International Master R Praggnanandhaa claimed the scalp of third Grandmaster in the world junior (U-20) chess championship on Tuesday to not just stay on course for a title challenge but also gain his first GM norm.

The 12-year-old accounted for US GM Awonder Liang in the eight round of the competition being played in Travisio, Italy, to take his tally 6.5 points. He now shares the second spot with defending champion Kirill Alekseenko and is half a point behind leader Aryan Tari of Norway.

With Tari registering a quick win with black pieces on Tuesday, Praggnanandhaa was under pressure to garner full points against Liang to stay in touch with the leader. Though the Indian had a slight advantage in the middle game, it turned out to be a long drawn battle with the US GM only throwing in the towel after 79 moves.

Praggnanandhaa, who already has a ELO rating of 2509, can become the youngest GM if he wins the world crown in Italy since the winner is directly awarded a GM title.

This would mean that the 12-year-old will have to come up with something special against Tari when they face off in the next round.

Also keeping pace with the leading pack is Indian GM Karthikeyan Murali, who defeated compatriot Shardul Gagare to take joint third spot with a total of 6 points from eight rounds.

In the girl’s section, WIM Aakanksha Hagawane and WIM R Vaishali shared points in their respective eighth round encounters to remain in joint third position with 5.5 points.