Pragg’s opening surprise well-rehearsed: Coach Ramesh

R. Praggnanandha (Image: FIDE/Maria Emelianova) & RB Ramesh (Image: @Rameshchess)

About 45 minutes into Round 4 of the Candidates chess tournament, the commentators in the live telecast on the website of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), switched to a ‘bird’s-eye view’ of proceedings in the open category. This shows all four boards on the screen at the same time.

Identifying the openings one by one on three boards, Viswanathan Anand turned his attention to the fourth, where R Praggnanandhaa was playing with black against Hikaru Nakamura, the World No. 3. On screen, Anand went quiet for a while, with a what-is-that expression. The piece structure was complex, and it took him a few moments to arrive at a none-too-convinced conclusion.

There is a day’s break before the fifth round. Two-time champion Ian Nepomniachtchi is leading by half a point. World No. 2 Fabiano Caruana is tied second with D Gukesh. The Indians have had a mixed bag in the open category as well as in the women’s section.

Superseding these, the talk surrounding the competition taking place in Toronto has been Pragg and his daring opening variations. He is known to be aggressive and proactive on the board. In the biggest event of his life, the 18-plus has also been unconventional and unpredictable. It has led to extraordinary formations, which put experts including Anand in a fix at times.

Pragg’s pawn f5 with black as part of the opening build-up against Vidit Gujrathi sent shockwaves. Those following live will remember the collective ‘what’ of disbelief that swept across the chess world. The jaw-dropping move was dubbed ‘insane’ universally before leading to a sensational win.

“It was a surprise to others, not to us,” RB Ramesh, Pragg’s coach, told RevSportz. “We knew the schedule and the opponents months in advance. We had a long time to prepare. When you do that, you look at different plans and strategies. This (Delayed Schliemann opening) was one of the things that we had worked on for some time.


“No one plays what the opponent is expecting. One needs surprises and this was one of the things that we planned. We wanted to use it at an appropriate moment,” the Grandmaster added, confirming that his student had never tried this in a game before Toronto.

Ramesh sounded nonchalant, but the world of chess was taken aback that day. Hardly anybody gave Pragg a chance. The player himself acknowledged at the post-game press conference that had white played the right moves after that opening by him, “white would have been stronger”.

“That’s true. But we knew what we were doing,” said Ramesh. “There had been months of planning and preparation. And, taking risks is a part of sports. We thought it’s a risk worth taking. We are not the first to do this, nor the last.”

Asked if the opponent’s lack of preparation for this was a factor behind the decision, he replied in the affirmative. Two points from four games do not tell the full Pragg story in Toronto. People on the circuit knew him since he was 12 or so. But his disruptive activities over the last four days have again turned heads, including some seasoned ones. Chances are high that there will be more eyes on the maverick, when the candidates assemble at The Great Hall after a day’s break.

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