"Don't worry, just beat Magnus Carlsen" The Praggnanandhaa Interview
It was a big day for Praggnanandhaa as he beat Magnus Carlsen in the final round of the FTX Crypto Cup 2022. Pragg played fascinating chess and won three games in a row to take home the match in the blitz tiebreaks. After the games ended, we waited for Pragg to arrive for the interview and he did not disappoint! At 3 a.m. he arrived and although he was quite tired, he patiently answered all the questions. Special thanks to Ayushi and Harshil for this interview- the people who made it possible to do interviews of the players right from the venue.
Beating the World champion 3 times in a row- a normal day at work
IM Sagar Shah (SS): Hi Praggnanandhaa, congratulations! How are you feeling?
GM Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (Pragg): Thank you! I feel good.
SS: Are you happier that you have won $37,000 today in this tournament, or you’ve beaten Magnus Carlsen?
Pragg: I didn't even know that I won $37,000 [smiles]. Beating Magnus makes me much happier.
SS: How was the match with Magnus today according to you? I thought it was quite intense. After the third game loss, you might have felt a little worried, that it would be difficult to make a comeback. What did you feel?
Pragg: The first game was crucial. I was winning completely, and I didn’t win it. I think that was a big missed chance.
SS: Were you surprised when he played Nxc5? Did you see it beforehand that this is a blunder?
Pragg: Yes, I saw …Ne8 beforehand. But I missed 25. Nxe6 Qb7+ 26. R6d5 fxe6 27. Qxe6+ Kh8 28. Qe4! when I went into this line. I saw Qe4 and thought I have …Nf6, but then Rd8+ is there. This was a tactic I missed.
SS: It was still better for you, but not easy.
Pragg: Yeah, I think it was probably winning. Just 28…Qa8 followed by …Nf6 would’ve been good.
SS: Generally, when a game would end, what do you do? Do you come back to this room and prepare a bit?
Pragg: Yeah, I’ll discuss with Ramesh sir, and check a little bit on what to do for the next game. I also try to have some food during these breaks.
SS: The second game was very nice, it also ended in a draw.
Pragg: In the second game, I should’ve lost [chuckles].
SS: It was amazing that you managed to hold this rook endgame, and I think it was very nicely done. You lost the third game, but you defended very well!
Pragg: Yes, I should’ve drawn that game. He put me under a lot of pressure, and with little time on the clock, it’s always hard to find the correct moves.
SS: The fourth game was the best. Would you say that was the best game of today?
Pragg: No [smiles]. He was trying to make things complicated; I think he just wanted to have some fun.
SS: Yeah, he played a wild move …b5. But you found all these nice moves like Qd2!
Pragg: After …Ra2 I played quite well. After …. Ra2 Qxa2 Qxf4, I played well and managed to win that passed d-pawn.
SS: Were you surprised that he played Ra2, or you had seen it beforehand?
Pragg: No, I was not surprised, I knew he’ll play Ra2. He was playing moves like …b5, so I knew he was in a mood to sacrifice something. But the longer he was thinking, I was thinking that he might not play it, he’ll play some normal move. I felt he couldn't make it work, and it was a bit of a gamble.
SS: But he did play it! Even in the end, I think it was still very complicated.
Pragg: Yes, I managed to escape the checks. I was happy to find Kg1 followed by Kh1.
SS: When you came to the first blitz game of the playoffs, you looked in an upbeat mood at that point. We could see you came with a smile on your face!
Pragg: No, I was just laughing about this game with Ramesh sir [smiles]. First of all, in the opening, I played very badly. I got into trouble with the White pieces.
SS: Why did you play d5 in the fourth game?
Pragg: At that point, I was just making the moves. I didn’t even think about it, I had still not recovered from the previous round.
SS: Did you know that Carlsen was laughing all the time today?
Pragg: I know that he was laughing yesterday, but I didn’t know he was laughing today. I can’t really see him during the games.
SS: I thought the first blitz game was the best game of yours. You found so many good moves!
