WHEN Rameshbabu begins to talk about how chess has become an inseparable part of his family, he begins with the story of his daughter’s love of cartoons when she was a teenager. To wean him off television, he sent him to a chess school. And he followed the same plan for his younger son, who is also a fan of animation.
A decade later, what started as a distraction for her children and turned into a hobby has turned into an obsession. The two became the most famous chess brothers in the world.
A few months after R Praggnanandhaa, 18, secured a spot in the Candidates Tournament – an event to decide who will challenge the world champion – his sister, Vaishali R, 22, followed the same path.
On Sunday, in the Isle of Man, Vaishali claimed victory in the women’s category of the FIDE Grand Swiss event to enter the Women’s Candidates Tournament. Having secured his third GM norm in a month, he is just three points away from the 2500 rating to become a Grandmaster like his brother.
In the coming days, the brothers, who used to fight for the TV remote control to watch cartoon shows, will plan to work together to stake their claim to be on top of the world chess summit.
“This is a good day for us… for the first time, a brother and sister are competing in the Candidates. For Vaishali, her chess career started as a distraction from TV, and look where they have reached now,” Rameshbabu, the branch manager of a bank in Chennai, told The Indian Express.
Brother Pragg, too, rejoiced in the success of his older sister and first teacher. “I’m in a celebratory mood… I’m happy to see that the results are finally coming in… I’m happy to see that he’s finally where he belongs,” he said.
For Vaishali, who balances academics while pursuing her chess career, the result was a surprise. “This tournament is the biggest victory of my career so far. I started as the 12th seed. I didn’t come here with high expectations,” the post-graduate student told FIDE’s social media channel.
When Vaishali recalled her chess journey, Pragg always found a reference. “I first started playing chess… When I was playing at home, Pragg would come and disturb me. That’s why my parents got a second chess set at home,” he told FIDE.
He often says how he likes to play “aggressive and exciting chess”. “But away from the board, as a person, I’m an introvert. I don’t socialize much. I prefer my close circle. I like to be in my own place,” he said.
Their early introduction to India’s renowned coach and Grandmaster RB Ramesh was a major factor in influencing young chess enthusiasts. Their father said Ramesh proved to be more than a coach, or even a teacher. “A guide, he’s a philosopher (for the players),” he said.
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When the brothers first went to Ramesh for teaching, it was Vaishali who was a few hundred rating points ahead of his brother. “Both were already practicing six to eight hours a day when I started working with them. They are very hardworking, not to mention ambitious. He was the better player then, older with a higher rating. But after a few years, Pragg grew rapidly and overtook him,” Ramesh told The Indian Express.
“Vaishali has been very successful from a very young age. He won the World under-14 title besides several national titles at the age category level. He has won many other events at the world level. But in between, in two or three years, there will be a slowdown, which is natural,” he said.
“At one point in his career, he was a little disturbed that his younger brother was rising so fast,” says Ramesh, quickly adding that the brothers always have a healthy rival. “They work together during tournaments. They practice a lot at home. Lately, Pragg had been trying to help him with the preparations… giving him opening ideas and such. It is always good to have a strong player at home to help you,” he said.