In age of teenage prodigies, 61-year-old Pia Cramling, who once beat Korchnoi and saw teenaged Anand taking 1st steps on board, still going strong (2024)

In age of teenage prodigies, 61-year-old Pia Cramling, who once beat Korchnoi and saw teenaged Anand taking 1st steps on board, still going strong (1)Pia Cramling (in white top), with her daughter Anna at Norway chess, is also one of the only active players on the circuit who remembers Viswanathan Anand as a young teenage prodigy himself. (Express photo by Amit Kamath)

When the fourth round of the Norway Chess tournament begins on Thursday, India’s 22-year-old Vaishali will take on a colossus of the sport: Pia Cramling, who at the age of 61 has been playing the sport for half a century after picking up the sport as a 10-year-old. In a five-decade-long career, the Swedish grandmaster has scaled many heights, she was the world no 1 in the women’s rankings, and became only the fifth woman in history to become a grandmaster.

“When I started playing at the age of 10, I only joined a chess club because my brother (Dan) was part of one. Initially, I used to think that chess is very boring,” Cramling tells The Indian Express ahead of the Norway Chess tournament where she’s part of the six-women elite women’s field.

Cramling, says that the turning point in her life came when she won a school event at the age of 13, after which she decided that she wanted to “stick to chess in one way or another”.

“I was playing a lot after that. I played everything that I could. I always played with boys at events, because even now there are very few events solely for women in Sweden. This was good for me because I had to become one of the best players among the boys. Not just me, there were other girls as well at those events, but at one point or another all the girls stopped playing. But I stayed. Chess became my life. Chess became the most important thing for me,” recollects Cramling.

Cramling — whose daughter is chess player Anna Cramling, who is a very popular chess streamer and YouTuber — says in the initial days she struggled a lot with attention.

“I was always a very shy person and wanted to focus only on chess. I used to avoid all kinds of publicity back when I was young. I was very shy, hiding away. When newspaper guys would come I’d hide away. I used to have my hair short. I wanted people to look at me as a player rather than a female player. I would have liked to be different in that sense. I would have also tried more to get more girls and women to play the sport more actively. I am doing this now, but I didn’t do it so much back when I was younger. I was just focussed on my own chess then,” she says.

In age of teenage prodigies, 61-year-old Pia Cramling, who once beat Korchnoi and saw teenaged Anand taking 1st steps on board, still going strong (3) Pia’s daughter Anna (right), who is a very popular chess streamer and YouTuber, has come to Norway to support her mother. (Express photo by Amit Kamath)

“When I earned my first grandmaster norm, FIDE erroneously gave it to my brother. But it’s also true that when my brother held Garry Kasparov to a draw later on, people thought it was me who had got that result.”

When Pia saw a teenaged Vishy Anand

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Cramling is also one of the only active players on the circuit who remembers Viswanathan Anand as a young teenage prodigy himself.

“I remember I saw him for the first time in 1988 at Biel, he was just 19 years old. He was famous for being such a good blitz player. Everyone was very curious when he came to Biel to play there. He was one of the first players using computers very well,” says Cramling.

That childhood urge or not wanting to stand out has now faded away. Cramling says she wants to be an icon for women.

“I try to be a (role) model for women in their 40s, who have switched careers (after starting in chess at a young age) or who had to leave the sport because of giving birth. You can still come back to chess. I just hope I can be a role model for women telling them that you can keep on playing even after a certain age. Now, I’m so happy to see that there are much more girls playing.

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“There is a huge difference now compared to when I started playing the sport. When I played in the Candidates tournament in the 1980s and 90s, events would be three weeks long, the prize money was very small, so there was very little compensation for playing. There’s of course plenty more to be done: the gap in the prize pool between the open Candidates winner and the women’s winner is smaller but it’s still a huge difference. But what has definitely changed is the attitude towards women and women’s chess,” says Cramling.

Her daughter Anna puts things in perspective. “My mother has always been my biggest inspiration. With anything I have done in life, I’ve always felt like I can do it, because I have seen her story. She’s always been inspirational to me. I’m just so proud of her,” Anna tells The Indian Express on Wednesday in Stavanger, where she was present to root for her mother. “I think her love for chess keeps her going. There is no other hobby or thing that she does that she loves as much as she loves chess. I’ve inherited chess from her.”

In age of teenage prodigies, 61-year-old Pia Cramling, who once beat Korchnoi and saw teenaged Anand taking 1st steps on board, still going strong (2024)
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