R Praggnanandhaa calls Magnus Carlsen 'far from invincible'

R Praggnanandhaa calls Magnus Carlsen 'far from invincible'

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Magnus Carlsen defeated India's newest chess phenomenon R Praggnanandhaa in the World Cup final, but the 18-year-old prodigy said on Sunday that the five-time world champion Norwegian was "far from invincible."

In Baku last month, Praggnanandhaa enjoyed a dream World Cup run, becoming the competition's youngest finalist and earning a spot in the 2024 Candidates tournament, where the victor would play China's Ding Liren in the World Championship. After Bobby Fischer and Carlsen, the Indian youngster is the third-youngest player to qualify for the Candidates event.

In an exclusive interview with PTI, Praggnanandhaa referred to Carlsen as "not like he (Carlsen) is invincible." In actuality, the Chennai lad has defeated Carlsen five times, but all of those victories came in online competitions. He has never won a board match against the Norwegian world number one.

"He's definitely strong. But, he does lose games. It's just I think he's consistent in winning. Doesn't lose many, that's why. He's just strong, mentally and physically. Basically strong in everything." 

Ian Nepomniachtchi, Fabiano Caruana, and Praggnanandhaa are the only players who have already qualified for the Candidates event; the other five seats will be decided by the end of the year.

Praggnanandhaa declared that he wouldn't place any more pressure on him and that he wanted to treat the Candidates just like any other competition.

"I don't think it is going to be added pressure. I just want to take it as another tournament. If you think it's very important, then you start putting added pressure. I just want to play like how I play in the last three tournaments," he said.

"There is a lot more to achieve in chess for me. This is just one small step, but still a very good one," Praggnanandhaa said.

The contest to reclaim the title of world champion has already been abandoned by Carlsen.

If that makes the field easier, Praggnanandhaa responded,"Not really, everyone else is also very strong. It's not like it's going to be easy or anything.

"Candidates is going to be a really strong event. It requires not only chess aspect but you have to be in good shape to fight, physically and mentally.

"To win a world championship, you need to be physically and mentally very, very strong. I don't think because Magnus won't be there it would make it easier. It would be very tough. I'm just hoping to give my best and see how it goes," he said on his Candidates preparation.

Praggnanandhaa, who enjoys playing badminton and watching cricket, frequently tries new sports in Chennai to stay in shape.

But while he's competing, he frequently takes lengthy walks or talks to himself in order to "de-stress."

"I try to play badminton when I'm in Chennai. During the tournament, I try to go for walks. One or another to keep myself in shape. Any sport which does not injure me, I play that.

"It might sound strange, but I talk to myself to prepare myself mentally. In a proper attitude, it works for me. It's different for everyone, so we have to find our own way in that. I try to be in the right shape," he revealed about his preparation.

Praggnanandhaa, a graduate of the WestBridge Anand Chess Academy, claimed that merely conversing with the Indian chess master Anand gives him more confidence.

"It has helped me a lot. I have learned a lot discussing chess with him (Anand). Discussing chess, other than the technical aspects like talking about psychological things as well.

"In general, speaking to him gives you a lot of confidence. Knowing that you are working with a five-time world champion and one of the greatest of the game, he has helped me a lot through WACA," he said.

Praggnanandhaa had to go to Delhi for a Sports Ministry honours ceremony the next day, just a day after arriving in his birthplace of Chennai to a thunderous welcome. The next day, he will be in Kolkata for an Asian Games men's camp before the Indian squad departs for Hangzhou at the end of this month.

The 18-year-old's life has grown chaotic in the wake of his World Cup dream run, but he is not grumbling.

"It (life) has changed a lot in the sense that now a lot of people know about chess in general. A lot of people recognise me. It has changed in that way.

"It's good for the game. I think many more young players will start playing, many more sponsors will come to the game. So, chess becoming popular, as a fan, I'm very happy to see that," he said.

When questioned about if he was becoming sidetracked, he responded, "I'm trying to do it so that it does not affect my preparation.

"I was keen to attend the Indian team camp along with these players Arjun, Gukesh... I'm just trying to focus on chess right now. So far, it's been okay. I hope to continue the good work," he signed off. 

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