
Anand believes he could do something in helping those junior talents realise their potential through his academy, the inspiration for which came from the erstwhile Soviet Union and the United States.
I am aware of the role played by Mikhail Botvinniks academy in the Soviet Union, which produced world champions Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov and helped that country dominate the world, he said. Then there was this fellowship in the US to encourage young chess players to take a year off academics and study chess.
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Anand said the aim, currently, for the academy was to get measurable goals. For instance, I want to see Nihal and Praggnanandhaa start thinking of reaching 2700 rating (the former at present has 2620 and the latter 2608), he said. The rating isnt exactly the goal, but is a measure of consistency. For Raunak and Gukesh, I want to push them to 2650. As for Vaishali, she has tremendous potential and is hard-working; she is ranked ninth in the world among junior girls. I want her to break into the top 10 among women (she is ranked 66th currently).
Anand said he was very much looking forward to what would be a different phase of his career. I think I would enjoy the experience, he said. Though I had been thinking about this for a while, it was early this year that the idea took a concrete shape, after a conversation I had with Sandeep Singhal (WestBridges co-founder and managing director) in Bengaluru.
...R. Vaishali (right), she has tremendous potential and is hard-working; she is ranked ninth in the world among junior girls. I want her to break into the top 10 among women, says Anand. - R. Ragu
Sandeep has vivid memories about how it all started. It was during a 50-metre walk in Bengaluru that the conversation with Anand had happened. he said.
Anand recalled that conversation. I had finished my talk and was walking towards the car when Sandeep approached me and told me that he would like to associate with me and do something for Indian chess, he said. I had this thought about the academy, so I felt we could work on it. We kept in touch after that conversation and decided to start the journey together.
Sandeep is delighted that he could be part of the journey that would take Indian chess forward. We have seen how Pullela Gopichand, with his academy, helped India become a strong nation in badminton, he said. We are thrilled to partner with the chess legend himself, the man who carved a name for India on the global chess circuit. With the WestBridge Anand Chess Academy, we are taking a step with a vision to make India prominently visible in world chess.
Raunak is one of the players who could make India proud in the coming years. He is delighted that he has been picked for Anands first batch at the academy.
"I am looking forward to working with him and would like to discuss with him on all aspects of the game, especially the openings, one of his strongest areas, Raunak said. I also would want to ask him how he recovers from a bad defeat during the course of a tournament.
Indian chess is bound to benefit from this latest move from Anand.
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