KOLKATA: For a long time Viswanathan Anand was the lone Indian presence in the chess World Championship cycle. With R Praggnanandhaa making the cut for the Candidates by finishing runner-up in the World Cup, it will be an Indian Generation Next player at the highest level of world chess now. The new sporting hero of the country, Prag appears to be ready to carry the aspirations of the entire nation now.
"I have not felt any pressure so far, but maybe it will be different from now on," he said on Monday, the eve of Tata Steel Chess India Tournament in the city.
The 2727-Elo rated player would not beat around the bush. "There's still a lot to improve. But I think I can go much higher than where I am now. I feel like I have the potential to become the world champion and am working towards that," he said with an air of confidence.
The Chennai boy attributes his fighting quality as the main weapon for his success. "I am always good at finding resources in bad positions. It's one of the skills that I am good at and I feel this fighting quality is needed to be the best," he remarked.
Enjoying the limelight, Prag foresees a bright future for Indian chess with players like D Gukesh, Nihal Sarin and Arjun Erigaisi also making waves at the world arena.
"We are all very strong. I hope Nihal crosses the 2700 mark (at Elo 2694 now) very soon, maybe in the next tournament itself. Arjun has been playing very well but the results are perhaps not showing. It's just a matter of time that he will make the top 20 (at World No. 29 now). I feel we both could have made the Candidates but for the format of the World Cup (where Arjun lost to Prag). Gukesh is already doing so well. So we are all working very hard. We all can be at the top soon," he stated.
Two more Candidates spots will be on offer in the FIDE Grand Swiss Tournament in Isle of Man in October-November and Prag hopes some Indian can make the cut in that.
In spite of losing to Magnus Carlsen in the World Cup final, Prag remains an ardent fan of the World No. 1 player and looks to pick the Norwegian's brain whenever he gets an opportunity.
"He (Carlsen) has been dominating world chess for the last decade. He is strong in everything. I am always fascinated by his understanding of the game. I am lucky to get him as my teammate (for SG Alphine Warriors in the Global Chess League) and also as a rival. For me, I want to see if he is doing something different or is he doing the same thing differently. There's so much to learn from him," the 17-year-old said.