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India gripped as teen chess prodigy prepares to take on Magnus Carlsen for World Cup title

<i>Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images</i><br/>Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa of India competes at the Masters Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023 on January 27.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa of India competes at the Masters Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2023 on January 27.

By Rhea Mogul and Ben Morse, CNN

(CNN) — Millions in India will be cheering on the teen chess prodigy known as Pragg as he takes on Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen for the Chess World Cup title on Tuesday.

Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa, 18, is set to square off against the five-time world champion in Baku, Azerbaijan, after defeating Fabiano Caruana in a tense match to secure his place in the final.

It comes more than one year after Praggnanandhaa shocked the chess world by beating Carlsen in an online elite rapid chess tournament, becoming the youngest player to defeat the Norwegian since he became world champion in 2013.

The win reverberated across India, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar praising Praggnanandhaa for his skill and talent.

The World Cup is a separate competition to the world championships, with the latter running yearly and being contested between the reigning champion and a contender, while the former is held every two years and sees a series of head-to-head games whittle opponents down until a winner is crowned.

Born and raised in Chennai in southern India, Praggnanandhaa took an interest in the game after his older sister, Vaishali, started playing at age 6. At the time, he was just 2 years old.

“I usually went and disturbed her and then my parents decided to buy me a chess book, and that’s how it started,” Praggnanandhaa told CNN Sport last year.

Vaishali later became a grandmaster in 2018 and an international master in 2021.

Living in Chennai, known as the “chess capital of India,” Praggnanandhaa was given many opportunities to hone his craft, notably at the Bloom Chess academy, where he says he “learned a lot.”

At the age of 6, he came second in the under-7 Indian championships before winning gold at the Asian Championships, then went onto win the World Youth Chess Championships for under-8s and under-10s.

Then, in 2016, he created history after winning his ninth round game at the KIIT International Chess Festival in Bhubaneswar, India.

Praggnanandhaa earned his third international master norm, an achievement handed out for high level of performance in a tournament. Having earned two previous norms already, at the age of 10 years, 10 months and 19 days, he became an international chess master – the youngest ever.

Despite all his victories, Praggnanandhaa remains modest about his achievements, even telling CNN Sport after defeating Carlsen last year that all he wanted to do after was “go to bed” as it was 2.30 a.m. in Chennai.

“I think maybe some people see me (as a role model),” he said at the time. “I don’t know, because I think for me, all the top players are role models because each one has different qualities to learn from. And if someone can learn something from me, that’s good.”

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Pragg and Carlsen are contesting the World Cup title, and not the World Chess Championship.

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