Amruta Mokal (AM): Till what point was your preparation for the game?
Pragg: I think I knew something like this might come across the board. I found Nf3+ over the board.
Here, I could’ve just played …e5 directly. I saw it after I had played …Bd7. At this point, I was just trying to play fast.
SS: You managed to win this game, and the last game was epic. You were almost lost here!
Pragg: In this game. I was just trying to exchange all the pieces [chuckles].
AM: When you went for 37.c4, do you think you should’ve played b4, or you should’ve preserved that pawn structure?
Pragg: c4 was definitely a bad move. I had around 8 seconds in the clock at that point, so I just wanted to make some move. But even before that, it’s slightly unpleasant for White.
AM: After winning this game, what was the feeling like? How shocked were you?
Pragg: I was very happy, but I didn't feel anything really special. After I lost the third game, I was not really caring if I win or not. I was just playing and trying to have fun. So even if I would've lost, I wouldn't be too sad. [smiles] It would’ve been fun to play Armageddon!
SS: Which was your favorite match from this entire event?
Pragg: I think my match against Alireza was quite interesting. I played well in the first game. In the third game, I got lucky and managed to win that position. I think all the matches were quite exciting and intense!
AM: Was Vaishali watching your game, and is she awake until the match ended today?
Pragg: I haven’t checked my phone yet, so I don’t know. She might have been watching, but I think she usually sleeps before my games are over, atleast in this tournament [chuckles]. Today she sent a message-
Don’t worry, just beat Magnus.
SS: You can now reply to her “Okay, I did it!” Would you say that this format is something that suits you really well because even when low on time, you're able to outplay many world-class players. Or it's just that there's no difference between rapid and classical for you?
Pragg: No, it does make a lot of difference between rapid and classical. Maybe I'm just good with less time, I don’t get tensed. I keep my calm and just keep playing.
Ayushi: In the game against Duda, what happened? Can you explain to us a little, what was going on in your mind?
Pragg: I just didn't see the mate till he played it, and suddenly the screen popped up saying that I lost [laughs]. Then I figured out, oh, it’s just a checkmate.
SS: Was it difficult to play in the US due to Jetlag and the change of time zone?
Pragg: I had jetlag in the first 1-2 days. The game starts quite early at 12, so it was not a huge problem.
SS: What's your plan for now? Will you celebrate this, or this is just like another result and you’re going to practice more chess?
Pragg: No, there’ll be no chess for the next 2-3 days. After that, I'll go to Dubai for the Dubai Open. I don't think there'll be any celebrations as well [smiles]
SS: So, winning a match against Magnus, would you say that this is a special moment for you or it's just a normal day at work?
Pragg: Somehow, I just feel it's normal. I'm happy, but I don't feel anything too special.
Harshil: At the breakfast table today, Anish Giri created a caption for today’s match “Underrated Pragg versus Overrated Magnus”! [everyone laughs]
SS: Can you tell us a bit about the role of Ramesh sir with you? Because I think in many of the games, you guys would analyze in between the rounds, and I think that must have helped you.
Pragg: Yeah, I think it was very important for me. In a lot of games, I managed to show improvement because of Ramesh sir. Before the matches, we would try to see what openings to play, and check the opponent’s games. During preparation, we had a lot of fun and we were cracking jokes.
SS: Were you listening to any music during the games?
Pragg: No [smiles]. We also spoke about this during breakfast. I was using the headphones just for noise cancellation.
SS: Would you prefer this event, where you're sitting opposite each other and there’s a computer screen? Or do you prefer playing over the board? What is your preference?
Pragg: I would prefer over the board.
SS: But if you have superior mouse skills, it impacts the results a bit, you can make quick moves.
Pragg: It doesn't make so much difference because, with increment, you won’t be flagging so easily anyway. In Armageddon, maybe it does make a difference, but I don't think I'm so great with mouse skills. So, for me, it doesn't make a difference.
SS: Thanks Pragg, thank you so much for your time. Congratulations once again, we enjoyed ourselves a lot today!
Pragg: Thank you!